Were those black beauties expecting me? I had already seen them separately – I even featured the Beetle in one of my Singles posts and was about to do the same with the Benz – but somehow, I seemed to have stumbled upon their digs, one very fine morning indeed. Paydirt!
What a well-matched pair this was, too. Despite obvious differences, these two shared several key traits: both German, both dressed in black with whitewalls, both date from the late ‘60s and both feature driving wheels equipped with the infamous swing axle.
Oh, and then there’s the matching license plates. Woah! What’s the deal with that? It wasn’t a fine morning any longer, I had just entered the Twilight Zone. Actually, this was like the movie Twins. Remember that? Actually, I’ve never seen it myself, funnily enough. I only remember the trailer, but with that sort of film, two minutes is plenty to understand the premise.
The Danny de Vito role is played here by the Volkswagen, obviously. I know, an Italian car (like a Fiat 500) would have been a bit better for the movie simile, but this still works. Kind of. The Mercedes is a dead ringer for Schwarzenegger though, isn’t it?
From a personal perspective, these two particular cars also take me back to a specific time and place. The time is 1989-1990 and the place is Bethesda, MD. I was a cub scout and our leader, whom we called Akela, drove a maroon W108. Another scout leader, a young German woman (we called her Bagheera), had a Beetle.
I rode in both cars. The Benz was of course much more impressive, with its huge ivory steering wheel, acres of chrome and spacious cabin. It had the US-style quad headlamps, leather upholstery and a floor shifter, so this one’s interior is not exactly doing a Proustian number on my memory banks. It looked better in my head.
I’m pretty sure Akela’s W108 was a 1966 250 S, i.e. an earlier model than the black car featured here, which partially explains why this one seems unfamiliar. They upgraded to 2.8 litres in late ’67 and must have got rid of the white bakelite steering wheel around that time as well – a big mistake, in my opinion.
Bagheera’s Beetle, which was a mid-‘70s green one, had its charm too – the engine note was especially appealing and unique. But it just didn’t have the Benz’s cachet and the rear seat, even for ten-year-old moi, was quite cramped and sad. At least the soundtrack was interesting.
Incidentally, I have no idea whether this Beetle has the new-for-’67 1500 or the older 1.3 litre flat-4, but I’m betting it has the bigger engine.
I do prefer the Euro-spec composite headlamps seen on these and on their Fintail predecessors. The sealed beam stacked quads don’t look too bad, but these give the car a smoother and more sophisticated appearance.
I kind of feel the same way about the Beetle, actually. I prefer the older pre-1967 blister-like headlamps, rather than the flatter ones this car has. These headlamps, which were only added later to other markets, as well as the bumper overriders and rather generous amount of bling make this Beetle’s American provenance highly likely. Few were sold new in Japan, back in the ‘60s.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I caught these two before individually prior to finding them as a matching pair. I saw the VW a couple of times at least, but I ran into the W108 only fairly recently, one fine evening. The car was parked curbside and the driver was inside, tinkering with his phone.
Managed to take a couple decent shots of the rear end, which is lucky as this angle was not really available on the daytime photo shoot. That rear end is where Paul Bracq really justified his salary – not merely shaving off the Heckflosse’s fins, but redesigning the big Benz comprehensively and masterfully from the A-pillar back.
I love the Fintail too, but it’s impossible to see the W108 and not view it as a much improved and cleaner design. And there’s the fact that this is the Benz I remember from my younger years, whereas I’ve never had a close encounter with a Fintail.
It would be interesting to know what this 90-06 number means to the owner. Could be that he was born in June 1990 – dates are written backwards here, year / month / day, so it could be that. Or it could be the palindromic or “mirror image” nature of the numbers that are the attraction, though you don’t really see it with the font they use. Who knows. I’m no Dan Brown, so I’ll refrain from using numerology and mysticism to try and explain this, but the guy with the two classic black German cars probably didn’t pick those numbers at random.
We moved back to old Europe in the summer of 1990 and my brother and I didn’t fancy joining a new scout group. Coincidentally, I haven’t ridden in a W108 since then. Thirty years on, I still have a major soft spot for these – if I ever bought a classic Benz, it would be that one. The Beetle, on the other hand, feels less special and it objectively is. Besides, I have since discovered other rear-engined streamlined cars that offer more legroom and exclusivity. But I guess it all goes back to being a ten-year-old boy sitting in that cramped rear seat and hearing that flat-four clatter. Some impressions last a lifetime.
