For much of his driving career, John had coveted a Mercedes-Benz SL roadster. He told me that he remembered the very first SL when it debuted in the mid 1950’s (you know, the one with the gullwing doors). Later, when he was a young professor in Montreal, he said that he recalled seeing Canada’s soon-to-be Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau driving his 300 SL in the streets of Westmount. Trudeau was one of John’s biggest heroes, and I think he reasoned that driving a car similar to his iconic one was one of the ways he could emulate him in his own way.
The 380 SL that John ended up buying was actually an insurance write-off; a truck had t-boned it on the left side front. He employed a competent body shop and within about three months, he had the car sitting in the driveway, better than new.
A few of his more pragmatic friends commented that he’d fairly recently bought a nice Mercedes to serve as a fun car and that it seemed a bit…decadent and unnecessary to get another. To that he said “This isn’t a dress rehearsal for life, you know. You only get one.” Kind of the equivalent of somebody saying YOLO nowadays.
However, after having obtained the obscure object of his desire, John never seemed to be quite happy with it. His SL was a lovely car to look at (to him at least, I prefer the R129 chassis which followed it) but there were certain aspects he was never quite comfortable with.
His SL was painted a pretty champagne colour (a sort of light beige or light gold) and the interior was a lovely chocolate brown (again with MB Tex upholstery). As a latter-day model of the R107 platform (which debuted in 1972), the interior had been updated with modern HVAC controls and steering wheel, while keeping many of the other bits stock from the older design.
But even though the chrome and wood and carpet and upholstery of the interior were high-class, other aspects of the interior just felt…old. The seats were comfortable enough but had next to no lower back support and weren’t very adjustable (and even that adjustment was manual, not electrical), and the door panels were covered in a chintzy-feeling plastic.
What he disliked most about the inside was the bus-like steering wheel which didn’t adjust at all. He often commented that he felt like a bus driver while piloting it around.
His SL came with the hardtop, which he reasoned he would get lots of use of in the spring and fall. That was until we tried to remove it! I swear that hardtop weighed at least 250 pounds and was not easy to take off or put on. I think we only put it on once or twice in the time he had it.
Taking the soft top down and putting it up was also not easy. The top in this generation of SL was not powered, so one had to turn a little handle in the rear luggage area to release the hard tonneau cover, unfold the top to the back and front, turn the handle again to lock the rear part of the sort top to the car, and then use a little handle to fix the front part of the top to the cowl.
He found the process rather annoying, and for most of the summer it was a sunny-day only toy. He found that it drove well enough (I found the performance a little sedate for a V8 engined sports car), but the little annoyances of the elderly design eventually got to him.
I know that there are many who regard the 107 chassis SL as the best one they made, and a quick look at Autotrader show that prices of this model are on the climb – for the few that are even on the market.
However, both of us eventually found that day-to-day driving of a vehicle which was once very expensive but now lacked the convenience features of a modern convertible was more of a pain than a pleasure.
I’m sure many Curbside Classic readers have long had a yen for a particular model. However, John’s fulfilling his long-burning desire for the SL he’d always wanted really proved to me that some dreams are best left unfulfilled.
He sold his SL to a local real estate agent who drives it to this day. I spoke to him once when I saw him getting into the car in a parking lot and asked him how he liked it.
‘I love it,” he said. “It’s the car I always dreamed of driving.” I told him I was glad.
However, John’s love affair with cars with the three-pointed star was not quite over yet, as the next COJL will illustrate.