Becoming a Mercedes Benz enthusiast – the unconventional way
Photo: Yes, that would be me with dad’s baby blue Benz
How does one turn into a Mercedes Benz enthusiast? Normally, one would think that the car’s design, endurance, race performance, beauty, features, heritage, etc would be enough to do that. If that was not enough, having been born and raised in Germany may make you think gave me a little predisposition toward Mercedes Benz. In fact, that was not quite how I became a lifelong fan of the brand at all – all I had to do was observing my dad putting his Benz’s to the test frequently. His outright abuse and neglect of these fine automobiles were legendary.
Growing up in Germany I watched my dad how he bought pre-owned Mercedes Benz cars and then using them in his line of work. He was a sales rep and the mileage he put on them was incredible. I am not sure if it was because he was cheap, or because he did not know any better, but he could have made a really great factory endurance tester.
The first two Benz automobiles he bought were W115 (aka “dash 8”) cars. Number 1 was a crème white 250 6 cylinder sedan. I only recall one major event with that one towards the end of us owning it. Dad blew the engine. I will never forget the puzzled – perhaps I should say disgusted – look the local car shop owner gave my dad when he told him “you have got to change the oil more than once during the time you own your car”. Thankfully, the man had been friends with my dad and after locating a suitable used engine my dad was back on the road. I learned right there that for one that the engine must have been really tough. Second, changing oil is cheaper than changing engines.
Undeterred from this experience my dad pushed on with his endurance testing of the next “object”. He bought a used W115 and this time a light baby blue 230.6 that was very popular in the 70’s. Oh my, did this car suffer. I remember one instance when dad topped off oil right before a longer trip. This car was an amazing driving machine, especially on the Autobahn. Cruising at 100mph was a piece of cake with it. We made a quick pit stop after 2 hours and when we return to the car from a restaurant we noticed engine oil dripping down out of underneath the engine compartment. We opened the hood and found the oil fill cap on top of the air cleaner – right where he had left it from topping off oil in the morning. There was black oil all over the place and amazingly the engine still was ok.
The next stunt involved 4 adults and 2 children going to the heart of the Austrian mountains leaving from Northern Germany in the middle of the night. You read this correctly – the 230.6 was only a five-seater and my sister had to sit in the lap the whole way. The trunk gulped down the copious amounts of luggage of both my aunts and our family. Loaded like a mule my dad pressed on with only two short breaks along the way and this was a 15 hour trip. The car performed flawlessly all the way to Austria and back. Shortly before getting home the car became just a little sluggish and dad got it checked out at the favorite local car shop again. Two cylinders had a lot less compression. With the head removed the reason for this turned out to be two severely burned exhaust valves: “Werner, you have got to get the valves adjusted at least once in a while”. Once the valves were replaced and the engine put back together the car performed flawlessly again.
Though there are many more endurance stories to share, I will only make mention of one more with the next car. That was with a W123 200 sedan. It was a brilliant white one with blue MB Tex interior. I had fallen in love with the previous cars, but this car I really liked. That is why it really broke my heart watching my dad once again abuse it badly.
One time he decided cleaning the engine compartment with a high pressure washer. While I am a fan of keeping my car look great inside and out, he took it one bridge too far. Sure enough he “cleaned” the radiator and blew out the cooling fins at a 2” height toward the bottom part of the cooler. The cooler did not leak, but its performance was reduced significantly. Amazingly, the car ran well even though this issue should have caused all sorts of issues.
Even though it took a while to finally own my own Benz, I never forgot how much abuse these cars can take and how they keep performing even with minimum (or no) maintenance. Not that I endorse or promote neglect, but that is how I became a lifelong fan of the brand and its cars. Getting really neat designs and a ton of top notch state of the art technology when you buy new and even pre-owned cars is the cream on top of it.