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Filtering by Tag: Mercedes

Mercedes Benz SL-X

Classic Velocity

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There are a lot of great-looking cars that never made it to production throughout the history of the automobile. The Mercedes Benz SL-X is one of the best looking in our opinion. It is a stunning vehicle now, as it was then. It is the result of an effort in 1965 by designers Paul Bracq and Georgio Batistella to develop a sports coupe at the top of the Mercedes range. It was a low and sleek mid-engined coupe with bulging side scoops, bulging fenders, pop up headlights, and massive hood vents. The cockpit enclosure had a generous greenhouse, and gullwing doors. In case you were inclined to mistake it for an Italian supercar, for which you might be forgiven, it was silver and there was a giant three-pointed star on the nose. The view from the rear is equally voluptuous, with angled rear pillars on the greenhouse, and an implied diffuser. This might have been an image-changing car for Mercedes who at the time had largely conceded the supercar space to others. It was never equipped with an engine, but Mercedes had a few good candidates at the time in six cylinder and eight cylinder guise. Ultimately, the prototype never went any further and we (and when I say we, I mean very well heeled sports car enthusiasts) were all denied a production version.

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However, the vehicle did become the basis for another prototype in the form of the C101 (which was forced to become the C-111 due to Peugeot’s patent on model numbers with a zero in the middle). The C111 was unveiled at the Geneva show in 1969, but it was also never to see production. In this case, it was intended to be a test platform for a host of ideas and technology that Mercedes was experimenting with at the time.

Photos by Ronan Glon

Photos by Ronan Glon

Cuban Cars

Classic Velocity

Friend of the blog Ed Solomon snapped a bunch of great pictures while on a tour of Cuba. A few of the German ones are pictured here along with others. All had great exteriors and interiors, but had surprising engine bays equipped with small transplants, displaying the ingenuity (or is that enginuity) needed to keep these cars on the road...

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Brought to you by MOTOCRON : Record, Monitor, Analyze, Report, on activities for all of your vehicles.

Mercedes 200D : Building The Diesel Legend

Classic Velocity

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 Mercedes Benz has always been a premier luxury marque, but they have also been a producer of basic workhorse transportation. Pick a movie from the sixties and seventies set in Europe, the Middle East, or the third world in general, and you will note their legendary role as the taxi cabs of the world. That legend started with the W110 in the early 1960s, and in particular with the Diesel variant. Mercedes was never the cheapest sedan, but in the case of the 190D and 200D, they quickly built a reputation for running millions of kilometers, tolerating heavy loads, and being generally indestructible. Those are the key attributes of a commercial vehicle, but in this case, they were embodied in a sedan.

The W110 series began in 1961 with the introduction of the 190 cars., replacing the W111 series and confounding the once logical Mercedes nomenclature. They were part of the Heckflosse (Fintail) series covered here before (see The Heckflosse Champion), and had the signature appendages in the rear. In the front, they looked like the preceding Ponton cars (see Ponton Production) with the round headlights and the snub nose. Inside, wood was replaced with Bakelite, and luxury seats were replaced with fixed back items. But the key gamble that Mercedes continued to take was in promoting the Diesel engine. At the time, diesel engines  were noisy and visibly produced soot out of the tailpipe. They also had extremely sluggish performance. The press was not kind to these machines, and the traditional Mercedes customer did not view them positively either.

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However, the taxi cab industry had quite the opposite view. These were robust, relatively fuel efficient vehicles with enough comfort to be the ideal conveyance. If it was good for taxicabs, then it was good for others desiring rock solid transportation, and sales grew along with the reputation. Between 1961 and 1965, the diesel variant outsold the gasoline version by over 95,000 units. In 1966, a second series of the W110 was introduced. The inline 4 diesel in the 200D now had a 5 bearing main crankshaft, twin carburetors, and increased bore to yield 1988cc. This produced a whopping 60hp, and a top speed of 130kph in a vehicle weighing 2794 lbs. This was not a performance sedan! However, it also went on to outsell the gasoline variant by over 51,000 units between 1966 and 1968. 

Overall, over 387,000 of the W110 diesels were produced by the time they were replaced by the W115 series in 1968. They cemented the legendary status of the Mercedes Benz Diesel engine, which also became popular in marine applications. It also provided a reputation for reliable, durable vehicles to complement the image of premier luxury automobiles. Remember the 600 Pullman was produced in the same timeframe, as were trucks and vans. No other manufacturer at the time had such an effective grasp of both ends of the spectrum.

Ponton Production

Classic Velocity

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Mercedes had been slowly rebuilding its manufacturing capacity after the war, but in July 1953 they really regained that capacity with the production of the "Ponton" cars. These cars were so named because of the external body styling which resembled pontoons. They were really the first true postwar vehicle from Mercedes, as machines such as the 170D were really just postwar versions of prewar cars. The cars and the styling are thought to be the work of Freidrich Geiger who was later responsible for the 300SL. First up were the 4 cylinder W120 sedans, which were dubbed the 180 models. The following year a 180D model was introduced to provide a diesel model, and the legendary straight 6 was introduced to create the 220a sedan. 

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1955 introduced the 190SL coupe and then the roadster, and a year after that, new versions of the 6 cylinder were introduced dubbed models 219 and the 220S. There were also new versions of the 4 cylinder cars, the W180 II. A handsome cabriolet was introduced to round out the Pontons. Finally, 1958 saw the introduction of the 220SE, and production fuel injection. In 1959, a third and final generation of the Pontons went into production, which technically lasted until 1962. Overall, there were over 580,000 Ponton cars produced, firmly returning Mercedes to high volume production, and putting them in position to attempt a purchase of BMW in the late 1950s. But that is another story....

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A Mercedes Victory In Germany

Classic Velocity

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The Formula One German Grand Prix is set to take place on July 20, 2014. For the first time in decades, a Mercedes is a favorite to win the event. In fact, A 1-2 finish is almost expected, given the Mercedes dominance this season. The last Mercedes victory at the German Grand Prix took place exactly 60 years ago, in 1954, when the race was held at the famous Nurburgring. At the time, Formula One had no other race quite like it. It was 14.1 miles long as a circuit, and the race was only 22 laps as a result. It is hard to imagine today's drivers, or indeed any driver at any time, coming to grips with a circuit that long at Formula One speeds. Indeed, Maserati driver, Onofre Marimon, was killed in the practice session in 1954. It is unlikely today that the race would even have taken place, but this was a different time.

