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Museum of wonders

Some have even been wrapped in plastic and crated so they can be stacked on top of each other to save space.

It’s a quietly awe-inspiring scene.

Daimler-Chrysler has built a stylish, multimillion-dollar museum to show off the cream of Mercedes-Benz but there are too many vehicles to display them all.

The collection numbers 560 vehicles of all shapes and sizes and spans more than a century, starting with what is regarded as the very first car in 1886.

Hidden away are F1 and Le Mans race cars, open wheelers raced by the famous Fangio, big black limousines that chauffeured the rich and powerful, experimental models that never made it into production and, of course, there’s Benz’s crowning glory, the 300 SL Gullwing – with its lift-up doors.

They sit silent in unmarked warehouses, covered by dust cloths, keys still in the ignition, the floor slippery with their oil, all waiting for the day they will be recalled to duty.

It would be a rather gloomy scene if not for the fact that Benz actively encourages the restoration and sale of vehicles through the Classic Centre established more than a decade ago.

If you have the money, they’ve got a collection of mouthwatering classics, with examples of the gorgeous Gullwing available for a $800,000.

The centre has between 450 and 600 works in progress including four complete restorations.

At the time we visited the centre in Stuttgart it was in the process of rebuilding, for the second time, a 1940s armourplated car for the King of Jordan.

The 770 Big M had been on extended loan to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, parked out in the desert, at the mercy of the sun and sand, returned only after Saddam was finally captured by American troops – albeit with sand in the engine and a few bullet holes that weren’t there in the first place.

The cars range in price from 56,000 Euro for a working model of the first three-wheel Benz to more than 1.5 million Euro for a supercharged 540K convertible.

We saw several Gullwings in the process of restoration. Only 1400 of the cars were built from 1954-57 and only 1000 are believed to still exist.

The centre has a standing offer to buy any Gullwing that comes on the market.

The car sold new for 14,500 Euro now fetches a minimum 350,000 Euro for one in used but serviceable condition.

Rarest of all are the 29 alloybodied examples which are worth a staggering $1.2 million Euro each.

One collector in Germany owns seven of these extremely rare cars.

Before purchase cars are subjected to a rigorous inspection process that includes an internal examination of the engine using a tiny fibre optic camera.

The authenticity of cars is also tested using the latestmetallurgical techniques.

With so much money at stake, it is often difficult to establish a car’s originality or the extent to which it has been rebuilt with remanufactured parts.

The classic centre supplies parts for any Mercedes that has been out of production for longer than 20 years.

It has drawings of every screw from every car dating right back to 1886.

If a part is not available, it can make it, with its own hot metal sand-casting facilities.

In fact, it turns out 4000 parts each year.

The centre can supply parts to anywhere in the world within 24 hours.