Tom has an established procedure for introducing himself to the owner of a promising barn-find location, but things went a little differently during this visit to Traverse City, Michigan. Luckily, it was a change for the positive.
While motoring around in his woody wagon, a flock of vintage Mercedes-Benz cars surrounding a house caught Tom’s eye. The site seemed worth investigating, so he returned and knocked on the door. Unfortunately, no one answered. To see whether the hoard was worth a return trip and a second attempt to contact the owner, Tom snuck around to see what was in the yard—something he typically doesn’t do. If the owner were to drive up or appear while he is snooping around, that wouldn’t be a good look.
Tom got lucky this time, though. A Chevy Suburban pulled into the driveway right as Tom walked out from behind the house, and the first words out of the homeowner’s mouth were, “Hey, I know you!” Guess it pays to be famous sometimes.
Ron Borher, who owns the stash of cars, happily ushered Tom around and chatted about the vehicles. It was an especially interesting tour because Ron is legally blind. Though he can’t drive his cars anymore, he doesn’t let macular degeneration stop him from working on them. He does repairs by feel, thanks to 41 years of spinning wrenches for a Mercedes-Benz dealership. The hardest part, Ron says, is finding the right wrenches; he can’t read the engravings that denote sizes.
His range of projects and vehicles is vast, from a 1988 Unimog to a ’61 Chevrolet 6400 to a Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16. Some vehicles are workhorses and others are just for fun—even though he doesn’t get to have the behind-the-wheel experience anymore. The cars are in various stages of running and project planning, but all of them are in the care of a talented, experienced enthusiast who wants to return them to their former glory.
Talking to someone who has been tied to one brand for 41 years is a fascinating opportunity, and reveals what a spring of information such a specialized gearhead can be. Even without his driver’s license, Ron is the real deal. It’s folks like him who keep the car hobby alive by passing along information to the rest of us.