Mercedes brought their W196 to the race with new open-wheel sheet metal, and Juan Manuel Fangio put the car on pole. Hawthorn in a Ferrari qualified second, followed by Sir Stirling Moss in a Maserati. During the race, Fangio stayed up front, but he was heavily pursued by the Ferrari of Gonzalez, and was passed for a while by Karl Kling in the other W196. Hawthorn retired early with a mechanical failure, but ironically returned later in the race to take over the other Ferrari from Gonzalez and finish second. Karl Kling in the second Mercedes, lost positions while in the pits, and finished fourth behind second Ferrari driver Trintignant. The race lasted just under three hours and 46 minutes, and included rain during part of it. It was a torturous event in which only 10 cars finished, less than half the field. 

 

However, it was a successful race for Mercedes and their new W196, in this instance with its open wheel body style. Their championship leader, Fangio, extended his advantage over Gonzalez, and the efforts of Karl Kling resulted in the fastest lap of the race (which was also worth a championship point). Two of the three cars finished in the points, which only went down to fifth position in those days. Mercedes withdrew from racing the following year following a horrific accident at Le Mans, and have only returned to formula one in recent years. We will see if they can add to the legacy of wins and championships in Germany next week.....

To Spark, Or Not To Spark

Classic Velocity

Given enough time working on classic vehicles, you will encounter all kinds of experiences. There are long journeys through some aspect of a rebuild. There are endless components of a restoration due to the search for parts. There are surprisingly quick and easy solutions. There are rewarding outcomes for hard work. There are low-cost solutions that work flawlessly, and there are expensive solutions that do not. There is the joy of victory, and the agony of defeat. And then there are the mysteries. ah yes, the mysteries. There are some puzzles and riddles that take inordinate amounts of time and effort to solve, but the mysteries are different. The particular issue at hand can be remedied, but they are either never solved or solved a very long time later. A few have been chronicled in this blog (see on getting grounded), but a recent mystery is again worthy of sharing.

The Mercedes 280SE was running beautifully. I had been out for about 45 minutes just cruising around the sparsely populated country roads. The interior smelled like only 40-year-old leatherette from Germany can smell. The acceleration was steady and sweet. That is, if you accept a liberal definition of acceleration. Rather like a locomotive, the 280SE builds speed in a way that does not disturb the occupants. But I digress. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and all was right with the world. And then, five minutes from home, the engine lost all power and I coasted to the shoulder of the road. The car simply would not restart. It cranked over fine but would not fire. Eventually the battery began to get a little weak, and I accepted the inevitable. I was able to walk back easily from that location (once again proving the wisdom of the Concentric Circle theory). The 280SE is a tank, and it would have taken four adults to push it any reasonable distance. It occurred to me that there is something particularly embarrassing about needing to walk back to the garage from a half a mile away as opposed to getting towed from 100 miles away. It is equally embarrassing to tow-rope a car home from that short distance away, because it would be even more embarrassing to get a trailer for that distance, and it would be mortifying to call the flatbed service from the insurance company. 

Back at the garage, I was hoping for something heat related, like a coil or perhaps some kind of vapor lock. Well let's get to work checking the obvious, since all you need is fuel, air, and fire. It was soon apparent that there was no spark. That might have supported the coil theory or even just a bad condenser as had happened to me along time ago. I grab the multimeter and measure ohms across the coil. Not a complete fail, but suspect. A few hours rummaging through the old parts bins did not result in me producing a new condenser or a new coil, although I had plenty of used and suspect versions of each (see Hoarding for Gearheads). Calling and visiting the few parts places that were still open resulted in smiles and chuckles. I tried one of the used coils and used condensers from my parts stash. No spark. I headed for the computer to track down some parts....

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Days later, I had a new coil and new condenser. I also had a new set of points and a new cap and rotor which I needed to do anyway. they all got installed in a few minutes. No spark. I look through the manual and find no help there. It seems that there were three systems in use on the early electronic ignition cars, and my car looked perfectly original, but was none of the above. I checked a few forums and a couple of posts matched the symptoms; bad resistor(s), and bad CDI module. Of course I went the resistor route first. A week later they arrive and I get them installed. No spark. "Ssssunnuvva....". It is at moments like these that you start to get creative in your thinking. I remember that I have a Pertronix unit new in the box along with a coil to match it. I look up the correct unit for the six cylinder that is in the 280SE and it is a match since the unit was intended for my long gone 230SL straight six. Surely this is a good omen. I wire everything up, bypass my lovely new resistors, and triple check all of the connections. There is juice at the coil, and everything looks good. No spark. I head to the computer to locate a CDI unit....

A week later, I have a new CDI unit on the work bench. The old one is an absolute pain to remove as it is located down near the bottom of the radiator and has bolts that are difficult to access. I get the new one in and connected. No spark. Now we are a few hundred dollars into this issue, and about 3 weeks between parts and ability to work on the car. I take the Pertronix out and go back to stock. No spark. I try a few condenser and coil combos. No spark. I walk away. Days later, a forum post suggests a different wiring configuration to bypass a harness issue. I try it. No spark.

A few days later, I decide to get professional help. I am always reluctant to do this until I have done everything I can, but I was clearly not making progress. I trailered the car over to a shop that I knew, and simply told Rolf (not his real name) that I had no spark. Rolf is a former certified Mercedes mechanic who trained on these cars when they were new. It was in good hands. A few days after dropping it off I called to see how they were progressing. "I haven't gotten to it yet, but by the end of the week...". At the end of the week we got a massive dumping of snow. And then another 10 inches 4 days later. And then another. For two weeks no progress was made. When they finally got to it, they were stumped by the Pertronix and the shiny new CDI. "You know, ze original from za factory iz alvays best", said Rolf. They did not want to touch it. I suggested they put it back to stock, but they were unsure how since it matched none of the electrical diagrams. Another week passed, and they simply  replaced the cap and rotor. No spark.

