Few people know that one of the greatest cars Mercedes-Benz has produced in its 125-year history sits on flat tires, covered by 30 years of grime, in an unmarked building in South Central Los Angeles. The 1935 Rudolf Caracciola Mercedes-Benz 500K “Roadster Limousine,” one of the most beautifully struck and elegant prewar cars ever built, was commissioned as a gift for one of the most legendary race car drivers ever to turn the wheel. Based on recent auction figures, the 500K—one of the holy grails of car collecting—could be worth upward of $10 million if it ever came to auction. But it sits nose to tail with scores of other exceedingly rare classic European cars as part of the mind-bogglingly vast inventory of the nondescript Porche (sic) Foreign Auto, an “auto dismantling” operation (junkyard is the more common term), which was founded in 1967 by a guy named Rudi Klein.
Klein, I discovered, was a former butcher from Germany who died in 2001, leaving two sons and a widow. People who knew him told me he was eccentric and gruff in equal parts. He would sic his dog on uninvited visitors—like me—inquiring after his cars. For the most part the business deals in parts, providing ultrarare doors, hardware, and just about anything to highend auto collectors and restorers. (A cease-and-desist letter from Porsche necessitated the unusual spelling.) Porche Foreign Auto is the place you call when you need pristine stock parts for your 1970 Mercedes 280SL, or an impossible-to-find piece of trim for your 1966 911S, or a 1937 Chrysler Airflow C17 fairly intact but needing a tow—just another vehicle to complete your collection.
Today the largely secret automotive hoard is looked after, in a manner, by Klein’s two sons, who seem to regard it as a private collection as much as a family business. Many of the Kleins’ cars have been thought by auto historians and collectors to be lost to time. “They’ve got old cars that people have been looking for for years and have no idea they still exist,” Tom Hanson, the parts manager at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, California, told me. “I’m not at liberty to reveal what they are. I promised I’d just kinda keep hush about that.”
Via: Car and Driver