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The Workshop at the Edge of the World

If there’s something like a chief auto tinkerer in Berlin, then it’s Thomas Lundt. Lundt is president of the local automotive guild and has operated the Porsche specialist workshop Lundtauto Sportwagenservice for well over three-and-a-half decades. Here he speaks his mind on everything from cars to politics and hiring immigrants as apprentices. His positions are clear – that way there won’t be any misunderstandings.

Text: Michael Köckritz & Matthias Mederer Photo: David Breun 05.06.2020 18 min

Mr. Lundt, what’s the situation like right now on the vintage car market?

Two or three years ago the hype had reached its peak. Vintage cars were being sold for such outrageous prices it was scary. Thankfully we’re now experiencing a period of consolidation. The prices are about thirty percent lower than they were three years ago. These days people will only pay good money for really good cars. They’re more informed than they used to be. Now they bring along an expert when they want to buy a car who can assess the quality and value.

Do you find that irritating? When there are so many people who want to have their say?

Not at all! I’m happy when a customer comes to me accompanied by an expert. Colleagues are much better able to provide a reasonable expertise. As long as they know what they’re talking about. Only recently there was this so-called expert who just grumbled about everything and thought he knew everything better. I asked him if he was a mechanic and he said, “No, I’m a lawyer, but I’ve been driving vintage cars for twenty years now.” Oh, c’mon! A famous German musician also once brought along a strange expert like that. I don’t need those guys around here, thank you very much. But I’m very happy about every real expert who comes here. Anyone who wants to buy a car costing over fifty thousand euros should definitely not skimp in this field.

Is the 911 really still the most secure investment?

There are a few high-priced special 911 models that have always been traded at constantly high prices. But I wouldn’t advise anyone to see a car like that as an object of speculation. Let’s say it’s a relatively secure investment. I’ve met a number of people who’ve complained that their vintage car lost in value over time. At the same time, they’re driving around in an Audi A8 that loses about half of its value within three-and-a-half years.

Would it be fair to assume that the next wave of high prices is just around the corner?

I think that we should be happy if we can achieve a certain price level with vintage cars. After a little trough in last fall, prices seem to be increasing a little now and, with a little luck, they’ll stabilize at the higher level. The whole reporting about car emissions and the greenhouse effect certainly has an influence on the image of vintage cars. The number of people who get excited when you pass by in a 911 is not getting any bigger, either. On the contrary, there’s definitely a lack of young vintage car enthusiasts.

Is a car that was built thirty years ago better or worse for the environment than a new one?

Absolutely. The cars are there and have proven with over thirty years on the road that they can still be used today. As a rule, they aren’t driven more than two thousand kilometers a year. Completely irrelevant for the environment. And there have been no fatal accidents involving classic cars in recent years.

How many vintage cars are currently registered in Germany?

There are approximately four hundred thousand cars with a special historic vehicle plate out there. That’s not even one percent. The number is on the increase, however, as more and more cars – including the Golf, the Baby Benz and the VW Bus T3 – are reaching the required age level. And many of them are still in a good condition. They all have a right to the so-called H license plate. Unfortunately, there are many people who just get the H plate to save on taxes. That waters down the actual intention.

What do you think our roads will look like in the future?

There are currently fifty-four million vehicles registered in Germany. I don’t think that this number will decrease significantly any time soon. In time, however, the number of cars will definitely decrease because we’re running out of space. There are too many cars in the cities – that’s a fact. In Berlin, the Senate’s to blame – because they’re simply not offering any alternatives. There’s no expansion of local public transport, and they can’t decide whether or not to extend one of the metro lines. They need a feasibility study first. You start to wonder if all the city officials are completely incompetent. But don’t get me started on that. I’ll get all worked up about it. The automobile will remain an urban fixture in the near future. What will become of vintage cars remains to be seen.

With the advent of electric cars, things could get really tight.

I think electric cars are a reasonable alternative, especially in the city. But that won’t work everywhere. We won’t be able to power more than fourteen to fifteen percent of all vehicles with electricity because we don’t have enough resources. Even with just fourteen percent, we will have depleted all the necessary resources worldwide, destroying countries like Chile. They hardly have any drinking water left there because they use it all to wash the rare earths out of the soil. But no one’s talking about that. The politicians aren’t addressing this topic in any reasonable way – that’s the problem.

Too many lobbyists working in the background?

Well, politicians want to be re-elected and the influence of the German car industry on the German government is much greater than any one can imagine. Lies, irrationality and blind actionism currently dominate the debate. Nowhere is there as much lying as with environmental protection.

More than is good for the country?

That’s for those to decide who are going to have to live in this world for a few more years. What I do know is that if we were allowed to use between fifty and seventy percent of recycled plastics for food packaging, for example, we’d be able to save sixty million tons of CO2 at one go. But nobody wants to hear anything about that. People aren’t interested in that but at the same time want a speed limit on the autobahn instead. To save just one million tons of CO2. And it would be a death blow for the German car industry.