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Finally, I went over one day and worked in their shop to get the car back to stock points and condenser and coil. I told Rolf that I would charge him his own shop rate for the work. He laughed. Then we combined forces. Juice was clearly not making it to the positive terminal of the coil. We by-passed the resistors and got 11.6 volts at the new non-resistor coil. Clearly something going on somewhere in that small section of harness. We opened the points and got a circuit. Great. We got excited and cranked the car over. No spark. Rolf scratched his head and declared this a mystery that required more strong coffee. I was actually pleased, as the problem was stumping the Pros as well. After a while of testing and cranking, I discovered that we lost the circuit whenever we cranked the car. But why ? Rolf returned and suggested that we remove the ground from the negative terminal of the coil. "Why ?" I asked. That connection from the chassis to the coil was stock, and solid. "Why do ve need za coil to be grounded?" asked Rolf. "It has always been grounded" I said. "Just try it, what do we have to lose?". "How about this car and your shop set on fire?" I retorted. "Nonsense, i vill pay you if zis happens" said Rolf, and he removed the ground. I reluctantly returned to driver's seat, and paused taking a deep breath. I cranked it, and cheers and laughter erupted from the front of the car. Spark.

I reinstalled the spark plug that had now been out of its hole for a month. I let the car run for a while, and looked for smoke and felt the coil. Everything seemed fine. I shut it off, and started it again. It fired right up. I went around the block, returned, and let it idle some more. Everything was fine. Miles later, all remains well. You would think that I am happy the mystery is solved, and I am, but with a certain uneasiness. Mystery #1 has just been replaced by a greater mystery. How did it ever run in the first place ?

The Heckflosse Champion

Classic Velocity

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Many fans of vintage German cars will be aware of the success of the 300SLR in the immediate postwar era. They will probably also be aware of the terrible crash at Le Mans in 1955. The 300SLR driven by Pierre Levegh lost control, left the course, plowed into the stands, and ignited, killing 83 spectators and Levegh himself. It remains the most devastating accident in motorsports history. Hours later, Mercedes withdrew its remaining cars which were running 1st and 2nd at the time, and the factory withdrew from racing. The hiatus lasted 5 years. 

In 1960, the Mercedes factory returned to racing with an unlikely candidate, the W111 platform. It was an interesting choice because the new 220SE was a four-door sedan. Even more than that, it was one of the "Heckflosse" cars, or Fintails as they became known in English. Not only was this a relatively large sedan, but the cars were intended to serve an upscale luxury market, and to appeal to late 1950s American buyers in particular with the fins. The car was neither light weight, nor particularly fast. That hardly sounds like a recipe for a successful race car, but the whole idea was to show that a production car was tough enough to compete. Accordingly, in 1960, the factory decided to use this as their entry into the European Rally Championship.

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The car was equipped with a 2.2 L six-cylinder engine which was fuel injected. The fuel injection was via a Bosch 2 plunger mechanical pump. The engine also featured a single overhead cam driven by a dual roller chain. This produced 120 HP at 4800 RPM. Walter Schock and Rolf Moll drove the car to overall victory in the famous Monte Carlo Rally. This was part of an incredible 1-2-3 finish for Mercedes. It excelled in the longer races, and Schock and Moll went on to win the Acropolis Rally and the Polish Rally. They complimented that with 3rd in the Tulip Rally and 4th in the German Rally. This allowed them to win the championship. A remarkable first year!

In 1961, Mercedes Motorsport director Karl Kling drove a 220SE to victory in the brutal Algiers-Lagos-Algiers Rally. Schock and Moll triumphed in the grueling 4600 KM (2860 miles) Grand Premio Argentina. Hans Hermann and Rainer Gunzler finished 2nd in another 220SE. In 1962, Eugen Bohringer piloted another 220SE to victory in the European Rally Championship, again winning the Acropolis Rally, the Polish Rally, and Liege-Sofia-Liege. They also repeated victory in the Argentine race. This three year run cemented the place of the 220SE in Mercedes Benz motorsports history. 

It turns out that the secret weapon of the 220SE was reliability. What it lacked in speed and handling, the car made up for in stability and endurance. It finished races, and was usually in the top five. When the race was long or hard, it ended up on the top step of the podium, or close to it. In 1963, the new 230SL came along which was a lighter car on the same platform. The 220SE retired, but in 2011, the factory built a replica of the 220SE Rally car which competed in a vintage event at the Nurburgring.

Munching at Maucher's

Classic Velocity

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Snow, salt, and freezing temperatures are usually not the friends of vintage iron. They relegate the machines we love to the sidelines in places that have real winter. Thankfully, we have guys like Dennis and Bill that realize it is a public service to relieve us of our cabin fever and arrange some kind of Gearhead activity. And so it was that we descended upon the premises of one Gary Maucher, proprietor of Maucher Auto Upholstery. This was not the first visit (see The Undiscovered Bounty) but the shop had relocated a few hundred yards, and his motorcycle collection which literally adorned the walls of the old shop, was now more of a small museum space.

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Gary is our kind of guy. He is at once the holder of a dream job involving vintage four-wheeled vehicles, and a passionate two-wheeled aficionado. By day, he upholsters vintage vehicles that most of us dream about. On this day, the shop had an Aston Martin DB4, a Mercedes 300SL, a Ferrari, and a Porsche 356, to name a few. The value of the vehicles assembled in his shop was astronomical. This speaks to the quality of his work and the clientele it attracts. I try to be careful around my garage so as not to add any more "accidental patina", but working on someone's freshly painted 7 figure machine must take a special kind of care and confidence.

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A separate area of the shop now houses Gary's collection of motorcycles. This brings up another reason that he is our kind of guy. He collects what he likes. This is a guy who clearly knows enough to just assemble the cream of the crop, but that is not the sense that you get from talking to him, or from walking around the bikes. There are a number of BMWs from a R90S in custom red, to an R1100S. There are also a number of Harleys and a number of Indians (he vintage races an Indian). However, there is also an MV Agusta Senna, a couple of Nortons, a wonderful survivor Triumph, a Ducati Pantah, a Brough Superior, a Moto Guzzi Eldorado, and (my favorite), a Gilera 250 with sidecar. And many more. 

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To top it off, he is a nice guy. He opens his shop to a bunch of vintage Gearheads, educates, answers our inane questions, and allows us to wander about freely amongst a lot of precious metal. This is exactly the kind of guy you want to apply his craftsmanship to your project, or to have a few beers with and swap lies. 

