Friday, July 24, 2015

Times for Reflection

These last twelve months have been rough, to say the least. Immediately after returning from Dubai, I sunk in a frustrated slump similar to the 9-month vacuum following the PanAmerican accident. Fresh from the UAE, I stopped by the gorgeous town of Valencia and bought my next shipment for Oliden Group, my (tiny) export company. Little by little, the fleet is growing!

Rust free, low mileage, and mechanically impeccable... just some upholstery issues. Perfect acquisition!

As I am not keen on repeating past mistakes, I quickly started looking for a way out of my native Spain and its 50% unemployment rate. Soon enough, I took on an old job offer selling art on board cruise ships, and right after some easy visa procedures and a full medical check, I found myself all suited up, shaking the hand of Peter Max during one of the sales training seminars at the company's Miami office. Things were fantastic, until I climbed aboard.

With child prodigy Autumn DeForest, during sales training.

To all our readers who have never been to a cruise ship, think of it as a gigantic, floating hotel complex that hides a wonderful organizational marvel. Food is great, and staff ranges from all corners of the world: India, Philippines, Romania, South Africa... the list is endless. However, cruise ships have exceptional labor rules due to them operating in the High Seas, so 12-16 hour days are the norm. While I had no problem with the hours —the physical act of moving art is a work of chiseling fitness—, my boss' continuous racist remarks and treatment—some of them earning gasps from the audience— and one too many an all-nighter made me leave ship prematurely. My trust and patience with management were exhausted after the Dubai experience, and I just could not put up with another bad boss. Many months later, I would find out he had been sacked by the company.


In my hometown I found a cheap room and decided to spend my time trying to improve my situation. I already knew I could not work in the USA, so I took a job as a cook and spent the rest of my free time hustling hard as I figured a way to be amongst cars once again.

The hat was my idea. I can't survive without a touch of humor!

It smells as good as it looks! Baguette bread was about 80% of my diet for a few months.

During this time, I sent emails to every car museum, coach-builder and car-maker imaginable, in Germany, UK, USA, Italy, Japan, China, Singapore and even India. As I did this, I also thought it might be a good idea to apply for the DV lottery and think of business school, and so I chose the one and only school up to my standards: Harvard. I gathered my transcripts, put my colorful experiences in a resumé, wrote a moving essay, and got two shining recommendations. Besides business school, I also started to consider a move into the field of strategic consulting.


Weeks passed, and little by little, I started to accumulate a bunch of rejection letters:

It's a lottery, after all!

Ok, so this year I won't be able to obtain residence in the US. I can live with that. Then, I got the jury's decision from Harvard University:
Quite a lottery too, but this time it was becoming evident that I needed to work harder on myself.

Major blow, but realistically, the kind of people who get into Harvard are geniuses with 2 year's experience in a Fourtune 100, play some kind of team sport, and volunteer providing clean water networks in remote African villages. An unemployable, lone expeditioner with no big name credentials could not possibly generate any sympathy! And now, the final blow:

Nein, nein, nein!

Finally, Mercedes-Benz said "no". It was now obvious that certain life choices, like driving the PanAm, do not entitle you to a fresh start in a discipline you like. One has to keep learning and keep hustling; remaining passive, just asking for stuff, no matter how politely or how emotionally charged, will not get anyone far. I had to stay positive, get some credentials and deepen my knowledge of business; otherwise, I could remain a disillusioned cook forever! For that matter, I spent about six month's worth of savings in Harvard's online course, HBX CORe, a fantastic investment in instruction in Statistics, Economics, and Accounting.


In the depths of the deep re-formulation of my life, I got an email out of the blue from a man named Thomas. He wrote for the prestigious German magazine AutoBild, and wanted an interview. In a few email exchanges, we agreed for the interview to take place in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, with Daimler AG generously offering to pay all travel and lodging expenses. What irony!

Gullwing zen. Notice how much I have aged in the past year.
While the details of this interview shall remain confidential until August, I can say that the Mercedes-Benz Museum decided to move one of their finest crown jewels (the 300SLR Ulhenhaut Coupé) that same day, to race at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. I had the honor of sitting inside, and in all likelihood Sir Stirling Moss would follow next.

And sure enough, when it rains, it pours. The day before the interview I got an inocuous text message from a friend I made during my time in the UAE, offering me a car-related job with a fleet of old Mercedes as company cars. As I confirm more details from AutoBild, Mercedes-Benz and my friend in the UAE, I shall be reporting on the shenanigans that will follow.

