The View from Faraway Farm: Bringing back the grand lady
A couple of weeks ago I acquired a 1982 Mercedes-Benz coupe. It was sold by a family run automotive shop in the Chicago area. I spoke with a family member over the phone, and she sounded none too thrilled about the sale. It was an auction sale and there was no reserve on the vehicle. I got it for the auction starting price, which I thought was about half of what the car was worth. I think that explains the family member's lack of enthusiasm for the sale. However, these folks described the vehicle exactly the way that I received it, warts and all, so there have been no surprises. In fact, it is even better than what I had expected. Way better.
The big glitch in this transaction was the shipping. The shipper dropped it at their terminal in Freetown, Mass. where it sat for several days. I received a call from a barely understandable young man who sounded absolutely clueless. He could not figure out how to start the car to load it onto the smaller transport scheduled to bring it to Vermont. I requested that he leave the car alone and that I would be down with a trailer to get it the next day. Halfway to Freetown the guy calls and tells me he got the car started. I had a trailer and my fiancee following me in my Jeep with the 9500-pound winch in case we couldn't get it started. We spent the day traveling to and from the Bay State, but we got the Mercedes home with no problems. The poor clueless guy had clearly done the best he could do and there was no harm no foul in the end.
As soon as I drove the car off the trailer I knew that I had found a good one. Everything on it is solid, albeit 34 years old. The air conditioning cooled it down very quickly, and it had been a 97-degree day. It was covered in road grime, but the interior was in very good shape for the car's age. I ended up driving the car every day for a week, my usual shake-down cruise as I call it. Each day it looked better than the day before. I used a product to restore the black rubber pieces on the bumpers. I washed the road grime off it. I washed the windows inside and out. I used a protectant on the interior pieces and then I began the assessment of items needed to bring the grand lady back from moderate neglect.
I had already ordered some of the pieces that needed replacement even before I got the car. Small details like the back seat ash tray and the missing "Turbodiesel" chrome for the trunk lid. I went on to order a new First Aid kit cover for the rear parcel shelf, a brand new grille and a new Mercedes three-pointed star hood ornament for that extra bit of bling. For eighty bucks including shipping, you can't beat it! I always equip my cars with a new stereo with Bluetooth for hands-free cell phone calling. I ordered all new lug nuts with chrome caps, and new wheel centers. An old 1982 just doesn't have things like cup holders, but I found a clever wooden insert with cup holders for the center console and ordered it. I found a couple of switches to replace the worn ones on the dash, and even a right hand rear view mirror that the factory deemed an option in 1982.
The labor intensive things will be paint restoration and bringing the stainless steel trim back to life with metal polish. The old lady is still wearing most of her original paint, and whoever had the car previously must have at least kept it under cover because there is more than enough paint left on it to polish out to a bright luster.
The interior is quite good except for an armrest panel in the rear that is losing its cover. I figured that repair was going to be costly, but I've found a used piece out west that I'll be buying to replace it. Eventually, the headliner will need replacing, but it is in amazingly good shape for an old car with a sunroof. Mechanically the vehicle surprises me every day. The brakes are perfect, the old turbodiesel engine rattles just like it is supposed to, and the transmission shifts well. Even all of the lights work and it has already passed inspection. From the reading I've been doing on this model, it is now entering the realm of collectibility. While that is nice to know I really don't care much about it being collectible. It drives really well, it feels safe, it looks marvelous and it makes me feel good, and that is what it's all about. Bringing back this grand old lady is pure joy, and part of the fun is locating all of the little detail pieces that are required to keep it original. This hobby also keeps me out of trouble, so it's all good. I'll see you out there on the road.
Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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