Hoarding for Gearheads

Classic Velocity

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I am in possession of about a dozen brand new oil filters of various types and sizes. I know that many of them do not fit anything I currently own. I know that if I did own one of the vehicles again that they fit, I would probably not remember that I had one already. They serve no practical purpose other than to adorn a shelf in the garage. I cannot throw them out, as they are new and perfectly functional. I console myself with thoughts like....one day, I am going to look them all up and put them on eBay. I am not trying to hoard them all, it is just the inertia.

I am in possession of about a dozen coils. Most of them are black Bosch coils with labels long gone. Some of them have a piece of masking tape on them with words like BAD, and SUSPECT. I don't really trust the conclusion I reached whenever it was that I pulled these coils, so I can't throw them out yet. Others have vehicle names on them that I no longer own. You never know, I might stumble across another 6V Ghia with a suspect coil anyday. Then I would look brilliant. And regular readers will know that it would not be unusual for a former vehicle to be owned again (Repeat Offenders, Recidivism

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I am in possession of many dozen door mirrors. Many of them are broken or blemished in some way. A grub screw stripped, or a pivot mechanism shot so that the glass just flops around, seriously pitted chrome, etc. some of them were horrible "upgrades" by previous owners of vehicles I no longer own. Some of them fit vehicles that I currently own. Spares that I would never use because of their condition. I can't throw them out because they may be useful on a track car or a project, or as spare glass.

I am in possession of more than a dozen motorcycle windshields. None of them fit anything I currently own. In fact two of them fit vehicles that I have never owned! They are mostly in good shape, so I can't throw them out. You never know when a hot rod Cafe project will need a cut down windshield from a BMW K12RS. They are bulky and difficult to store without scratching. Eventually, in about 30 years, there will be more than a dozen very scratched motorcycle windshields. Perhaps then the kids or grand kids will discard them.

I am in possession of several sets of used spark plug wires. They were all removed from vehicles to eliminate them as potential contributors to some malady. Since I also replaced points, condensers, and coils (see above), they could all be perfectly fine. Or not. Best not to throw them out then.

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I am in possession of 2  BMW /2 bench seats which are shedding fine horsehair,  a sheet metal replacement for the bottom front of a 356C, a multi-tool for a Norton, a pitted rear script from a Mercedes 230SL, a 1.7 914 motor, cracked turn signal lenses for a 69 Karmann Ghia, several not-so-good sets of /5 mufflers, rear door panels for a BMW 3.0CS, a dented CB750 tank, a tail section for an R100RS, a spare wheel for a Puma GTC, a broken speedometer for a 1966 VW Bus, multiple sets of airhead luggage, a deformed spoiler from a Mercedes 2.3 16V, a 914 rear decklid, etc, etc, etc.

This could go on for pages and pages. Items are in the garage, the basement, the attic, other undisclosed locations. I firmly believe that we gearheads are very different from the hoarders seen on reality TV shows. We are more like inventory builders. Then again, perhaps we just have different areas of specialization, or perhaps we are even sicker because we actually attempt to justify what we hoard....

Lime Rock Vintage 2013

Classic Velocity

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The weather was not cooperating. Labor Day weekend is intended to be summer's last fling here in the northeast, and I have been at Lime Rock Motorsports Park when it was sweltering. I have also been there when rain pelted the tent all night, and you were unexpectedly greeted by a freezing cold morning. This year it was a perfectly pleasant barbecue evening on Friday, followed by a torrential downpour with an impressive hour-long lightning show on Saturday night.  Sunday varied between a few brief showers and a few brief periods of warm sunshine. Umbrellas and Italian Ice within minutes of each other.

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Fortunately, the weather forecast is not a deterrent to the throngs that show up for both the vintage racing and the concours on Sunday. This event has been covered in the blog before, and this year I want to concentrate on the Sunday portion of the activities which is the car show/concours. Although the weather undoubtedly have some impact on the cars that showed up on Sunday, it was difficult to tell how much as it was still an entire race track full of cool machines. For those not familiar, lime rock arranges it's car show around the 1.5 mile track. Different marques gather at different sections of the track making it both convenient to find your favorite and advantageous to walk the whole thing.

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The BMW 2002 contingent was there in force as usual for the 02 fest east, and it was the 50th anniversary celebration of the Porsche 911, so they were the featured marque. Ironically, I drove neither as I had a large parts transaction to conduct and the tow vehicle was in order. Speaking of support vehicles, a couple of superb ones were on hand this year. A Fiat Maserati support truck, and an Alfa Romeo support van. Best of show for me though, was a 1953 Mercedes 220b in the same family since new. It had not been shown in 30 years, and the owner spent a few minutes going over the car with me. What a jewel, and it rightfully won an award. As usual, words can not do justice to the great variety of vehicles on hand, so the links to the album and the slideshow are provided.

The price of History

Classic Velocity

The 1954 Mercedes W196 driven to the Formula 1 championship by Juan Manuel Fangio sold at auction for a record $29.6 Million (see Hemmings Story). This obliterated the former record for a car at auction by more than $13 Million. The auction premium alone (assuming 10%) is about the same as the median home price in the USA ! The good news is that this bodes well for unrestored drivers ;-)

Once you get past the money though, I can only hope that this car will continue to be seen and even used (gasp!). Whoever is insuring this machine will probably be pressuring the owner not to do either..... 

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2013 Deutsche Classic

Classic Velocity

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If there is an event that almost perfectly matches the theme and scope of Classic Velocity, it is Pennsylvania's Deutsche Classic. The event has been around for a number of years, but it is billed as an all German multiple marque event including cars and now motorcycles. The event has moved around over the years from Reading, to Fleetwood, and this year for the first time to its' new home in Oley Pennsylvania. Regular readers will know that Oley is also the site of the AACA vintage motorcycle swap meet in the spring. Familiar territory.

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It is always good to see friends and fellow chronic disease sufferers from many brands all in the same place. I could walk to any encampment and see a familiar face, and I have been to the event with almost every marque present (my one and only Opel and my only Audi pre-dated the event). Last year there was a Bitter present (see Sweet Bitter), and that was another exception. All of this makes this event into a next snapping frenzy as every compass direction has something of interest, every for sale sign is of potential interest, and there are virtually no vendor stalls that are not of interest.