How’s that?

Every manufacturer and importer who produces cars in Germany or brings them into the country expects their vehicles to be driven under certain conditions. This means that the cars have to be built in a way that they’re safe. Large brakes, large coolers, large safety systems. God have mercy on the German car industry if this condition is taken away. Safety is one of the main reasons why people even in countries like the US, where they’re not even allowed to drive fast, love German cars.

Getting back to vintage cars: what’s your definition of luxury?

Being able to afford things that I don’t absolutely need but that make my life more beautiful. It’s a way to treat myself to something more because I’ve earned it.

Can you imagine life without luxury?

Absolutely. I was the ninth of eleven children. I know what “nothing” means. Everything that my wife and I own we owe to our own hard work – and meanwhile that of our daughter. We were one of the first workshops in Berlin to be awarded the distinction as “Specialized Workshop for Vintage Cars”.

What is the right way to restore a vintage car?

The most important benchmark is for the restorer to try to preserve as much of the original as possible. Of course, some customers want us to make everything new. That’s not for me. Thank God there are still so many people who love old cars. We have been restoring classic cars for decades and we learn something new with every one. We try to improve our quality from car to car. The owners would never think of selling such a car again.

They just want to drive . . .

Exactly. They want to keep these cars the way they were meant to be kept. A vintage car shouldn’t be left standing around. And a classic car owner dresses to match his vehicle. Unless the car is from the pre-prewar period. I once owned a 1912 Hudson 33. I could drive that around the block every now and then. The passers-by would applaud, but that was pretty much it.

What about the 911 has most bothered you over the course of your career?

Good question. But I think can’t really give a good answer. There are always cars that keep us busy for weeks until we find out what the problem really is. That applies to all models. The newer they are, the worse it is. But we now know all potential problems of our Porsches up to the 1998 models. Some cars really gave us a tough time. There are thousands of stories that I could tell you.

Up to the 1998 models . . .

. . . because the last air-cooled models were built in April 1998. Then came the switch from 993 to 996. We’re currently asking ourselves if we should even continue to deal with the Porsches being built today.

Why’s that?

Because the cars are getting much too complex for their own good. And Porsche repairs an increasing number of cars over the Intranet, i.e. their own network. We don’t have access to that. So we hand the cars over to Porsche, they do whatever is necessary and charge us 235 euros an hour for it. Why should we continue to play along? We’re still more than happy to help with dents, flat tires and brakes, but I don’t think we will continue to deal with engine issues in the future. Of course, Porsche stands for excellent engineering performance – there’s no doubt about that. I just wonder if the cars really always have to get everything they have just because it’s possible.

What exactly do you mean by that?

The Porsche 968 was launched in 1992. A beautiful three-liter engine with vario cam and so on. A great car, four cylinders, but the ex-works price amounted to over a hundred thousand German marks. It wasn’t a great success because people thought it was too expensive. So what did Porsche do? They took everything out again – electric windows, A/C, everything – and called the car “Clubsport”. The price dropped from over a hundred thousand to just seventy-three thousand marks. It sold like hot cakes. And buyers could just add the extras they wanted to the car. That was the whole trick. And that’s what I think we should go back to. There are useful and nice extras like ESP. But then there are others that just leave you wondering. The Mercedes 380 SEC has a switch for adjusting the interior mirror. So if you’re unable to just raise your arm, there’s this rotary knob on the central console. (laughs) Who comes up with ideas like that?

Do you still dream of especially beautiful cars after tinkering on them all day long?

Of course. I’m a car fan to the core. And I also look beyond Porsche. I even have a dream car: a Bugatti EB 110. This fine piece of engineering ingenuity almost makes my mouth water. Last year, I went to the Ford dealer next door. And guess what was standing there?

A GT40?

No. It was a Bullitt. I was so overwhelmed, I was just like, “Whoa!” Love at first sight. I thought I would have to pay around a hundred thousand euros for it, but the price was just fifty-three grand. The seller said she couldn’t grant me a rebate, and I told her that would be crazy anyway. And then I bought it. A dream come true. Six-speed gear box, manual transmission, V8 engine, four-mode exhaust system. Terrible to steer around curves when it’s wet – admitted – but that’s why we learn how to drive, right?

Would you sell the car again?

No, never. I sold my Hudson and a 911. Sometimes you have to get rid of some baggage. I also once owned a Continental Mark II, a Lincoln. I sold that one as well. Currently, I just own a 993 Turbo WLS II that I bought directly from its previous owner. The 450 hp model from April 1998. One of the last of its kind, without a sunroof. I won’t let that one go again, either. We’re like an old couple.

How many kilometers do you drive with these cars?

Two to three thousand kilometers with each of them. I also have a small Harley Davidson, a Road King from 1998. I also like driving my Harley. That’s real freedom to me.

You don’t feel the same kind of freedom when driving your vintage cars?

That’s a completely different world. My nicest trip was across the US, from Georgia to Los Angeles, then to Dawson City in Canada, then across the continent to Alaska and back via Milwaukee. Forty-two days, 18,500 kilometers.

