I hadn’t driven our 2004 Mercedes SL 55 AMG since last June. Saturday was a clear, sunny, 70-degree day in the Columbia Gorge. I decided to take the SL out.
I pressed the key fob remote with anticipation and nothing happened. I looked at the fob and a little red light flashed, telling me the remote was trying to do its job.
I pressed it a few more times with no result. I began to wonder how I could get into the car to open the hood. That way I could use one of the miracle quick-charge batteries I keep in my condo.
I was glad I wasn’t trying to use the car to get to the airport for an upcoming flight.
I remembered that the car did see some use on the SCM 1000 in July. When David Stewart’s MGA Twin-Cam engine demised itself, he gladly took the keys to the AMG to continue.
David was an early Tesla S adopter, and I recall when he brought it by the office to showcase its effortless acceleration.
Despite the “archaic” nature of the supercharged V8 in the SL, he said he found it delightful to drive. He also said that although the Tesla was quicker, he enjoyed the cacophonic symphony of engine sounds the SL made.
My plan was to make a quick run to Skamania Lodge, which will be the host hotel for the SCM 1000 this July. (By the way, we are about to open tour registration to all SCM members. With enrollment limited to just 45 pre-1975 sports cars, you might consider getting your name on the list now. Visit www.scm1000.com for registration.)
With thoughts of perhaps taking a different car, I recalled the metal key that is embedded in the fob of the SL. I pulled it out and used it to open the driver’s door.
I inserted the key and all the dash lights came on. I know all of you understand the sense of relief that I felt. I started the engine and noticed that the headlights were on. Somehow, when the car was last put away, they were left on, which is what drained the primary battery.
Luckily, the SL has a backup battery for just these situations.
However, once the car started, large red lights came on, telling me the “ABC” (active body control) was not working, and that “car is too low, do not drive.”
Having just ridden in the SCM Citroen DS 21 the previous day, I felt at home with a suspension that had a mind of its own. Also, the backup camera and radio let me know they were going to be inoperable until we got some charge into the engine.
I started the car and put it into reverse. I figured if Mercedes really didn’t want me to drive it the car would stop me from moving.
After a few feet, the car raised up to normal height and the warning lights went out.
I got onto Interstate 84, heading east up the Columbia Gorge. After about 15 minutes, the nav system and radio began to work.
The SL is now 17 years old and has covered 55,000 cossetted miles. It has always been enthusiast owned and maintained.
It used to be that when a car turned 20 years old, we considered it a classic.
That’s not really the case anymore. Where in the past cars would be worn out when they had passed the two-decade mark, today well-maintained ones have years of use left at 20.
When a car rolled over its five-digital analog odometer, going from 99,999.9 to 00,000.0 it was time to turn it in. (I have a video of the odometer in my Duetto turning over, I’m sure you have plenty of the same.)
I put over 150 miles on the SL, crossing from I-84 to Highway 14 at Cascade Locks, then on to Skamania Lodge.
The lodge is delightful, not only for its remarkable views but also for all of the other activities they offer, from golf to ziplining. Yes, in case you were curious, there is a spa.
I put the top down on the SL (or more accurately, it put its own top down), and I cruised to nearby Stevenson, WA, for a quick lunch at the Red Bluff Tap House.
Then it was back home, basking in the sun and the nearly 500 easy horsepower the SL produces. Last week I was on a tour in a friend’s 88-hp Alfa Giulia Super and noted how much I enjoyed the challenges a small-displacement engine offers.
I must say that a big engine, in a modern chassis, is delightful as well – in a very different way.
If I drive this car 3,000 miles a year, in 10 years, when it is 27 years old, it will have covered 85,000 miles. That’s still barely broken in for a modern car.
My prediction is that our cars from the past 30 years will become classics not because of their age, but because the increasingly rapid development of the automobile will make them obsolete for modern traffic. This will happen long before they wear out.
Within the context of the long history of the automobile, I am driving one of the last Mercedes internal-combustion V8s. It’s already a classic for me.
In case you were wondering, I did make sure the lights were turned off when I put the car away.