CC Capsule: 1967 Mercedes-Benz 280SL – Triste

Twenty-seventeen has been the summer of my rediscovery of Latin American and Latin-influenced music, including bossa nova and MPB (Música popular brasileira), a style of Brazil-based pop music influenced by multiple genres including samba, jazz and rock.  Indeed, on some warm, sunny afternoons, with glints of light reflecting off Lake Michigan under a blue and white sky, and with beautiful, mid-century apartment and condominium towers lining nearby North Sheridan Road, it’s not hard to imagine I’m in a place like Rio.  My neighborhood is also thick with tall trees and lush greenery, which would seem to befit a locale much more tropical than… Chicago, Illinois.  It is against this backdrop that I spotted and photographed our featured car.

The concept of “saudade” could be defined loosely as a feeling of beautiful melancholy or sadness, and is specific to Brazilian and Portuguese culture.  I do not speak or understand Portuguese, but from what I understand, saudade is is woven into the lyrics of many, much-loved songs from those cultures.  When I got up close to this Mercedes, it struck me as having more than a little saudade in its appearance, condition, and overall essence.  An aging beauty, it sat on its cap-less, steel wheels, with its saddle-colored leather interior in tatters.  Seeing it from a distance, it was an alluring subject with its straight, clean body and resplendent, shiny paint.  It was only upon closer examination that its flaws became apparent.

Actually, instead of “flaws”, let me substitute the word “character”.  There’s something authentic about a once-grand tourer like this one that exhibits these kinds of lived-in qualities.  I liked that it was parked in a back alley behind a garage with a disintegrating roof, as if in hiding, aware of its former glamour and afraid to be seen in its current state of fallen glory.  Though Teutonic in its origin, the shade of this SL’s green paint reminded me of a scene from a tropical rainforest.  Combined with the morning mist and bird calls echoing through these neighborhood canyons of wood, brick and concrete, it added to the mystique of this exotic machine that was sitting before me.

This example was one of just under 24,000 280SLs sold from between 1967 and ’71.  Powered by a 2.8L inline-six with 180 hp (gross), and weighing around 3,000 pounds, it would do 0-60 in about 10 seconds with the standard four-speed manual, with a five-speed becoming an option for ’69.  Maximum speed topped out at just over 110 mph.  There is no doubt in my mind that this car was once (and may still be) somebody’s prized possession.  There was more than a little bit of sad irony in this beauty sitting just outside of a crumbling garage, instead of inside of a well-maintained one.

The late, great Elis Regina emoted with her voice so expressively throughout the album she cut with Antonio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim, “Elis & Tom”, which has stayed in semi-regular rotation in my CD player throughout this summer.  Though the title of the above track is “Triste”, which means “sad” both in Portuguese and Spanish, the instrumentation, her voice, and the overall effect is a sunny, pleasant one.  To my ears, this song echoes the elegant and beautiful, but slightly depressed, condition of our featured car.

I found the following English translation of the lyrics to the song above, originally written by Romero Lubambo, Norman Gimbel and Tom Jobim, and I’ve copied them here:

“Sad is to live in solitude
Far from your tranquil altitude
Sad is to know that no one ever can live on a dream
That never can be, will never be
Dreamer awake, wake up and see

Your beauty is an aeroplane
So high my heart can’t bear the strain
A heart that stops when you pass by
Only to cause me pain
Sad is to live in solitude

Your beauty is an aeroplane
So high my heart can’t bear the strain
A heart that stops when you pass by
Only to cause me pain
Sad is to live in solitude”

Look at the headlamp and turn-signal assembly in the above photograph… this car even looks like it’s welling up.  I haven’t seen this 280SL since last year, but it lives on in my photographs and memory of our brief encounter – and hopefully in real life.  Here’s hoping its condition these days is anything but triste.

Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
May 5 -11, 2016.

Related reading from Tom Klockau: Curbside Classic: 1963 Mercedes-Benz 230SL – Big Shoes To Fill.