Jim Luikens lives and breathes Mercedes-Benz. The evidence is inarguable. Over the course of 38 years he has owned more than 100 Mercedes-Benzes and to give the description and history of each would fill a small book. Wagons, sedans, coupes, diesels, roadsters, AMGs, and even the coveted 300 SL Gull Wing have all been in his stable at one time or another.
Jim is not a lifelong Mercedes owner. His earlier car preference as an adult was Cadillac, that is until GM downsized the Eldorado in 1979. As an alternative he opted for a ’79 Audi 5000, which he describes as “the biggest disaster, from which I couldn’t escape fast enough.” Two years and many headaches later he spotted a 300D Mercedes on the lot of the Lincoln dealership in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That diesel was less than a year old and had been traded in for a new Lincoln. Jim drove the 300D and found it fit him comfortably and handled very well. A deal was made to trade in the troublesome Audi for the reliable 300D.
That first Mercedes-Benz must have kindled Jim’s love of the brand, because in quick succession he acquired a number of Benzes. First was a new 300CD (coupe turbo diesel) in 1982 in place of the original (and slower) 1980 non-turbo 300D The following year he bought a silver on red ’73 450 SL once owned by the‒proverbial?‒“little old lady.”
When Jim first looked at the car, he had on hand about 80% of the purchase price, while the executor who was handling the late owner’s estate had not yet obtained the title. Determined not to allow the SL to slip out of his grasp, Jim suggested that he be allowed to drive the car home minus the hardtop. In the interim the seller could acquire a clean title while Jim obtained the remainder of the purchase cash.
Next came an ’84 wagon, and two years later a 300E that was picked at the factory on MBCA’s Euro Rally. And in ’87 Jim was “lucky enough to purchase a Gull Wing,” which he later sold, but well before the value of those rare birds skyrocketed. This trend of buying a wide variety of Benzes continues apace to this day.
Jim was born in 1947 in East Grand Rapids as the eldest of seven children. The Luikens family was not into car collecting, restoring, or hotrodding. Dad, says Jim, was a loyal Chevrolet man, but his hobbies included stamp collecting and model trains.
The family lived in a home that was built on two vacant lots which were purchased to provide an unobstructed view of passing trains while sitting on the back porch. Jim, like millions of his generation, built model cars—which helped to develop his lifelong interest. He also became an avid reader of automotive magazines long before he could legally drive. In 1957 (aged ten) Jim saw his first Gull Wing in the AAA’s Auto News magazine, and he avowed at that tender age to one day own one of those exotic machines. Thirty-one years later that dream became reality—a far cry from his very first car, a ’55 DeSoto that he had inherited from his late grandfather.
After working at a local Kroger supermarket, Jim got a job in the parts department at the family-owned Chevy dealership in Grand Rapids. Soon Berger Chevrolet asked him to manage their well regarded high-performance parts division. That early position led him to attend his first Speed (later Specialty) Equipment Manufacturers (later Market) Association (SEMA) event in southern California. Eventually SEMA moved to its current venue in Las Vegas where thousands of distributors and tens of thousands of buyers throng. Jim hopes to make the trip in November 2019 in order to attend his 50th (of 53) consecutive SEMA show, a record that is perhaps unrivaled by any other attendee. [Ed. Despite having tickets in hand, health problems prevented Jim from celebrating an unbroken string of half a century of SEMA shows in 2019. In 2020 he begins a new streak.]
From the late 1960s and into the 1970s Jim competed in drag racing— his favorite type of racing—at the US 131 MotorSports Park (originally Martin Dragway) south of Grand Rapids. He raced a ’57 Pontiac Chieftain station wagon and later a Pontiac 455 HO-powered T37 (produced during 1970-71, the latter offered many of the mechanical and performance options of the better-known GTO, but at a lower cost).
Eventually, Jim left Berger Chevrolet to take a traveling sales job with Mr. Gasket. Despite a number of corporate restructurings, Jim stuck with the company and made a comfortable living selling Mr. Gasket parts to warehouses throughout his Midwestern territory. Along the way he won numerous sales awards which are on display in his Hudsonville office.
There is plenty of garage space in the former two-story Chrysler Plymouth dealership that Jim now calls home. The dealership relocated to nearby Grandville and left behind a building that housed a construction company, and then an insurance office, until Jim purchased the facility in 1999. The service bays are located below the erstwhile showroom and offices. At the rear of the upper level is Jim’s residence. The showroom and office spaces are groaning with automotive memorabilia, awards, plaques, die-cast models aplenty and more. Jim recently sold his massive collection of Mercedes-related publications, literature, and memorabilia to a Mercedes dealer in northwestern Ohio as he prepares to wind down.
Automotive writing has been an integral part of Jim’s professional life. For decades his byline has appeared in a number of magazines: Automotive Quarterly, Smoke Signals, National Dragster, 300 StarLetter, DragRace Central, and Poncho Perfection (Pontiac) are a few. He wrote and published Gull Wing magazine, which won a Golden Quill Award each year that it was published. In 1993 Jim wrote his first article for The Star. At that time he had no idea that he would realize his dream job in 2007 by being named the editor of The Star, a position that he held until 2009, when his health was seriously compromised. (Past Western Michigan Section president Marvin Berkowitz, along with his 300 E, appeared on the cover of The Star in Jim’s first issue as editor, March/April 2007.) Jim’s articles have continued to appear in The Star after he stepped down from the editorship. His books include the Standard Catalog of Mercedes-Benz and The 50th Anniversary of the Mercedes Gull Wing Group.
Jim became an MBCA member in 1981, the very year that he acquired his first Mercedes. It wasn’t easy in that pre-Internet time to find out about the club, but he happened upon an independent mechanic and Mercedes enthusiast who had a little stand with MBCA flyers. He has been a continuous MBCA member from the outset. For him the biggest attraction to the club at that time was meeting likeminded and passionate Mercedes owners. The typical member the n was more likely to drive a W115 (diesel), not the owner of a scarce-as-hensteeth 1930s SSK or a prohibitively expensive 300 SL. More likely it was a nerdy college professor intrigued by a robust, German – engineered car than an industrialist looking for ways to flaunt his wealth. Jim observes, “I don’t see anybody having the passion now that we had in those early days. I’m 100% passionate, so I fit right in. [Typical] club members don’t buy new, they buy one generation old [models].”
In 2017, at the outstanding Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, Jim was awarded the prestigious Mercedes-Benz Silver Star Award, in recognition for his dedication to the promotion of Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Criteria that determine who receives such an honor include long standing MBCA membership, promotion of the brand, a desire to preserve the legacy of all things pertaining to Mercedes, and more.
Annually, each member of every officially-recognized Mercedes club world-wide can nominate a person worthy of the Silver Star. In 2017, Jim’s nomination by the Silver Star Selection Committee (including John Bleimaier & Terry Kiwala) was a no-brainer because of his decades of Mercedes-Benz promotion; his active involvement—particularly in the early years—in the Western Michigan MBCA section, the Great Lakes region, and the national board; his editorship and subsequent contributions to The Star; publishing the Gull Wing newsletter for more than two decades; and, owning and driving Mercedes-Benzes—dozens and dozens of them. All of the foregoing contributed his his recognition. He is not only the Midwest’s Mr. Mercedes, he can rightfully be designated as one of the MBCA’s Mr. Mercedes.