My Car: Tobias Scheffler

By A Collected Man

Here at A Collected Man, our obsessions span many categories, and one which comes up in conversation time and time again is vintage cars. From Bugatti Type 35 to Porsche 911, the subject goes hand in hand with great watches, and so with that said, welcome to the third instalment of My Car; our on going interview series with vintage car collectors. This instalment features Tobias Scheffler; a fast sedan enthusiast who is in the process of opening his own vintage dealership in the south of France. We paid him a visit in Hamburg to talk about Alfa Romeo, lawnmowers and watches.

 

What did cars mean to you as a kid?

Well, let's start with the stereotypical stuff [Laughs]

 

[Laughs] Yeah, yeah…

I wouldn’t like to begin with the cliche answer that my first word was car, because I’m not too sure if it was the first or the second, maybe the first one was "ball". When I was a kid, I always had matchbox cars which got me interested and my father had always been into cars. We had a big old green Chrysler Voyager which broke down all the time, but I have very vivid memories sitting in that car.

 

"There's just so much to appreciate about cars like that, the engine sounds, the design, the sound of the doors even…”

 

What sorts of cars was your father interested in?

He was a die-hard Porsche 911 fan. He always had at least one 911 next to whatever his daily driver was at any given time, because he would need something semi-practical for everyday life. There's just so much to appreciate about cars like that, the engine sounds, the design, the sound of the doors even…

 

[Laughs] What do you mean?

The sound the door makes when it closes, it’s so satisfying and recognisable. As soon as you hear it out on the street or somewhere, you just know exactly what it is. The Mercedes G Wagon has the same thing, it has an unmistakable sound.

 

What is it that you find so appealing about it, the physicality or just the tone it makes?

It’s that metallic click sound, though it’s not quite a click, it’s a clack. I can’t describe it, but it’s a clean and satisfying sound that they just don’t make in the same way on modern cars.

 My Car: Tobias Scheffler at A Collected Man London 2

 

Had you been desperate to drive from a young age?

Definitely, it was burning inside me to drive a car. All I could think about was driving and I drove my parents mad. I asked my mum when I was six or seven if I could drive the car, to which she replied in strong language, that I could not.

 

[Laughs] Makes sense…

When I was about ten, I got my way though. At our vacation home, there’s a hill up to our house and I would sit on my father’s lap while he operated the pedals, steering the car. It was the best feeling in the world, and it only lasted fifteen seconds or so.

 

"I was the drift king on that lawnmower…”

 

Quite epic for a young lad…

Absolutely, so I felt like I could drive fully at that point and then when I was maybe eleven or twelve, my father let me drive the lawnmower. I was out there every single day mowing the lawn without fail.

 

[Laughs] Why, though we suspect we know the answer…

It’s obvious, isn’t it. My father said, “You know the grass doesn’t grow much overnight.” I didn’t care, I just wanted to be out there. I was the drift king on that lawnmower…

 

Wait, so you were drifting the lawnmower?

Yeah, that thing was quite quick, getting up to maybe 20kph. It needed to be wet or gravel on the ground, brake right, angle the steering then power! [Laughs].

 

[Laughs] Wow…

That never gets boring when you’re ten years old.

 

So you cut the grass sideways…

[Laughs] Yeah, always sideways. But generally speaking, I always loved long journeys in the car with my parents. We never took a plane because my parents didn’t like to bother other passengers with annoying kids, so we’d drive from Hamburg to Provence and back. It’s around 1,300 kilometres.

 

It’s no short trip…

On those journeys you would play stupid games in the back with your siblings, because you’d have to do so to remain sane on a trip that length. This is something that doesn’t exist in the same way anymore, true boredom can be a source of bizarre inspiration. Children nowadays have screens at the age of three or four, so they never really have this time to just imagine.

 

Right…

Cars always had this sense of freedom to them, they all had different smells, there were noises, you could feel it. My biggest goal as a teenager was to get my driving license, and to drive my own car.

 My Car: Tobias Scheffler at A Collected Man London 3

 

Are you the type of person, like your father, to have a practical car and a fun car?

No, I just couldn’t do it. Even if suddenly I had three kids, I wouldn’t go out and buy a Berlingo. I don’t see the point in getting from A to B, or from A to Z if it’s a long drive, without getting to enjoy that time. It’s the same reason I buy mechanical watches; it’s the enjoyment. You could buy an Apple Watch, but how boring is that. I bought this Autodromo watch because it’s an interesting mechanical watch which is made for drivers. It represents a certain lifestyle and I appreciate it. There is an enormous amount of work in the detail and design behind it which petrol-heads appreciate.

 

For sure, and for a lot of people that story makes the technical details totally irrelevant…

Yes, I know a few people that have cars, that they got from their late father and that car represents a shared passion, no matter what it is. Nothing is as valuable as something which simply means something to you. I’ve had the fortune of being born into a financially secure situation and was given a vintage Rolex GMT from my father and while there is a value on that, you could offer me 100k for that thing and I wouldn’t sell it.

 

Right, the value becomes abstracted…

Exactly, I’ve heard too many stories of people that did sell things because the money seemed too good to be true, and regretted it. They thought in the moment, “Oh, it’s just a watch…” and then there comes a point in life where these things really matter. You might be travelling or something like that and take 20 seconds to just look at your beautiful watch and the memories attached to it. It’s a little bit like meditating and can give you strength in trying moments.