Curbside Classic: 1966 Mercedes 250S (W108) – Cadillac Und Lincoln Kaput, by PN
Curbside Classic: 1966 VW 1300 – The Best Beetle Of Them All; Or At Least The Sportiest, by PN
Vintage C/D Road Test Comparison: 1967 Renault 10 and VW 1500 – Renault’s Last Shot At The Beetle, by PN
These are gorgeous.
I spy a Toyota Porte in the background. An interesting subcompact that has a power sliding door on its passenger side.
Great pics as usual! A black Suzuki Cara next to the VW would have completed the scene.
Black ’67 Beetle with a red interior reminds me. I was talking cars with the neighbor in ’67. He was a bit older than me, and already had a car of his own, so had an advantage. His dad, a salesman, had just bought a new shiny black ’67 bug. Jim said the Beetle came with a standard red interior, and his dad had paid the dealer extra to install a black interior. I joked “Hey, is your dad a Bircher or something?” Jim gave me a half smile but didn’t say anything. Later I learned that his dad was the head of the local Birch Society, and my guess was exactly right.
CC Effect … I saw a W108 280 driving along just yesterday. I probably saw a Beetle or two as well, but they’re still common enough not to be as memorable. The Mercedes was a dark color but not black, though. And it was an SE.
Nice matched set, on many levels. It really reflects the two ends of the German market at the time.
These headlamps, which were only added later to other markets,
Actually, the vertical headlights started in Europe in ’67 too, except for the 1200 Standard, which used up the stock of old front fenders for a bit longer.
Yes, these cars Mercedes sent to the US almost invariably had leather and floor shifts.
This is my favorite Mercedes too, and it goes back to childhood memories as well, in my case, of Moscow in the early 1970s. Our neighbor back then was the famous singer Maya Kristalinskaya, and she owned one. Her Mercedes was dark red with a black roof. It was the first foreign (non-Soviet) car I had ever seen and it looked like a spaceship from another galaxy among the Moskvich and Zaporozhets cars parked next to it. I always had fantasies of her giving me a ride to school in it, to the amazement of all my friends. It could have concievably happened, as my grandparents were on speaking terms with her, and I got to say hello to her a few times myself. But of course it never happened and I could only admire the Mercedes from a respectful distance. I still admire these cars. The Volkswagen, less so. My uncle owns a ’65 VW. It’s nice, but familiarity, while not necessarily breeding contempt, still takes the magic away.
What a 60’s combo! There’s a lot of chrome going on, and it all works so well, not a line out of place. That Benz is a real styling master class, and the Beetle is..an icon.
On 1st view of the Beetle —
Looked like the from right fender had both the old-style parking light (lower, outer side of fender) , as well as the later style, (sitting above the headlight).
I thought it might be in the tradition of the gaudy Jeepney’s —
Enlargement showed that the lower “parking light” was a paint scratch.
Beautiful cars and in beautiful condition.
That pairing reminds me of a stock broker friend who also owned a VW Beetle and a Mercedes 450SL. When the market was down he would drive the VW. When the market was up, he would drive the Mercedes.
The 450SL was also good at predicting weather: When the top was down, it started raining; when up it was sunny.
Reminds me of a photo I saw in Mad Magazine, early 60s. A slick Black Mercedes 300D facing a line of black VW Beetles with the caption “Achtung!”
I love that Mercedes 280S although the pairing works extremely well and makes me want the Bug too. It’s hard to separate the two, sort of a German Yin and Yang. Well done.
You’ve in fact stumbled on a conspiracy, as these two black-coated compatriots are concealing no less than four swing axles between them, which will inevitably be used wreak terror on their victims. Why else would they meet up like this, backs to the wall where they can survey the area at all times?
Note that Peugeot 1006 in the background – laughably trying to conceal itself as a Toyota Porta-Potty or whatever it’s called – as it is clearly doing surveillance on them from the Old World, so withdraw from the field, man. You have done your duty.
I mean, I applaud your valor and all that, but the situation is clearly in hand and swift removal of these photos might be the better part of discretion.