That said, there are always cars of particular interest. A nice Type 4 Karmann Ghia caught my attention, as did a BMW 2000. Nice examples of any car always stop you in your tracks, and Roger Jone's beautiful 3.0CS is one such car. Todd was present with his superb modified R90S. Craig brought his immaculate single cab Bus. Several nice 356 cars were present. The most interesting car for me though was not on the show field. It was behind a vendor stall. It was an ultra rare Mercedes wagon. To the uninformed, it looked like someone's shade tree experiment. However, it is actually a 1966 Mercedes 230 wagon. This one was an even more rare Binz version with a higher roofline. It is not the prettiest car to begin with, and this one is in rough shape, but what a great surprise to see one in the flesh.

Globe Trotting

Classic Velocity

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For many of us who are into vintage iron, there is a deep interest in brands and machines that we have no interest in owning. If we like one particular marque, then there is usually an interest in one or two others that we may never have owned or have any desire to in the future. For some strange reason though, we have accumulated a level of knowledge about these other brands or vehicles. For me it is French cars. Perhaps it is because I have never owned one that there is such interest as I have owned vehicles from many countries ear to France. Countries such as England, Italy, Germany of course, and Sweden, but nothing from the country which founded motor racing.

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This makes Carlisle's annual import show an anticipated event, as you can see all of these nationalities and more in one place. It is also one Of a few events of the year where Saab may outnumber BMWs, or where Opels may outnumber MGBs. By the way, what is the plural of Saab? It seems like one of those words where the plural should be the same as the singular ie: I have 9 Saab. But I digress.....the French section is a mixture of Citroen, Peugeot, and Renault. Perhaps because of the multiple Citroen DS present, it feels like there is an air of sophistication surrounding the ownership of French cars. Not in a snobbish way, it's just that there are no ratty unfinished French cars at any event where I have seen them present. Even the common man's 2CV is usually well preserved or restored. They seem much more like Jaguar or Mercedes.

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Speaking of Jaguar and Mercedes, both were well represented on the showfield. Mercedes W109 models and Jaguar E-Type were particularly plentiful. The aforementioned Opel is another reason that this show is a delight. While the Opel GT is most abundant, this is the place to see multiple generations of Rekord, many Mantas (Manti?), Asconas, and more. This is another favorite section of the showfield. Favorite section #3 is the for sale corral. Just for variety it cannot be beat. A fully surface-rusted beetle, a Triumph TR4, a BMW 2002, a Cobra kit car, a Jaguar E-Type, a Mercedes SL, a Subaru Microcar, a Porsche 356 Replica, a Volvo PV44, etc. the prices were just as varied as the machines from the ridiculous to the great deal.

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I have not even touched on the growing Datsun/Nissan presence, the Rovers, or the Volvo wagon brigade. This is the beauty of the event, you can walk across the globe and sample vintage vehicles. But be warned, globe trotting can be very time-consuming, and does not lend itself to a rigid schedule. You could get stuck in Sweden drinking vodka with the natives as the sky grows dark.....

The First Pagoda

Classic Velocity

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It is lost on many people that the much celebrated Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing and the companion roadster were not great sellers. They formed great race cars, but were not as practical in production for the road. Only 3,258 of them were produced. The "baby" roadster, the 190 SL was certainly not the sports car that 300SL turned out to be, and was more of a grand tourer. However, it was lighter, and less expensive. As a result, it did far better in the showroom. As the 1960s began, Mercedes began to look at a replacement for the 190SL. They considered a true successor of the 300SL in more of a sporting platform, but ended up concentrating on producing another elegant grand tourer. Bruno Sacco who worked on the project as a junior designer Indicated that they were trying to combine the 300SL roadster and the 190 SL into a single successor.

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The W113 platform as it came to be known, is credited to designer Paul Bracq and was introduced in 1963. A signature feature of the design was the roof. one option for the roof was a removable hardtop. This was metal and glass, and not some lightweight simple covering. In either form, the roof is based on the work of Bela Berenyi who had introduced a flat roof over a decade earlier and had done a fair amount of research on loadbearing stresses. The design challenge in this instance was to produce a vehicle that had good headroom and yet was relatively efficient in terms of wind drag. This would typically mean a conflict between a low roofline and a high one. What Bracq decided to do was to lower the roof in the middle so that there was decent headroom on either side, but yet there was a relatively low roofline in the middle. This depression in the middle also helped nicely with the channeling of water from the roof. However it gave the roof an appearance similar to iconic architecture in Japan, and hence the roof became known as the Pagoda. This identity soon became attached to the car itself, and indeed to the series which became known as the pagoda cars.

If the body and styling were completely new, then the rest of the car was really an evolution of an existing one. The 220S coupe. The 120 hp six-cylinder engine from 220S is what powered the first of the Pagoda cars, the 230SL. The 2.3 Litre six (enlarged from 2.1) was smooth and powerful, and seemed well suited to a GT car. It featured Bosch direct fuel injection which was one of the reasons that he was able to make more power. It also contributed to what is one of the very best looking engine bays from any car In that time period. Like the motor, the chassis and its development was also the work of Rudi Uhlenhaut. He is reported to have been dissatisfied with the current state of tires, and pressed Michelin into producing a more modern radial for the 230SL. The tigers were coupled with the unitary construction press steel body rather than spaceframe layout used for the 300SL. The suspension in the rear was the successful swingarm suspension used by Mercedes, and in the front they utilized wishbones with springs and shocks. This chassis and suspension layout was designed to do more than just pamper the driver. In the hands of Eugen Bohringer, it was used to win the Liege-Sophia-Liege marathon outright.

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The interior of the first pagoda car was clearly designed to imitate the 300SL. It was well crammed in leather, and included a padded dash. The soft top retracted and was elegantly covered by a nice panel when the hardtop was in use. Removing the hardtop was a tw0-man job which I can personally attest to, so it was not uncommon to see cars without them for much of their life. The benefit is that they were solid, and airtight. Instrumentation included a large speedometer and tachometer, and then a nice combination of four gauges in a relatively rectangular central cluster designed to further emphasize the rectangular shapes of the car. The steering will have a nice leather padded center section along with a chrome horn ring. Both a four speed standard transmission, and a three speed automatic were offered. Braking was by way of discs up front and drums in the rear. The press were very mixed on the initial 230SL. It looked like a sports car and it had the SL badging, but it was clearly neither Super nor Legerre. It was only once they drove the car and experienced the combination of handling, engine, appointments, and visibility, that they came to understand how well it was suited to its intended purpose.

