To keep you up to date on this ongoing adventure in Carchaeology I'll give a quick recap. While traveling out of state a good friend posted on Facebook posted that his neighbor had to find a home for her beloved Mercedes fast as the impound truck was scheduled to come. I blindly agreed to buy it and my buddy handled the logistics of getting out of the alley where it was parked and into a safe spot until I returned from my travels. Once back in town my brother and I went to go grab it and bring it back to the lab for analysis, but there were still many pieces missing from the puzzle.
The car is a 1968 Mercedes 250 S sedan that has the European headlights and quite unique right hand drive steering. Certainly not the normal Benz you see when out and about, and one that I was quite sure would have a very interesting story behind it. While every car has a story, I have found that the more unique they are, the more interesting the story and characters in its history.
How did this car make it to California, when did it hit our shores, and who was involved with it at the time? This is the stuff that fires up my detective senses and keeps me up at night. This is the essence of Carchaeology to me. The artifact (the car) is just the doorway into an interesting human story...its the study and research that brings the history all back to life.
I had gone through the car from front to back and found some clues to the past as well as some mysteries. The biggest missing item that caused concern was the fact that there was no engine in the car. I know Im not alone in thinking this is a pretty important part of an automobile, so this was the highest on my list to chase. My buddy that got me in this mess promised me the engine was in the previous owners garage, and that she had the paperwork for the car as well so we set up a meeting to gather that up. The other part I really hoped to acquire along with the engine was the story behind the car.
As I pulled in the driveway of her home, (coincidentally just one block away from one of my past homes) I saw the garage door open and the engine already out of its tomb and on a dolly waiting for me. I had been told by my friend that it had been rebuilt, and one quick look at it backed that info up. While a shade dusty it was obvious that it has been attended to with assembly lube on the crank and cam and a clean head with new gaskets visible. The exterior parts of the engine I had found in the trunk of the car, including a new clutch and other goodies, but without the real heart of the beast, a revival would be much harder. With the engine safely stowed in the back of the truck, stage two of the mission was under way...who owned this car and what was the story?
When Colette entered the room she had a wide smile and greeted me with a warm hug and a slight tear in her eye. "Are you the one thats taking my baby?" I responded affirmatively and told her that I was, and that I couldn't be happier about it. We chatted a bit more with other pleasantries and hit it off well. Once the greetings were done I jumped right into the story...how and when did you get this wonderful machine?
Colette graduated high school in the mid 70's and then went into college (coincidentally the same high school and college I attended a decade later). A cute and vivacious girl she made friends fast and was always up for a good time and adventure. A neighbor of hers was a gentleman named Arthur who was a jeweler and gemologist that had a bit of a Mercedes addiction. There always seemed to be a bevy of Benzes in his driveway and Colette wanted one bad. She had always had a passion for unique cars, and after a particularly scary wreck in her Fiat X19, she knew she needed something bigger and safer. She had talked with Arthur before about the cars and he had always declined the idea of selling. After the Fiat wreck she really put on the pressure and she had her eyes on the RHD 68 250 S. Arthur told her he would sell her any of the other cars, but not the right hand drive. She persisted again and again until finally he relented and agreed to sell it to her. September 11th 1982 he handed her the keys and on September 12th he begged her to sell it back. Her answer was obvious, as now, some 37 years later she still holds those keys.
I imagine it was quite a sight to see this 20 something girl cruising So Cal in the big Mercedes, right hand drive and manual trans, Colette got a lot of attention in the car and she drove it daily everywhere. Working with handicapped students at Fullerton College she met a young blind fellow named Alex Valdez who was making headway as a stand up comic with his partner Jim O'Brien. In the mid to late 80's Colette would often bring Alex to the comedy clubs and enjoyed the Hollywood scene. Alex, who still works with O'Brien occasionally also does motivational speaking. He has been known to mention his younger days and excessive partying, saying he would get drunk and find other people that were drunk enough to let him drive their car. While he did actually drive the Benz once, the most memorable time was when Colette and Alex were pulled over late one night by the police. With lights flashing and spotlight on, Alex stepped out of the front seat of the car with his blind man's cane much to the surprise of the cops. At first they thought it was a joke until they realized that the driver was actually on the other side of the car!
Colette's stories continued for quite a while, each one as fun as the one before it. From the time the valet driver in Palm Springs took the car for a 50 mile joy ride, to hauling a blind lady friend with big silly hats on all over town. Wherever she and the Mercedes went, there were eyes on her as it always created a scene. At one point Colette got married and shortly after the union her husband started to get a bit jealous of the looks and attention she got in her cars. At the time she also had an Alfa Romeo sports car that she had gotten from a previous boyfriend that also was an eye catcher. One day she came home to find the Alfa had been sold, and the engine had been removed from the Mercedes. While her husband said he removed it for rebuilding, she knew he did it so she wouldn't drive the car. Their marriage was a short one , but the Mercedes always stayed around, despite being engineless. It moved from garage to garage in the area over the next 20 or so years until finally settling in the alley behind her parents home in Fullerton where a nosey neighbor recently filed a complaint call that it was non operational. Despite having current tags the cops issued a warning that if it was not moved in 72 hours that it would be impounded. Panic set in and she decided enough was enough, the beloved Benz just had to go. Fortunately thanks to her neighbor, my buddy Kris, I ended up being the lucky next owner.
She has promised me some photos of the car and its adventures in the past and when I have those I will most certainly share. An interesting special car with a colorful and crazy history just the way I like them. I plan to do some further research to find out how and when the car made it into California and will perhaps even contact Mercedes to see what they can tell me about the production of the car and it's initial destination. The mechanical and cosmetic analysis and preservation is going to start soon and as we make progress with it all we will update the blog. Colette is excited to follow along with the process and I have promised her a ride when it is roadworthy again. A happy hand off and a new life ahead for a well loved Mercedes.
Until then... Stay Tuned!