[V8] Vintage what?

Roger Woodbury rmwoodbury at roadrunner.com
Sun Sep 20 06:26:04 PDT 2009

Well, since I have started to think about a vintage car rally through parts
of Maine, I have found myself meandering through the listing of various old
cars that are for sale.  There are a lot of them, and some are very, very

Right now I am having a vicious flirtation with a 19seventysomething
Mercedes coupe.  It's one of the big four or five passenger cars with the
big upright grille and arrogant three pointed star.  Silver over black, and
it looks very yummy.  I think the auction is stalled at something under
$5500, which is the right price for me to fantasize about.  It even has the
really gizzie "fish bowl" headlights that are probably worth more than all
the rest of the car together.   Automatic transmission, so I know my wife
would agree if the timing was right.

Seeing that car reminded me of a similar car at the dealer in Hyannis.  I
almost bought that car back in 1973.  The car had a "history", or so I was
told.  It had once been owned by Carlo Ponti, Sophia Loren's mega bucks
husband, or some such.  I had fantasized about buying it, restoring it and
getting a vanity plate that read:  "PONTI"....waaaaay cool, I thought.

But that car...a 300SE, which meant the dreaded air bag suspension of the
300SEL 6.3...was pretty rusty outside.  The inside was perfect.  Now I can't
remember how much they wanted for the car...not much by the standards back
then, and absolutely cheap now, I suppose.  But I had already learned about
old Mercedes.  "Rommel" taught me that.

Rommel was a 1958 Mercedes 220S sunroof sedan that I found along side the
road in Cohasset, Massachusetts after I got back from Southeast Asia.  It
needed restoration but was a running, registered car, and I HAD to have it.
I think I paid $900 for it, but time has dulled that part.  

Well, Rommel was a great example...smooth running Mercedes six, carburetor
fed, and it seemed to run really well.  At first.  It was glorious to cruise
down the roadway with that sunroof rolled all the way back.  Makes the
twinkie little sunroof in my V8 seem really chintzy now.  But I broke the
one rule about buying such cars that I KNEW, but ignored in the spirit of
"HAVING to have it".  The car had a HYDRAK transmission.

Now, there is nothing wrong with early post war German cars, once you get by
the potential for rust, EXCEPT that one never, ever, ever buys an early
German car with a semi-automatic transmission.  The father of a girl that I
knew in high school had a new Mercedes 219 with Hydrak, and it NEVER ran for
more than a week or two before it had to go back to Foreign Motors on
Commonwealth Avenue to be spoken to in German by the service manager.  I
shudda known!

I think I had Rommel for about two months before the first signs of
disenchantment happened.  It wouldn't shift one morning.  In those cars you
touched the shift lever that was mounted to the steering column, and
automatically the clutch disengaged.  It was unbelievably finicky and was
probably a similar system to the ones used in later model King Tiger
tanks...well, no:  I made that last part up.  But those tanks were famous
for mechanical troubles, and so was Rommel's transmission.  Suddenly, it
wouldn't shift.  Oh, the clutch gave way, but the transmission lever
wouldn't DO anything.  $300 that day for new pins in a linkage, or
something, and $300 was a LOT of money for me back then.

I did sand down the window trim, and the car was beginning to show signs of
the beauty that I thought it could be.  But then, there was another couple
of hundred dollars into some sort of gizzie that made the grommet connect to
the widget in the Hydrak....you get the picture.

Then I took a long hard look at the rear swing axle mounting points and knew
that it was a matter of WHEN and not IF:  the car had spent too many winters
in greater Boston I guessed.  

So, reluctantly, I went shopping for a NEW VW bug.  Sensible car.  Sensible
price, and something that in reality, I could afford:  the young, ex-air
force officer turned freshman insurance agent, with wife and two kids.....

I drove Rommel to the dealer in Boston where I had hammered out a deal for
the trade. Rommel didn't even want to start that day, but eventually, that
six coughed into action, and I grandly, if with false pretenses, motored
down Storrow Drive to the big VW dealer.  They looked strangely at Rommel
and made me park it out in back of the dealership.  The driver's door made a
reassuring "clickthud" as it closed oh, so authoritatively, and I walked
away toward the "sensible" VW that was to be my daily driver for the next
three years.

Anyway, all of these thoughts have flooded through my mind as I have begun
to plan a bit for the upcoming Vintage Ramble through Maine's foliage in
2011.  Only old cars will be registered, with a special class for V8's of
course, but they are almost old enough anyway.  I have read about some of
the other vintage car rallys that are put on around the country...not many
for old cars for just the fun of it. Maybe someone will actually want to
come...and if the cars are old and eclectic, it might be an interesting

And who knows, maybe I'll melt and buy an old Mercedes with fishbowl
headlights just to see what it might be like to tour in one.


P.S. I have also always wanted to have a BMW 2000CS coupe that had those
really goofy fish bowl headlights in Europe...now very rare, and they rusted
faster than Rommel did.

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