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The public had no such trouble understanding the vehicle, and they sold in brisk numbers from the very beginning. In many ways, it was the first truly mass-produced SL cars, with close to 50,000 W113 cars produced. Almost 20,000 of those were the 230SL. It went on to spawn ever more powerful variants, and helped to define and refine a segment that remains with us to this day.

The Benz Binge

Classic Velocity

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On a recent trip I was fortunate to be able to visit the Forney museum. It is a museum which celebrates transportation throughout the ages and includes everything from the horse drawn wagon to the space shuttle. The bulk of it however is dedicated to automobiles, trains, motorcycles, and bicycles. The Forney is another great museum located in a not so great industrial park. In fact, driving up I was convinced that my GPS had lead me astray. Once you get through the doors though the museum is rendered all the more impressive due to the contrast of its exterior surroundings.

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Although I would like to think that they arranged this just for me, at the time of my visit the Forney museum happened to be featuring an exhibit on the history of Mercedes Benz. Brilliant. About half of the automotive space was dedicated to this exhibit. Even with this much space, it made for a pretty crowded exhibit due to the number of cars. The date range covered was 1950 to 2000. Nothing very new, and nothing very old, but covering what I consider to be some of the best years for the marque.

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A little more space was dedicated to some really valuable cars which were posed with mannequins (womannequins?). These rarities began with a 1950 type 300 Cabriolet in maroon with tan interior, followed by a coupe in two-tone silver and green. One forgets how beautiful the front grills were on these cars, and how they were enhanced by ornate grill badges common at the time. Further down there was a 1954 220 with the next generation of body styling. Another exquisite star was the 1959 220 SE Cabriolet in pale yellow. Not the first color I think of with Mercedes, but a stunning car in this case. There was a Gullwing of course, and a nice black 190. Perhaps over exposure of these "rockstars" has dulled my appreciation for how special they are, but I moved on quickly.

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However, the exhibit did not just consist of ultra-rare examples of the marque. Moving on chronologically, we come to the first of the pagoda cars, a 230 SL. I owned one of these cars (another car I should never have sold), and have always maintained that they have one of the best engine bays in vintage cardom. Although mine was certainly not, properly done they are like jewelry. The example on display belonged in Tiffany's. As you moved on, the entire range of SLs was well represented through to the 450SL. Another superb aspect of this marque are the interiors. The earlier cars contain fine furniture more so than auto interiors. They give the British a run for their money on this front. But even the later cars have dash and trim that exude luxury, even on lower end models. The interiors deserve their own article, so we will move on....

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What would a Mercedes exhibit be without their fabulous sedans? The early 190s, 220s, and 300s, gave way to successive generations with the same numbers, but with new designations like S, SE, and SEL. There was a 220 SE from the early 1970s, a nice silver 450 SEL, and a beautiful black 600. And what about the diesels you say? Well the engine that Mercedes helped to make acceptable both in luxury cars and in taxicabs alike, was well represented. The diesel cars present were drivers (kudos to Forney for including working examples). The stalwart is the 300D, and there was both a turbo diesel sedan and a diesel wagon.

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Last but not least, was a sedan reminding us that Mercedes can do performance when it wants to. The 190E with the Cosworth 16V heads is near and dear to me as one with my name on the title sits apart at an undisclosed secret location. This model would have been cock of the walk in performance sedans, except for the bad timing of being introduced in the 1980s around the same time as the all-conquering BMW E30 M3. It has instead become a cult classic. On display was a euro version of the ultimate expression of that car, the 2.5 Evolution, complete with charcoal grey color and houndstooth interior. I may have left a puddle of drool nearby.

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It is not until you see an exhibit like this that you can appreciate what a particular marque has accomplished over time. And in this case, it was just a fraction of the cars that Mercedes has produced. It was missing the beginnings of the automobile, the pre-war era, the trucks and G-wagens, and the most recent 15 years !!

Executive Express

Classic Velocity

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Among the German automakers, Mercedes has an interesting history of both performance and luxury. Because of it's roots (see Happy 125th Benz), it has always been associated with great luxury cars and grand touring sedans. However, it also has a much celebrated racing heritage from both the Pre-war, and the post-war eras. You would think then that they should have produced some cars which combine these two worlds to good effect. And you would be right. The SSK, and the 300SL are certainly proof of that. However, those were certainly limited production cars for the well heeled. In the late 1960s, Mercedes thought that they would produce a performance sedan for those with slightly lesser means than celebrities and crown princes. The result was the W114 platform.

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Mercedes described the sedans from this platform as a driver's cars. In the late 60's, that was a description which might have been true to the owners of other Mercedes, Bentleys, etc, but tough to accept in any other circles. This was the heyday of some of the best sports car and sporting coupes ever produced by Jaguar, Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, BMW, etc. BMW and Jaguar in particular were laying claim to the performance sedan space. But Mercedes had another target in mind; America. They sought to compete with the Cadillacs, Lincolns, and other luxury performance sedans as defined in the USA, which had a very different idea of how to travel fast in style.

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The W114 platform was a completely new chassis introduced in 1968 and designed by Paul Bracq who also did the previous fintails, and the pagoda cars. The platform was also used for the smaller engined inline 6 cylinders of the 230 and the 250 sedans. But the 280 had the range-topping 2.8 litre inline 6. Measured against the US competition, the 280SE in particular was a superior choice on many fronts. It had the inline 6 producing 180 hp, it had good fuel economy, it was fairly price-competitive at $6600, and it easily out-handled any of the other US choices. Of course, it did not hurt that the W114 cars were around 1500 lbs lighter than a cadillac, and 40 inches shorter !! And then there was the interior. It had legendary Mercedes fit and finish, wood trim, good guages, luxurious leather, and helped to define the term "Executive Express".