 

My Car: Tobias Scheffler at A Collected Man London 4 

Right…

When I used to work in the hotel business I might have been having a bad day or whatever, you have these things to get you through it. Actually, while I was working at the hotel my father told me that the GMT was not the smartest thing to be wearing while working along side interns, cleaning toilets and learning the business.

 

[Laughs] What do you mean, you were cleaning toilets?

Yes, I wanted to learn the trade from the ground up. My father was smart with that advice, he said, “You know, you’re shooting yourself in the foot wearing a Rolex as an apprentice.” I never wore it to work again. It didn’t really matter to me too much not to be wearing it, because I wasn’t wearing it to prove anything, I just loved the watch. I bought a Swatch as a daily beater, which I still have to this day.

 

And presumably that watch has some personal meaning to you in the same way that the Rolex does…

Yeah, it does, although I don’t really wear it at all these days, it’s something I’ll keep forever. It represents a moment in my working life where I put my natural character on hold, not being too proud to go out and achieve something for myself. I have the highest respect for workers in the service industry, these people work their asses off.

 

Definitely…

The doorman at the Ritz in New York is an example of someone excelling in that industry, I mean this guy gets $2,000 a day in tips because he’s hardworking, friendly and remembers everyone’s names. He has a very nice Porsche 911 actually…

 

My Car: Tobias Scheffler at A Collected Man London 5 

Professionally you’re now moving into the vintage car business, right?

Well, my dad said to me, “Do whatever you want to do, but do it properly.” It had gotten to the point that the hotel business just wasn’t for me, so I decided to follow my passion in life, which is cars. There’s the saying, make your hobby your profession and you’ll never work again, I wanted to go for that [Laughs].

 

And how did this come to the stage it’s at now?

I had been dealing cars here and there for fun, making a little cash on the deals and it got to the stage where I had amassed so much knowledge in the automotive industry that it just made sense to follow that route. At any given time, I have about 150 links to cars currently for sale, and some of those get bought and sold.

 

[Laughs] Wow, that’s quite a few…

I have a mechanic that will be working with me and we will be training some apprentices to work with us. We have 800 square meters in the south of France, where we will operate from and have a nice lounge for likeminded collectors to come and have a coffee with us and see the various projects we have going at any given time. I think my girlfriend is worried that I’ll just live there [Laughs].

 

[Laughs] Probably quite a reasonable concern on her part…

Yes, I’d say so.

 My Car: Tobias Scheffler at A Collected Man London 6

 

Let’s talk about your Alfa Romeo…

Yes, the Alfa. So the process of me coming to own this car is unfortunately not that romantic, but it’s a beautiful car.

 

How did you come to find it?

A friend in Hamburg, who happens to have one of the best networks in Germany for classic cars, knew a guy in Munich who had bought this car from the original owner in Sicily who had recently passed away. The car was so looked after by the original owner that it remained in a condition that you just don’t come across.

 

"It’s something that I would find it incredibly difficult to part with because it’s just so special to me.”

 

It’s immaculate…

Yes, but not too immaculate. You can see that the car has been used, but lovingly. The car was first registered in 1967 and it had only 75,000 kilometres on the clock, unrestored. It’s also slightly more unusual because it has a larger engine than most of them at 1600cc rather than the 1300. The car is a little heavier as a result, but you’d never really notice the difference.

 

A negligible difference between the two surely…

The rarity of the car is what appeals to me as I think they only made about 4,000 units in one and a half years. It’s something that I would find it incredibly difficult to part with because it’s just so special to me.

 My Car: Tobias Scheffler at A Collected Man London 7

 

The little registration plate is beautiful, it’s like an old Mafia car…

Definitely. There’s a brown one driving around in Hamburg, it’s the 1300 version, and I have seen it two or three times, and I swear to god it’s four old guys that travel about in it, 70 or 80 years old and they all have hats, sunglasses and suits just like the Mafia. It’s as though they’re on their way to rob a bank or something [Laughs].

 

[Laughs] That’s amazing…

It’s a cute looking car, but it has a kind of an angry edge to it. It’s a bit of sheep in wolves clothing…

 

Very much the Mafia way…

Yes, and you can throw this thing into corners and it’s a lot of fun. For the time, it would have been a very, very fast car. You could throw two kids in the back, two adults and drive ten hours to your holiday. The Alfa Romeo thing is a disease. My mechanic is a die hard Alfa fan, he just loves them. Maybe he loves them because they break down more, I don’t know, but my little Alfa is perfect.

 

There’s a bit of a trend with your cars in that they are all not quite what they appear to be on the surface…

For sure, I love the idea of destroying somebody else’s expectations in a drag race or something. I’m not very flashy where cars are concerned, I’m not a Lambo guy, I’m more of an Audi RS4 estate kind of guy. I love fast sedans like the E39, BMW M5 or the 500E Mercedes  because there is so much versatility there.

 

Right…

The 911 is great because you can stick a roof-box on that and go wherever in it. It’s a bit like the defender, it’s not fast but you can go anywhere in it, like a Rolex GMT; you could wear that at a gala or a funeral and no one will think twice. If you show up in a Patek Philippe, people will probably say, “Look at that dick wearing a Patek.” Or, “Look at that chump in a Swatch.” [Laughs].

 

So you won’t buy something like a Lamborghini?

Well, if I did, I would have to black it out completely so nobody knew it was me inside. Like Batman, everyone wants to feel like they’re Batman [Laughs]. I’m much more drawn to the fast sedans though, there’s something amazing about a car that will comfortable fit four people and go 300 kph in comfort.



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