The View From Faraway Farm: Jim's Mercedes
I had a friend named Jim who owned a couple of stores in Hanover, N.H., and Woodstock. From the moment I met him, we seemed to "get" each other. Jim sold silver jewelry that he and his wife personally imported from Mexico. He also sold a ton of other imported items and waterbeds. Yes, waterbeds out of a tiny storefront in Hanover. Jim, who now lives in Georgia and Florida, is an interesting guy who has a business degree from the Tuck School at Dartmouth. When he had the stores in Hanover and Woodstock I did some creative writing and producing for him, utilizing some interesting character voices that I had discovered in Hanover. Jim's radio ads were a big success and business was good. Jim bought a brand new Mercedes Benz diesel sedan in a lovely burgundy color with a black MB-Tex interior.
A year or so later, Jim's wife had a brand new identical Mercedes. They had vanity plates, one from Vermont, where they lived, and the other from New Hampshire where their business was based. Jim knew I liked to detail cars, so he asked me to detail both Mercedes. I really enjoyed detailing those cars and had the opportunity to drive them both for short distances. As much as I liked Jim's cars, if I'd had the money I would not have purchased my own Mercedes. The big four-door sedans just didn't appeal to me. That particular generation of Mercedes-Benz automobiles was very popular, extremely reliable, and treasured by those who could afford to own them. They also produced an appealing wagon version and an even better coupe version that was somewhat rare and very desirable. There was no way I would be able to afford one, so I never gave them a second thought.
While visiting Jim and his family one time in the Tampa area we took his newer Mercedes out for a ride. Unlike his original Mercedes, this one was a lot larger and decidedly less attractive. In subsequent years the Mercedes automobiles have adopted some rather ungainly styling to my eye. I look back on the models that Daimler-Benz produced in the late 1970s and into the 1980s as some of their best-looking automobiles since their glory days of styling back in the 1930s. I haven't had any contact with Jim for many years now, and I'm not sure if he still drives a big Mercedes. One thing I can say is that when you are inside a big Mercedes sedan you feel as though it was hewn from a solid block of billet, and the positive "thunk" of closing the door further reinforces the sense that you are in a vault. There's no questioning the fact that these superbly engineered vehicles are made for the long run. In fact, you still see many of the old ones on the road in good weather. There are a few hardy folks who run the old one's year round, and the diesel engined Mercedes of days gone by are especially well suited to being converted to burn vegetable oil instead of diesel fuel. You could say that they have a bit of a cult following, and for many good reasons.
I'm constantly scanning publications like Hemmings Motor News and the internet to see what's out there for interesting cars, and last week I came across a black 1982 Mercedes 300 CD-T coupe. The stylists really got the proportions right on the coupe. For a relatively large car, the coupe appears to be quite svelte and is considered one of Stuttgart's best-looking cars of that era. If properly maintained, they were exceptionally stout and reliable, with a reputation for being driven well into the 300,000-mile range. They do well in contemporary traffic, even though they are somewhat limited by their so-so acceleration. This particular example was in Chicago, and the online auction minimum bid was very reasonable. I watched if for a few days and when I noted that no one was bidding, I started thinking seriously about trying for it. With seconds to spare, I tendered an embarrassingly low bid and got it. Pure luck and timing.
The car is now on a transport truck making its way to Vermont, and I'm in the process of selling a couple of items to cover the purchase. The seller has a solid reputation, and the description of the vehicle's condition seemed honest, very detailed, and consistent with what these cars are like some 34 years on. While awaiting its arrival I keep flashing back to Jim's Mercedes, the aroma of its interior, the sound of the five-cylinder diesel engine as it rattled to life, and its feeling of solidity and security. A decades-old example is not going to smell that good, sound that good, and feel that good today. If it carries forth half of that age old character, however, it will be well worth having.
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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