Why Kienle Automobiltechnik went bankrupt and what Mercedes bought

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The insolvency report of Kienle Automobiltechnik explains the reasons for the bankruptcy and what Mercedes bought.

The insolvency report explains the reasons for the bankruptcy of Ditzingen-based Kienle Automobiltechnik, a specialist in the restoration of classic Mercedes models, 300 SL and 600. The report also details what Mercedes paid for spare parts, machinery, and intangible assets and what creditors received.

The insolvency report explains that the firm had been in trouble since the coronavirus pandemic when the classic car trading business fell dramatically. Kienle estimated costs too low and did not take into account additional costs, the report explains. Therefore, Kienle had to ask for large upfront payments from the clients, up to 100% of the estimated costs, to run the business.

The restoration company sold the company property in November 2021 and leased it back to obtain liquidity for further business operations.

But the bankruptcy is also a consequence of ongoing investigations, according to a statement from law firm Grub Brugger, quoted by German Auto Motor und Sport magazine. Because the authorities have publicly expressed suspicion of “commercial fraud involving the sale of counterfeit classic cars,” numerous customers have dropped orders. The insolvency report of February 2024 confirms that obtaining new orders has become difficult, and some customers have given up orders that were already in execution.

The company’s financial situation was strained as the balance sheets for 2020 and 2021 show. The spare parts warehouse said to contain 40,000 items, had been partially mortgaged to banks and creditors as collateral in 2021.

According to the report, the bankruptcy was triggered by the scandal that arose from the sale of a Mercedes 300 SL Roadster, which had the same chassis series as another 300 SL.

According to the insolvency report, the creditors will only be able to recover about 20% of the acknowledged claims of 16 million euros. That’s about 3.26 million euros, most of which came from the sale of significant parts of the insolvent company to Mercedes-Benz’s classic car division.

In 2022, the consultants recommended Kienle find a partner as an investor. Mercedes had intended to take over Kienle Automobiltechnik as early as 2023. Following the insolvency, Mercedes-Benz Heritage GmbH finally took over the employees, spare parts, and tools on February 1st, 2024, for 3.05 million euros, of which 1.5 million euros for spare parts, 350,000 euros for machines and 1.2 million euros for intangible assets such as customer data and the know-how of the employees.

The moment that triggered bankruptcy

In the fall of 2022, Ralph Grieser, owner of the classic car dealer Depot 3 in Mulheim-Karlich, bought a red Mercedes 300 SL Roadster from Switzerland, that had the chassis number 198042-10-002786. The car had belonged to a farmer from the canton of Schaffhausen since 1969. The car was withdrawn from circulation in Switzerland in 2021, and Grieser wanted to register it in Germany.

That was the moment that started the scandal: Grieser noticed that there was another Mercedes 300 SL Roadster with the same chassis number already registered in Germany.
Grieser was sure that he owned the original, and two experts who independently evaluated the car confirmed that the red Mercedes 300 SL Roadster was the original model.

The 300 SL Roadster bought by Grieser had a clean history: the first owner bought it in 1961 and kept it until 1969, and the person who bought it sold it to Grieser in 2021. The soft top roof, windshield, side windows, and carpets were the original, and the car has never been fully restored. The only difference was that the car was repainted in red, and the original color was yellow.
This yellow Mercedes 300 SL Roadster was exhibited in March 1961 at the Geneva Motor Show, on the occasion that Mercedes introduced disc brakes instead of drums.

Grieser informed the authorities and said he would look for the second copy. And he found it precisely in Malaysia. He contacted the owner and traveled to Malaysia with an expert, who concluded very clearly: “It is not only for an automotive expert that the evidence available is so clear that manipulation would have done.” The expert discovered numerous inconsistencies in the car sold by Kienle. The engine series on the yellow car was “visibly looked up,” writes the expert. “Other proof of identity such as the chassis number on the dashboard, the steering series, the frame head series, and the series on the front axle halves were removed, which for a vehicle are already clear indications that speak against originality”.

The conclusion was that the examined car had a different chassis number, namely 198042-10-002765. This car was delivered with a red interior in 1961 and was then stolen in Frankfurt in 1983.

Kienle denied all the accusations and explained to the magazine Auto Motor und Sport through a lawyer that “The yellow Mercedes 300 SL, which was at Kienle for the first time and for a short time in 2019, had the chassis number 198-042-10 -002786.” Kienle stated that the car had the same chassis number from the early 90s and that he only brokered its sale but “neither built the yellow Mercedes 300 SL as a duplicate nor manipulated its chassis number.” Kienle sold the car in 2019 as a broker.

Kienle also declared to the magazine Auto Motor und Sport at the beginning of June 2023: “We have no duplicates.” The investigations certified that of the 30 vehicles checked, the chassis number was correct. According to a press release sent by Kienle at the beginning of June 2023, “It is currently not even clear which of the two vehicles is the original and which is a reconstruction.”

Founded in 1984, Kienle Automobiltechnik was a specialist in the restoration of the 300 SL and 600 models.

Wilfried Porth, President of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Club Germany eV, recommends potential customers pay the expertise of 20,000 euros to verify the authenticity of a 300 SL and says that 20,000 euros is a small amount compared to the price of over 1 million euros of a 300 SL. Also, Porth declares that Mercedes Classic has all the data and documentation of the cars produced and can check very precisely whether a car is original or a duplicate.

At the time of publication of this article, the trial started in Stuttgart on July 6, 2023, is still ongoing. That is why, until the trial is completed, the presumption of innocence is valid.