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There were two significant changes just a year following the introduction in 1969. The first was the introduction of Coupe versions dubbed the 250C/CE and the 280C/CE Besides being pillar-less coupes, they had some subtle sheet metal differences in the rear. They were clearly intended to be the "hotrod" of the platform. The second change was the introduction of Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection. Clearly future performance and emissions were beginning to enter the thinking for US oriented vehicles. in 1970, the 280SE sedan gained the new 3.5 litre V8 boosting output to 230 hp. Both the coupes and the SE had no markings that screamed high performance. They began a long tradition in Stuttgart of producing "sleeper" cars that had subtle appearance changes, but big performance changes. Meanwhile, down the road a bit, another firm founded by former Mercedes engineers were beginning to produce not-so-subtle performance versions of Mercedes cars....

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The ultimate verdict on the W114 cars was of course delivered by the buying public. They agreed that it was great value, and Mercedes doubled sales in 1969 over the previous year. The platform went on to include cabriolets, and of course being German, someone inevitably took them racing. They remained in production until 1976. They were still a very long way off from the numbers for the US big three competitors, but they did a lot to establish the combination of European luxury and performance that US automakers then chased for decades.

Happy 125th Benz

Classic Velocity

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On January 29th, 1886 Karl Benz filed the patent for what is arguably the first automobile. It came to be referred to as the Motorwagen. It had three wheels, and a tiller for steering, but it was powered by a gasoline engine. Like many brilliant inventors, Benz was not a particularly good business man, and a somewhat unstable character. Most of his early ventures were failures. However, he married well and was able to engineer (pun intended) a few bailouts and find the means to launch new ventures. In fact, his wife Bertha Benz may have been the key to the successful launch of the Benz automobile as she is credited with being the first person to drive an automobile between two cities (65 miles). This created a great deal of publicity and made the automobile practical in the eyes of the public.

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The vehicle itself looks frail and unwieldy by modern standards, and bears more than a passing resemblance to a carriage that is missing its' team of horses. On closer inspection though, you uncover a number of good ideas that have survived to this day. A tubular frame, rack and pinion steering, the gasoline engine, water-cooling, a rear-mounted engine, leaf spring suspension, bevel gears. And it was fast. On one of the early tests, Benz himself wrote “I may well have reached a speed of 16 kilometers per hour with the car.” Doesn't sound so fast 125 years later, but the average speed of a walking horse, which was the normal speed of transportation on roads, was and is 6kph. This is also the same speed today of LA traffic, so don't be surprised to be passed in your new Lambo by a Motorwagen.

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Benz subsequently went on to create cars with 4 wheels and then in 1895 the first truck. In 1897, Benz developed the famous “contra” engine. So named because it was a flat horizontally opposed (boxer) engine. The pistons both got to top dead center at the same time producing “contrary” forces that were therefore balanced and smooth. This motor was produced for racing, which was the principal form of advertising at the time, and doubled typical power at the time from around 5hp to around 10hp. Benz cars enjoyed good success with this motor and in 1900 a four cylinder boxer motor producing around 20 hp won the International circuit race in Frankfurt at an average speed of 47.5 kph !!  Despite the great success, Benz moved away from the boxer in 1903 in favor of inline engines. However, the boxer configuration obviously went on to fame later on (BMW, Porsche, Subaru) and is in use even today. In 1923 Benz developed the first mid-engined grand prix car with an iconic teardrop shape that was imitated for decades. It was called the Benz Tropfenwagen. This almost certainly represented some of the first advanced thinking about aerodynamics as well.

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In 1926, Benz merged with Daimler (headed by Gottlieb Daimler who was himself another early pioneer), and began to produce vehicles under the Mercedes Benz label. The impressive vehicles that have continuously flowed from the company are such that it has managed to not only survive for more than 100 years, but to remain one of the premier producers of automobiles for that entire period. I can't think of another manufacturer of anything that can say the same.

Chasing Claude

Classic Velocity

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250SL Engine BayMy friend Ron just bought a Mercedes 380SL, and it brought back memories of the SL that I had owned some years ago, a 1964 230SL. This is yet another vehicle that I should never have sold, but if I had a dime for every vehicle that I should not have sold, I'd have...oh...say... 50 cents by now. The SL provided for several distinguishing characteristics and experiences. For instance, it has what I consider to be the largest and most complex fuel injection pump known to man. When restored, the combination of aluminum and brass make the pump a beautiful piece of craftsmanship under the hood, but I think it is larger than the entire motor in the Fiat 500. The SL was also responsible for the only time that I have used a roadside assistance plan (versus the honey come get me plan). It left me stranded a mere 5 miles from home, and in a relatively unsafe spot around a blind corner. There was no pushing this car because it is very heavy, and besides we were facing uphill. I got it home safely, and got it fixed, but that concentric circle test ended in failure. However, the really distinguishing experience was the sale of the car.

I advertised the car, and there was a flurry of tire kickers and lowballers. Then one evening, I get a call from a guy with a heavy french accent who sounds like he is on a speaker phone. He tells me that he is actually calling from France. I suspect a buddy is pulling a prank. He asks me two questions:

“Doez ze motor and ze chassis numberz goez togezzer?” He asked. “Yes they do” I replied.

“Iz ze kilometers on ze car correct?”. “I do not know for certain, but the condition of the car seems consistent with the miles or kilometers as you say.” I braced for the next question, still suspecting a prank.

“You will get a call from George (he pronounced it Jorje) by tomorrow. Iz zis ok?”. “Sure” I said almost laughing now.

Thirty minutes later, I get another call.

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“Hello, this is George. You spoke to Claude earlier today, and he asked me to give you a call about the 230SL.” He was all business, but I was still not falling for it. “How can I help you....Jorje” I said with my best Inspector Clouseau voice.

George ignored this and had two questions of his own:

“Is this an upright spare car?”. “Yes” I was less certain of the prank, but cautious.

“Are both tops in good condition?”. “Yes, the soft top is practically new”.

“We will pay your asking price if it is as advertised, and I will Fedex you a deposit and be there Friday to look at it. Is that ok?” This was now too good of a prank for those I suspected. “Ok” I said. I was expecting to hear next that the check was for more than the asking price, and that I just needed to give back the difference, but there was nothing. “See you Friday”. Said George.

The envelope arrived Fedex as promised with a bank check for $1000 drawn ironically on my own bank, which I deposited. I waited a few days and then checked again, but it was cleared. I asked the bank if there was any possibility that this could be reversed, and they assured me that it was good. On Thursday George called to confirm receipt and to confirm Friday. I told him so far so good. On Friday, George arrived in a roll-off with a 1970s Corvette on the bed. He walked around the car a few times, checked the vin numbers and then walked off to the side to make a phone call. When he returned, he handed me the phone. “It's Claude”.

