I Drive Only Mercedes Benzes

Updated: Jul 13 2003, 05:30am hrs
A thick gold chain hangs around his neck. His fingers are full of rings studded with precious stones. The neatly gelled hair is complemented by a French beard and well-trimmed sideburns. S Mohinder Singh, owner of the Starex group of companies in Germany (annual turnover: $22 million), looks more like Apache Indian. It would take some convincing to believe that this is the 16-year-old who left India in 1970 to seek his fortune with just 3 in his pocket. From being a hawker on the streets of Frankfurt to a millionaire, the NRI now dons the son of the soil crown and is promoting the Starex International School, into which he has so far pumped in Rs 60 crore.

His penchant for jewellery is a reflection of his philosophy of life, You only live once, live in style. Life is too short, so why not enjoy when you are alive His cars only further his views on life.

I have been driving only Mercedes Benzes, says Mr Singh with typical straightforwardness. He hastens to add, I have driven BMWs and Rolls Royces, but a Mercedes is a Mercedes. He pauses a moment, then adds, I dont like the BMW because of its seats, which are not so comfortable, while the Rolls Royce is okay, but its very slow. The Ferrari, Audi, Porsche and La Matino are other cars he has driven, but not for long periods.

Although Mr Singh has a pearl coloured Mercedes E220 in India, the car that he can talk endlessly about is the pearl white SL 450 Mercedes he keeps at his home in Germany. I bought it in 1973 and it was the first ever car I owned, he remembers fondly.

Talking about that car brings back a flood of memories. You know, only 120 cars of that particular type were manufactured and I am proud to have one of them, he says. The car has an interesting number plate. I cannot say it to you, says Mr Singh, stealing a look at his wife, whos sitting behind us. Taking pen and paper, he writes it down instead: FUK 77! See, it is not the nicest number to be announcing in public, he says with a sheepish smile.

Whenever I am in Europe, I drive only that carit is still the best car I have, he says. This is indeed interesting, considering the fact that Mr Singh changes his other cars every two years and sometimes even earlier.

I change my other cars so as to save myself from maintenance troubles, he says. He reveals he must have changed at least 30 cars so far in his life.

Now back to his SL 450. You see, this is such a special car, and when I drive it in Europe, the Europeans wonder how a black Indian can drive such a wonderful car, he says with glee.

Many people have offered big money to me for this car, but I am never going to sell it, says Mr Singh, who even carries its spec sheet with him in his wallet. It has 12 cylinders with a horsepower of 450. The ground clearance is just 15 cm, Mr Singh threatens to go on and on. One has to break into the flood: What is so special about this car I bought it in my bachelor days for DM39,000. It marked my arrival in life, he says on a sentimental note.

What does he think of Indian cars Indian cars are good for those who dont know better products than those, comes the pat answer. Though he sounds dismissive, he says, These cars are more of economy and less of luxury. So its your choice.

His flamboyance seems to reflect in the way Mr Singh drives. In Germany, I drive at around 200-250kmph. Generally, I am a fast driver, but how fast I drive would depend on the road, he says. Yet he claims he is a safe driver and says, In Europe, accidents can be costly, so youve got to be careful. I have never had an accident.

When it comes to the interiors of his cars, Mr Singh says, I love wooden panels and shades of cherry inside my car. I always go for leather seats as cloth seats become smelly. Moreover, leather is easier to maintain and clean. And I never use freshners or perfumes in my car. I dont like it!

As evident from the cars he owns, Mr Singh says he buys only light coloured cars. Its easier to maintain these colours as they dont show dirt. Dark colours get dirty too soon, he smiles.

RL