An Automotive Blast from the Past

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I see a big ad in the local newspaper for the upcoming Vancouver International Autoshow featuring the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. It’s a gorgeous sports car and there will be no shortage of well-heeled individuals lining up to place orders in the neighbourhood of $250,000 later this year.

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If you know much about the brand you know that this model is an homage to the legendary Mercedes 300SL of half a century ago. It has the gullwing doors, the open-mouthed grill, the same look as though you’re about to climb into the cockpit of a fighter aircraft.

I am not a car nut. I got all of that out of my system before I was 25.  I don’t go to auto shows because I rarely buy new cars. If I need to dream of extravagance you’ll more likely find me wandering the corridors of the boat show. Everyone, I guess, has their thing.

But the appearance of this new Benz stirs something very deep within. At one point in his varied, and not particularly successful business life, my father was a Mercedes-Benz dealer. And his dealership had one of the first 300SL Roadsters in our part of Southern Ontario. It was not the hardtop gullwing-doored version…but the later convertible..the same model that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau used to drive. It was a knockout, of course….and I remember the car in vivid detail to this day. It was silver with a red leather interior. The 300SL’s also came with a matching set of luggage..although there was very little room for it.

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If you’re a car dealer you get to bring home the latest model for the weekend…and that’s exactly what my dad did with the 300SL. I was not yet ten years old and you can imagine the impact on me. It looked like someone had parked a rocket ship in the driveway. So we went for a father, my uncle and me. We pointed the Benz toward a favorite lakeside resort..normally about an hour away from home..and we hit the gas. And we got there in 20 minutes!

The lakeside town was the quintessential summer spot where teenagers would go to cruise the strip in their hotrods. It was hot and humid and only about a two hour drive north of Detroit so the airwaves were redolent with the sounds of Motown. I thought it was the epitome of excitement.

But the town stopped for a moment that sultry, summer night when my father rumbled down the strip in the Mercedes.

Crowds just stumbled on the sidewalk and gaped. The car didn’t look like anything else on the road. It didn’t sound like anything else on the road. We rolled along at about 10 miles per hour…but it sent out the vibration that indicated it could pretty much fly without even trying. And I sat on the back red-leather shelf, behind my dad and my uncle, watching everyone watch us.

It’s been almost 50 years but, boy oh boy, is that moment forever cemented in my mind…along with one eternal question.

Dad..why didn’t you hang on to that car?


One Response to “An Automotive Blast from the Past”

  1. A great piece, Dave. Like you I am not a big car fan but that style of Mercedes is a stunning piece of work, I once drove an older version of it eons ago. A thing of beauty. I wasn’t going to say it, but what the heck – is a joy forever.

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