“Hallo again, I would like to wire you ze fundz, and it will take about 3 dayz or a week to clear from France. When it iz clear for you, zen I will have Jorje to pickup ze car. Iz zis ok?”. Now this was just plain strange, and I was not at all comfortable, but there was really no risk to me. I decided to let things progress and seek counsel. “Ok”, do you have any other questions about the car?” I said. “Jorje will speak wiz you. Merci thank you very much.”. I gave the phone back to George who listened for 3 seconds and then said “Ok” and flipped the phone closed. “We are all set, just give me a call when things are cleared and I'll arrange a time for pickup.” Then he must have sensed my unease. “Don't worry, this is perfectly legit. You have a deposit, and the car, and the title. You don't call me until you are sure the funds are good and in your pocket. I gotta run and be in Baltimore before 6pm”.

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Be very afraid.I used a dormant account at another bank for the transaction. The funds arrived as agreed, and I spoke with someone in banking that I knew to find out if this was the latest version of the Nigerian bank scams. He could see nothing wrong, and advised that I wait 10 days. I heard nothing from Claude or George. On day 12 Claude called. He apologized for not calling to confirm receipt of the wire, and asked if everything was ok. I said yes, and he asked if I needed more time to be sure. Now I'm a fan of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns. There are several classic scenes when Clint is surrounded by bandits with their hands on their guns, and he is standing in a poncho. Despite being in their own town, having him outnumbered 10 to 1, with even more guys on rooftops, and Clint not even having clear access to his gun, the bandits are nervous and scared. I was the bandits.....but I had no reason to delay things. “No, you can let George know I'm ready”. 30 minutes later George calls and arranges to come 4 days later on the weekend. I withdraw the funds and deposit cash in my regular account.

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The next day I call George and finally ask him how he knows Claude and whether he has done business like this before. He reveals that Claude is a very wealthy guy in France who likes cars, and is specifically interested in old Mercedes and Corvettes. George is an independent guy, but he is effectively in the full time employ of Claude driving around the US to look at or locate cars and bring them to Baltimore where they get put in a container. Once the container is full, it goes off to France and a new container is started. He says that my car won't be leaving for a few months, so they are in no hurry. They have a few more cars to pickup after mine, but the container is not full yet. He says that he met Claude once when he was over on business and needed a car picked up. He just got a call from the yellow pages and has been doing this now for about a year. Year round, all over the US, he chases Claude's cars. He jokes that he has become quite the expert on classic Mercedes and early Corvettes. He said that like mine, the cars are not usually pristine, just original, and that the Mercedes in particular are relatively rare in Europe since most of them came here. We continued to talk, and while he never talked about it, I get the sense that George is compensated well for his services.

On pickup day, George and I talk more. He has personally bought a car or two that did not meet Claude's criteria, and has picked up a car for a friend of Claude who referred him. It is clear that he has a fantastic gig and as he drives off with the car on the Roll-off I think to myself, I need to find my Claude.

A Lesser Model

Classic Velocity

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In case study #1 on compromise, The Substitute, we covered settling for some other brand of vehicle when you could not find or afford what you wanted. In case #2, we explore settling for a lesser model of the brand you want for the same reasons.

I wanted a Mercedes 190SL. I was not crazy and did not long for a Gullwing, but at the time, the 190SL was not on a tow rope being pulled into the stratosphere by the 300SL and variants. It was downright cheap in comparison. I searched and searched, but the only ones available on the east coast could be delivered in milk crates. I went to look at a decent one in Maryland, but the guy wanted $15K for it, which at the time might as well have been $50K. Another great deal in Pittsburgh was gone 4 hours after being listed. Now there were plenty of pristine examples around for upwards of my annual salary, but not a lot of “drivers” or “complete car, just needs assembly”. After a few months, I was making no progress.

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Alongside all of the 190SL ads were those for the other SL variants. 230SL, 250, 280, 300, etc. These were more plentiful, and I began to pay more attention to the ads. I dug out my Mercedes reference books and began to learn more. The “Pagoda” cars were very elegant, were an evolution from the 190SL, and had that classic roadster look. I was drawn to the 250SL because it had low production numbers, and had worked out the kinks in the 230SL.

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The 250SLs did not surface very often, and they seemed to be in two categories; Basket Case, and Pebble Beach Winner. Since I was in the market for neither, the search dragged on. Then the 230SL surfaced. It was in good shape body-wise, was running, and had a new soft top. It was 12 hours away, but seemed to be a very good buy at the price. After many pictures via email, and many conversations with the owner, I decided to leave a small deposit, and drive there prepared to consumate the deal or drive 12 hours back with the empty trailer. The car turned out to be only a little rougher than advertised, and needed some suspension and engine TLC. More negotiation on final price ensued, and I loaded the car on the trailer (these cars are not light!).

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Due to relocation and other events, the car sat for a while in the garage before getting any attention. Now the vintage Mercedes world (at least in the US) is not like the vintage BMW or even the vintage Porsche world. There are not a lot of beaters and daily drivers showing up at the MBCA events. Nor are there a lot of hotted up cars or V8 conversions. OEM parts rule, and correct restorations are the lingua franca of the empire. As a result, parts are readily available, but very pricey in many instances. After spending more coin than I wanted to at a few parts houses, and a lot of hours in the engine bay and under the car, the car looked pretty good, if not completely original. It also drove pretty well. Despite the sporting look, this car was 100% touring car, and did not want to be hurried. 

Despite the car's beauty, it just wasn't a 190SL, and while that car was even more ponderous in performance, it would have been ok. It is similar to my admiration for the Porsche 356A and B, or the VW Bus. It is ok for them to be non-sporting, because their appeal is elsewhere for me. Ultimately, the 230SL didn't have enough appeal to be that heavy and slow, and it could never become a 190SL. I inquired about the value of the 230SL on a forum, and got a few responses. One suggested a surprisingly good price, while another was an interested buyer. A few weeks later the car was sold for a good price to an overseas buyer who wired the asking price no questions asked, and had a carrier pick up the car to take it to Baltimore's port for shipment. If I price my labor at oh, say..., $1.50 per hour, it is actually one of the few vehicles that I didn't lose money on.