In a place that would previously have been practically unknown to tourists, Simeon Schad has achieved something of a feat: he has launched a small hotel in big style – and has since expanded it slightly, too. The key to his success is offering something that fits seamlessly into an environment that's all about automobiles.
text: Astrid Schwamberger // photography: Frank Hoppe
Germany is a country of car manufacturers, and one particular hotspot is the region around Stuttgart. Two premium brands, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, have their headquarters as well as production and development sites and even museums in and around the city. Insiders know immediately which car maker is being referred to when they hear talk of Sindelfingen, Untertürkheim, Weissach or Zuffenhausen.
Real petrol heads will also have heard of Böblingen, where in 2009 a service and experience centre specialising in classic cars, modern classics, sports cars and collectors' vehicles opened on a vast site that had formerly been an airfield. At Motorworld, which covers an area of 25,000 square metres, auto enthusiasts will find a range of dealers with showrooms and workshops, suppliers of glass boxes for displaying vehicles, accessories shops, restaurants and conference and event locations – as well as the V8 Hotel, a paradise for car lovers.
In fact, there are two V8 Hotels. The first, the V8 Classic, was opened by Managing Director Simeon Schad back in 2009. However, it soon became apparent that the 34 rooms in the former airport hotel dating from the Bauhaus era did not offer anywhere near enough capacity for visitors to the numerous conferences and events at Motorworld. So Schad stepped on the gas and opened a second V8 in April 2018 with the aid of his investor, this time in a new building with 153 rooms. "That means we're now the biggest privately run hotel in the Stuttgart region," Schad says, not without pride.
The name – V8 stands for eight-cylinder V-engines – hints at the theme that runs through both hotels like the barrier down the middle of the nearby Autobahn 81: automobiles, classic cars and motor racing. Polished classic sports cars are parked in the foyer, and a 1950s pick-up with the original patina sits in the restaurant of the same name. Graffiti with automobile motifs and model cars provide an eye-catching display in the stairwells. Other features include seats made of car parts and a circular reception area intended to be reminiscent of an oversized tyre. If the V8 restaurant needs more space for larger events, the hotel's neighbour, a classic car dealer, opens up its glass front and clears its treasures out of the way. Schad says, "One cog fits into another here."
The hotel manager, whose career began at a five-star hotel in Stuttgart, deliberately designed his hotel concept to fit in with Motorworld. The very first time he set foot in the listed Bauhaus-era building, he fell in love with it immediately, but also realised something else. "We had to do something quirky and unique here in order to create a business that would be economically viable." One crucial point was the location, which very few tourists would have been aware of up to then. As if that weren't enough, the former airport hotel only had space for 34 rooms. But Schad had ideas and investor Andreas Dünkel on his side.
From the beginning, the themed rooms have been a unique selling point: there are ten at the V8 Classic and 16 at the new V8 Hotel, each located at the end of a corridor. "We have a larger layout there than in the other double rooms," Schad says. He uses the additional scope this creates to tell automobile-themed stories and give the rooms a corresponding design, which he develops in collaboration with artists. Schad, who grew up with his parents' classic limos and the sound of V8 engines and could recognise all the brands with his eyes closed as a lad, says that he "ran riot". "That might have had a defining influence on me," the car-crazy hotelier says, grinning.
The centrepiece of most of the themed rooms is a car that has been converted into a bed – often it's one in which an actual V8 engine would have rumbled. On closer inspection it proves to be just the front with the bonnet and mudguards, to which an extra-long box-spring bed is attached. But it's enough! Just the nose of a red Alfa Romeo from the 1970s in the "Forza Italia" room gives the impression that the complete cult car is here – without any rust, dents or scratches, as if it were fresh from the factory. In reality, this piece, along with the beds incorporating the perfectly adapted front part of a VW Beetle in the "Tankstelle" ("Filling Station") room and a Mercedes W 108 in "Car Wash", come from the workshop of a designer who tracks down old rust buckets and cars that have been involved in accidents, restores them with a lot of attention to detail and then transforms them into unique pieces of furniture.
This attention to quality is something that the hotel owner likes to emphasise: "Everything here is genuine and made by human hands." The same applies to the artworks on the walls, which depict rustic scenes featuring barns or woods or the ambience of a retro workshop – and of course, cars, cars, cars. In the "Scheunenfund" ("Barn Find") room, Simeon Schad points out how vividly the artist has evoked the tread on the tyres, "so you feel as if it's really looking at you from the garage." It's by no means a far-fetched story: on many occasions, cars that had lain undiscovered for forty or fifty years are reported to have arrived at Motorworld as restoration projects.
Not all the rooms are themed. That isn't necessary, Schad explains, because "our business customers aren't necessarily fixated on themed rooms. Our designer double rooms are enough for them." Even in these rooms, however, his guests don't have to miss out on the automotive theme entirely. Although they don't sleep in cars, they are still surrounded by the guiding theme, as the rooms are decorated with specially produced wallpaper showing blown-up images of legendary motor racing scenes from the relevant archives in black and white. The artists have also immortalised themselves with fitting motifs on the walls, here showing a Martini Porsche next to the outline of the Le Mans course, there a likeness of a racing driver in his historic vehicle.
All this work naturally comes at a price: the themed rooms cost about three times as much to create, Schad says. They are also more expensive to maintain, he adds, because they contain valuable items that need to be handled with care. "We can't give our staff a time limit." Nevertheless, he believes the investment is worth it, as the added value enjoyed by guests means he can charge higher room prices. He doesn't have to sell rooms based on the price – and doesn't want to.
The mix of themed and designer rooms has also proved successful, Schad says. "It's worked very well so far, because what we're doing here is authentic." He doesn't believe it would be possible to run a hotel like this in the open countryside – only in this region, which has been heavily influenced by the automotive industry, and in connection with Motorworld. Guests who like the theme will return to hold a corporate event. Or the business guest from Monday will check in again with their entire family at the weekend – when there's a special deal on the second room. Schad, himself a father of two, sees this as an "investment in the future". He is confident that children who have had a good stay will return as young adults.