Sounds really great.

I felt like the richest man on earth. I went on my own and for forty-two days I didn’t have to ask anyone if we should stop for gas or stay the night someplace. I was singing at the top of my voice, just having a good time, getting the stress that comes with having been self-employed for thirty years out of my system.

Where do you go when you drive your vintage cars?

Just out of the city. I always set out in the morning, on Sundays, towards Perleberg or Fürstenwalde. Then I have lunch and go back, that’s a hundred and fifty kilometers. And then the car can go back to rest. In the city, I drive my Cayenne V8 Diesel – so that nobody will ask any questions. Recently, a journalist asked me if I didn’t feel ashamed of driving such a car. Is this guy right in the head? I just told him that I was driving a licensed car and that it was my working tool. Anything wrong about that?

Is there anything else in your (automotive) life that surprises you?

In her early twenties, my wife drove an Alfa Romeo Junior. It was such a rust heap that one day I told her, “Sweetheart, you’ve got to get rid of that thing.” She cried her eyes out. A few years ago, she said she’d like another car like that. I found one in Nuremberg and called the owner. “Listen,” I said, “I’m an expert on vintage cars and I’m coming to have a look. I hope I won’t be disappointed.” “No way,” he answered, “The car’s in a fantastic condition.” Ha, what can I say? The tail had been damaged, creases in the bottom of the trunk. The rockers were protruding at the bottom because they hadn’t even been welded in place. And when I got all worked up about it, the guy said it should be a cinch for me to repair those minor things – I was an expert after all. Unbelievable.

And then?

I found an Alfa in the Netherlands. Funnily enough, the seller’s name was Romeo. A straight car, totally rust-free, very, very beautiful. We just repaired some tubes and tires. That’s how my wife got her Alfa Romeo back.

Is an engine a work of art for you?

Generally, yes – and in several ways. I don’t know how many engines I’ve repaired in my life. Two hundred, three hundred? And it’s still a special feeling to start an engine after having repaired it – every single time. That’s true not only for the 911, but also for Ferrari or, as I said, Alfa Romeo. Last year we had an Audi quattro in our garage, an original “Ur-Quattro”. We completely revised it. Thank God I was able to find five of the original oversize pistons. And then our customer participated in the historic Monte Carlo Rally and even finished first.

Have you restored any other exceptional cars?

There was this Grumman mail truck one-and-a-half years ago that we restored for the ZeitHaus museum at Volkswagen’s Autostadt. Just forty-seven of them were produced in the US. Today there are only two of them left, and one of them was our doing. And the best thing about it: it has an electric motor with a clutch and a five-speed gear box. I thought that was funny. So this car landed with us because VW wanted it as a document of their e-mobility history. Grumman actually manufactures aircrafts, and they used this very hard sheet metal. It almost drove us nuts. We also did some research: Which color was the car? What did the postal service symbols look like at the time? We even had to change the electrical system to fit the current charging plugs. Man, that was really tricky.

A completely different question: You make sure to also hire immigrants. Why is that so important to you?

I always used to get angry about people who said, “These people are too dumb to be trained.” I would counter: “You just have to show them the way.” To prove that I was right, I employed a guy who had failed all his subjects at school. The worst possible candidate for a car mechanic apprentice. I told him: “Make an effort. You have a huge responsibility here. If you succeed, you’ll become a role model for others.” To make a long story short: two years later, he had become a service mechanic. I’ve successfully trained a number of guys in this way who wouldn’t have been given a chance elsewhere. Even before the big refugee crisis in 2015.

And then?

Then we brought some interested refugees around to the automotive guild in Berlin to show them what this profession was all about. I said, “Guys, if anyone really stands out, send him my way.” That’s how Hassan came to work for me. He said he had already done a little repair work on cars, though otherwise he had just run a fruit store back in Syria. Today he is one of the most important employees in my body shop. You can give him what you want, he always makes a work of art out of sheet metal. There was also a guy from Lebanon in my crew. He’s nineteen now and actually should’ve been deported, but his training saved him from that. He’s been with us for more than three years now. He’ll finish his training this summer, and then I’ll need him here as a skilled worker. There were only two out of six refugees where it didn’t work out. I’d do it all again. I was able to establish myself in this field and work my way up to reach a certain level of prosperity. With my social engagement I can give something back to society. After all, we all have a responsibility for our country.

That’s an example of successful integration, I’d say.

If you try to make an effort, it’ll work out. If you have a certain aversion against immigrants, however, forget it. Our country is what it is. These people are here now. I think it’s better if we try to help them become reasonable members of our society than letting them hang out in the streets. I think it would be easier if Germans could experience first-hand what life was like for these people in their home countries. I’d love to take one of these towns where seventy percent of the people voted for the far-right through Syria by bus. If everyone would just remain calm, reflect and think about how lucky we are here in Germany, it would make things a lot easier. That would actually be my biggest wish.