Our 1972 Mercedes 250C is done. After tucking another $2,000 bill for repairs and upgrades in the bulging RO (repair orders) folder, I took the car for a 200-mile shakedown cruise.

Like so many cars from the 1970s, the Mercedes had only an outside mirror on the driver’s side door, and none on the passenger side. SCMer Matti Bohm in Germany found a correct passenger side mirror. Our local technician Chip Starr located a gasket for it in New York and installed it.

Now that the mirror is there, it’s as if it has always been there. The only time I noticed there wasn’t one before was when I wanted there to be one. This was at complicated times like merging on freeways or lane changing. Each time I realized I didn’t have a mirror, I was reminded that I was driving an old car.

With the mirror now installed, the 250C seems more like a “new car” than ever before. There’s now one less reminder that I am driving a 52-year-old car.

As I was cruising down the freeway enjoying my newfound lack of blind spots, I thought about the fundamental differences between a well set up classic car and a new car.

With the Mercedes W114 (the internal code for the 250) you’re starting with good bones. The brakes and suspension worked very well compared to other sedans of the era. Freshening all the wearable parts and tweaking things a little made it even better.

I was keeping up with traffic at 80 mph. The rear end from the 300D we installed makes a huge difference on the freeway. It lets the car cruise at lower revs, more like a modern car.

I have learned how to adjust the seven (yes, seven!) different levers to get the A/C just right on hot days. The HVAC is not as good as our 2021 Hyundai Sonata’s climate control but it’s awfully close.

Leaving aside obvious safety equipment like airbags or convenience features like navigation, I found myself wondering if all the improvements I have made to the 250C have in fact taken away some of its period “character.”

When we “improve” our old cars to make them work better, are we just correcting the flaws that give them character? Does this make them feel less like vintage cars and more like a vanilla-bland modern car?

Maybe we should just leave them alone and enjoy their deficiencies.

What do you think?


  1. To me, making improvements such as Keith describes to an otherwise stock vintage car doesn’t necessarily take away from its essential vintage character. We’re not talking about major resto-mod surgery here where we’re trying to make a 50-year-old car drive like a modern car. To the contrary, such minor mods can make these old cars safer and more drivable, and therefore more enjoyable. After all, isn’t that why we as enthusiasts own these things in the first place?

  2. The joy I seek in our wonderful hobby has always centered around taking an interesting vintage car on the road. Some folks like the buildup, the prep, the customization. Not me. I want to drive! While I can appreciate all parts of our hobby, Two Lane Touring has the most appeal to me.
    These days, one sees fewer and fewer old cars on the road anymore. I, for one, tend to look past small improvements which are intended to better the ride, or make the car safer. I just appreciate the fact that the vehicle is out there, being used for what it was intended for, instead of being parked, waiting for ideal conditions (which might never come).
    Life is short. If you have it, enjoy it. If some modern conveniences and upgrades will encourage you to get it out there, then so be it. Most changes can be reversed, if that was ever necessary in the future.

  3. Keith, I do like the characteristics of an old car. Period gives us the experience of a specific era. A period Mercedes will give you the safest and most features available at the time. Through the years you have seen my 1975 450SL and how well it runs. At times it has been expensive to keep in top condition, but I rally mine. Many mechanics have tried to get me to change the car to electronic ignition, I remind them that it was faultless for over 40 years and should remain so in the future. Only within the last two years I had to replace the engine power control module, injectors, coil, plugs, wires and have a complete engine wiring harness manufactured. Financially it was painful but after a year of figuring it out it now runs perfectly. I have had much success in getting parts from the SL Shop in Stratford upon Avon, England, they have been life savors and have even serviced my little car. You have seen my car at the start of the Northwest Classic Car Rally in Portland, Amelia and at the Chattanooga Motor Festival.

    Best wishes! Never lift!

  4. Improvements for safety, doesn’t change the character of the driving experience…unless you crave danger. But I do find the addition of the modern stereo to be a distraction. If you require bluetooth connectivity and a modern stereo, there are companies that will take an original radio, discard the innards, and install modern electronics into the body of the old radio. Beautiful car…I sold my ’65 300SEC, and am waiting for when you decide to cut loose your coupe…

  5. Aside from safety items….keep it original imo.

  6. Great read, and a topic that I am approach on quite a bit as of late.

    For the first is I have been building a 1969 427/M21/411 factory side pipe car of years. I started it while living outside Los Angeles and with the gears it was a struggle to drive on the freeway, this is where it started. I ended up changing out the gears, which took the fun of the stop lights away, which lead me to drop in a 6sp transmission. The car is now a joy to drive on long highway legs as well as staring in smoke shows at stop lights. However things have mushroomed out with EFI now (great since I don’t drive it as much as I should), Vintage Air (for the wife), Bluetooth (dropping a amp in the storage container with Bluetooth adaptor), electric fans (big block), and the list goes on. But the car is ready for any power cruise or just for weekend fun.

    However, as stated I have worked a great deal with mods that do not stand out and to not take away from the dash and interior nor the factory body lines as I feel both were a masterful approach to a NASA inspired time piece. But now living in the DC area I had to break down and put that second mirror on myself this year. I have thought about it for years, but having to look over my shoulder so much did bother the wife and myself to much for me not to at this point of our lives with this beast.

    As far as MBZ I have been working to get a 92 300CE back on the road to reliability now for over a year, since I took ownership. The car was last registered in 2012 (brought in Nov 22) and boasted 80k on the clock. However, with all of the work I have completed and re-completed due to the availability of MBZ parts and not the knockoffs that have flooded the market has continued to be a challenge. So, good luck with yours and glad to see that you got it out for much needed drive. By the way I also put in a Kenwood/Bluetooth since I drive the car during the week for my short commute to work.

    Thanks again for the good read.

  7. Keith, real your pain about “modernizing” older classics to modern driving habits. Observing what you did to your Coupe was certainly not out of the ordinary. Upgrading A/C is typically a mandatory thing to do. Yeah, I know the purists will whine about the rotary compressor vs that hated York Compressor we all grew up with etc. but in the end it is the convenience for the driver which will make the difference. Don’t believe you will be entering your coupe in any contests/concours? If you do/did so what, you might get deducted a few points for that mirror. Big deal, think about the consequences. Did the same to our ‘70 ZF5 Euro Pagoda. Had to have a right side mirror or would be lost or have an accident. So, fill that gas tank and happy motoring Keith.

  8. Any improvements for the sake of safety, comfort, and reliability, short of a “restomod”, will help you enjoy taking your classic car on the road, and won’t take away character from the vehicle. A passenger side mirror, better gearing, and perhaps electronic ignition would only add better safety, performance, and reliability to your classic car. At this point, I couldn’t even drive a car without a passenger side mirror without crashing it into another car, and improving your gearing helped your car by not making the engine work as hard, saving wear and tear on it. None of these take any character away from it. The safer and better it is to drive, the more you will be inclined to take it out on the road and enjoy it, rather than the car becoming an albatross around your neck, and keeping it parked all the time. So, ENJOY!!!! Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

  9. Glen your points are well taken and align with mine. Driving conditions and our use of old cars has changed so dramatically we have no choice but to thoughtfully adapt. KM