Seems like This European Life won't be European for long.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cuba 300SL Gullwing Galore

Hey, thanks for stopping by. We know you have been hungry for more Cuban Gullwing, and you have patiently waited for two years for more photos. Well, the time has come. Your wait is over.

If you are not familiar with the story, click here. And if you are a native Spanish speaker, try this.
Before we start, take a second to like >>THIS EUROPEAN LIFE<< on Facebook. It's worth it!

Now, there have been rumors, some of them spread on overly reputable platforms, that the car was discovered last December by an automotive photographer in search for cool content for his $65 calendar. This very same photographer contacted us back in January 2014 for advice, and much like the journalists who brought attention to his story, failed to give credit where it's due, even after politely requesting to do so. So, instead of ignoring these people, let's remember them:

The first person who reported the discovery of one of the 300SL's was journalist Jeremy Clarkson, who filmed the 300SL roadster in 1996 while shooting his Motorworld series in Cuba (watch here, minute 23:58). As for the Gullwing, we are not sure. Journalist Michael E. Ware wrote about it in 2008 and provided photos in December, 2009, to the web's undisputed authority on Cuban Cars, Caristas. While talking to the Gullwing's custodian, I was shown Alex Finigan's business card, yet it's not clear whether he found it before Ware or Clarkson. Still, he's kept awfully quiet about it! Then, in November 2012, we thought it would be a great idea to hunt for some rust.

If you wish to read a detailed year-by-year chronology, don't miss this article on Caristas.

Enough with the rant, here are the pictures. These were part of a secret album at the time, but after two years, we are thinking it's time to share them with all gearheads out there. Enjoy!

This was the very first photo I took of the Cuban 300SL's, the way they lied on the owner's yard.

The Gullwing's gas tank had been shoved through the back window. I took it off for the shoot.

Notice how the gullwing door cross-member has snapped clean.

Wait, there's still some original 300SL glass left!

Enough to make a bodyman crazy. Still, worse cars have been restored.

Original ivory wheel, with some of the VDO dials intact.

We wonder where the original 6-cylinder went, but are thankful it hasn't been replaced with a Russian diesel.

Despite the sheet-metal rust, the Gullwing's characteristic space frame seems to be in OK condition.

Steelies are original, and we believe the owner to have sold a few hubcaps.

It's a pity that the stylish fender flares are gone.

Owner has no intention to sell. Don't even ask, it's been said over and over!

Miguel Llorente bravely adventures into a certain chance for a Tetanus shot...

With the original seats missing, it was slightly more uncomfortable than the average Cuban taxi.

A crowning shot for one of my life's most rewarding quests!

8,000 RPM maximum? Not bad!

I do wonder if the 300SL will surpass 63,500 miles in my own lifetime, or just rust away...

Now, on to the Roadster, in significantly better condition.

The car had been driven all the way up until the 1980's. Then, somewhere in the 90's, it was left to rot.

May not be fully appreciated here, but the grille star is fully handmade out of stainless steel!

The interior has been replaced with stainless steel, yet it keeps a lot of its original dash.

Surprisingly enough, one of the doors open and closed perfectly after decades of neglect!

Ashtray and rearview mirror mount. Dials below are aftermarket.

Arguably an upgrade from its original powerplant: a 1950's Corvette engine!

I quickly learned that Cubans make their own windshields. This one was in remarkable shape.

Madr by A. V. CH Jhonny (Name of the car?). Floors rebuilt in 1986.

Well, that finalizes the Gullwing chapter in This European Life. It's been quite a ride since then, full of dramatic accidents, failed job prospects and lots of lost savings. Yet, when I look at this pictures, and remember the courage and determination that kept me pushing through, I know there is still a lot of road ahead, full of more exciting and colorful people, events, failures and successes.

Dear fans: as I struggle in my native Spain, I have a request stronger than any "likes" you may give my Facebook page. On May 5th I will be notified on the selection process for the Green Card Diversity Lottery to make way into full permanent residence in the USA. I sincerely hope I get it, now more than ever. I simply ask you that you pray, or send positive karma into this big Universe of ours, and wish that I get the opportunity to be return to the country that gave the chance to be great.

Thank you and good night!
—Miguel Llorente