Auto-Biography: Where Did He Go? To Stuttgart For The Fourth Time



I got a bit of feedback that I dropped off the radar. Life happens. You move, work responsibilities take over. You might even fall in love. Old iron starts to fade from view as you take on the new things life offers you. But one should never leave pals in suspense, so a proper farewell is in order.


While I’m at it, I might as well go out with a bang, right? How ‘bout this 1973 280 SE 4.5 I bought in December? As was known on these pages once upon a time, I’m a pretty staunch defender of the “Rise of Mercedes/Fall of Cadillac” theories. In actuality, I don’t think it was possible for me to write objectively about any Cadillac introduced past 1967. There’s an inherent problem with being that involved with the internet. It’s quite an anonymous place to really entrench in one’s own views. Great, civil conversations can be had, but too often they devolve into the muddle where mind, heart and memory collide.


All that aside, I do have a penchant for purchasing Mercedes Benzes near the end of their life cycle. The 1988 260E I purchased on the cheap during a recent foot injury developed the one nearly fatal flaw of the M103 and I realized that it would cost more than half the value of the car to swap out the camshaft because of flattened lobes.  Plus I was moving for the first time in 3 years, taking on a promotion at work, on top of taking on outside jobs. Caledonia not being my dream W124 (there’s a world out there where a 400E with a new wiring harness waits for me), she’s been towed from old home to new home and is waiting for vehicle buy back approval from the state of California.

PicMonkey Collage23

However, in the months since the move, my steadfast determination to move someplace with easy public transit 1) quickly replenished my savings and 2) reinforced my (somewhat insane) rationale that I could own a classic car since I don’t drive every day. You know, because owning a car that might end up costing you more than having a dog is completely rational.


The Bay Area has for years been an intoxicating ground of classics spotted almost daily, and I wouldn’t be the only person nuts enough to make such old iron a part of my daily life.  So, egged on by my roommate (who is still searching for the ideal vintage Ford F-100), I began in earnest to just see what $3,500 and a fall of Craigslist searching would yield. I had first settled on a 1962 Corvair Monza Coupe for $2,200 with Powerglide and 102hp turbo air. It could’ve used new paint and had a little bit of surface rust. However an unresponsive seller put an end to that..


Then came a 1966 Cutlass Supreme Four Door Hardtop: $2,600, 89K miles, one elderly owner, a few dents, and bad upholstery. It sold in less than 24 hours, and reappeared on Craigslist six weeks later with a cheap upholstery job and a $4,000 price tag.


Next came a 1961 Buick Special that had repeatedly been circled around Craigslist for the past two years between a few sellers. It was $2,500 without much of a history, and to be honest, all the tales of how easily I could possibly screw up the Aluminum V8 made me nervous. Granted, it’s one of the few that’s made it 53 years into the future, but still.


I had just about given up when one Saturday afternoon in December, a 1973 280SE 4.5 showed up for $2,000. I had my eye on another one that was $2,500, but had period-incorrect alloys and seats that didn’t match. I had also reminded myself of the beastly gas mileage: no better than a 429 Cadillac’s 10-14 mpg, but from a smaller V8 in a far lighter car. I closed the browser window and told myself to let it go. We’re in “peak oil” and all, and a 200 mile tank range at $75+ fill-ups isn’t all that practical.

I spent the next day playing with my late uncle’s film camera as a “tourist” through Western San Francisco. To improve my photography, I’ve been working on doing more analog work so I can see, unfiltered, what I’m truly capable of. While doing so, I walked right into said 280SE at Balboa and 31st street. It was more stunning than it could ever be on the internet. Or, I was simply star struck. It’s most likely a combination of both factors.


I’ve always loved these cars. My Aunt Linda had one when I was really young. It had been years since I had spent seat time in one; though I had never driven one. But as I placed my hands on that plastic steering wheel and cranked the M117 to life, I was sold on the spot.


In my daze, I couldn’t have cared less about the fact that it was someone’s half-finished restoration project and that it was far from complete due to injury and financial concerns. In those moments, I was logically cataloging that the turn signals didn’t work, that it was due for a tune-up (it was running rich), that the seller said that the starter was cranky and would at least need the solenoid replaced soon. The sunroof still worked, though, the wood trim on the dash was perfect. I had the money in the bank, so Merry Christmas everyone.


In the aftermath, I really wondered what I’ve done. The items that needed attention (and then some) came home to roost on the drive back to Oakland. This first immediate problem was the rotten whitewalls, one of which blew out on the James Lick Skyway. Was this what I wanted, to be the ultimate Oakland Hipster with a vintage ride?

Well if so, here’s to living with the consequences of what that looks like. The delayed tune up and starter work start in the middle of this month, as soon as the earthen driveway dries out from recent rain. Next on the list will be the brakes. Spring is almost here; I might as well spend it under a 42 year old car (with some guiding hands)!  The math begins to see how much money I’ll pour into her. Considering that my new baby is a “twenty-footer” and that, realistically speaking, 280SE sedans rarely top $10,000 when up for sale, I doubt I’m going with a full restoration. Livability, functionality and not being forced to borrow the boyfriend’s car are my objectives here. We’ll ignore the irony that I now have possibly the most brougham-y W108 Mercedes known to man with that vinyl top. At least the seats are still stuffed with horsehair!


I bid Curbside Classic farewell for now, to concentrate on the healthy splintering of my career, an ever-growing love life, and the heaven and hell of falling in love with an old hungry beast. Wish me and Audrey II (named for her prodigious premium fuel appetite) the best.