I had just returned from my annual Las Vegas trip with friends when I happened upon this sad-looking 450SL parked on the curb. The first day back to the daily grind from any vacation is usually hard, but thankfully, I had the presence of mind to relax, drink lots of Gatorade and water, and eat properly when returning to Chicago the day before. If fact, one could say that the shape of this Mercedes mirrored that of my mood at the time, as I attempted to shift gears from “vacation mode” to “get-it-done mode”.
Look at this car. This is not the condition in which one would expect to see any, running Mercedes, and certainly not a vaunted SL. This looks more like the condition in which one would expect to see a daily-driver G-Body Cutlass Supreme from the mid-’80s… but a Mercedes? This is what happened to Baby Jane. When looking at a once high-end beater, I often think of the chain of ownership, which is a topic that has been discussed at length here at CC in the four years or so that I’ve been a reader and/or contributor.
This thing cannot be cheap to keep running. My only guess might be that its owner might either be, or be friends with, one of the many foreign car repair shop guys in this city. “Once…just once[,] have the automobile you want,” says the print ad above. Perhaps that’s the thought process, here. A rusty, blue Mercedes is still a Mercedes, and don’t you ever look down your nose at a car bearing the Three-Pointed Star that almost singlehandedly snatched the desirability trophy from GM’s Wreath-And-Crest brand. I’m guessing as to the model year of this example, but 1980 was the last year for the 450SL here in the United States. Its 4,520 cc V8 engine yielded 190 horsepower (the same rating as the base-350 in the 1980 Corvette) in these 3,600-pound coupes.
A few years ago, Chris Gardner, the author of the autobiographical book “The Pursuit of Happyness“, came to be our motivational speaker at a work event. You may remember the 2006 movie based on the book, that starred Will Smith and his son, Jaden. The book and movie chronicled Mr. Gardner’s true-to-life story about being a homeless salesman for a period of time, as he also tried to provide food and safe shelter for his young son. Mr. Gardner was an engaging, open, very likable speaker, and I consider it money well spent by my company to have him talk to (and with!) us.
One of the main takeaways that I remember from his recounting of those days was that sometimes, one can find oneself in a severely compromised position even through no direct fault of one’s own, and that “sometimes, life just happens”. I am a firm believer in actions resulting in consequences (thanks, Mom and Dad), but Mr. Gardner’s words and story rang completely true and legitimate – and I suddenly gained sympathy for the plight of many I’d normally just assume “didn’t pay enough attention in school”, or whatever. Yes, what we do affects our present and future, but the picture is often so much bigger than that.
As these ideas relate to this car, its own chain of ownership may have had a similarly uneventful (downward) trajectory, until some tragically expensive repair needed to be made, which then kicked it down one (more) rung on its ladder of multiple ownership. No matter. It may not be the prettiest thing on wheels (regardless of its prestigious pedigree), but one thing remains in its favor: it’s still a Mercedes, and it’s still running, despite “life” having happened to it, and as Aretha Franklin once sang about twenty years ago, “A Rose Is Still A Rose”. Soldier on, Baby Girl.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Tuesday, September 11, 2018, and Tuesday, October 9, 2018.