It's hard to kill a car you care about. Case in point: two years ago we bought our son Eric, then eighteen years old, a 1978 Mercedes 280 saloon. This car was chosen after his older brother managed to hasten the path of two more sporty automobiles, a Fiat 124 Spider and a '65 VW Beetle, to the salvage yard. A larger car seemed prudent.
A European model, the 280 (123 body style) has the high-revving carbureted 6-cylinder alloy twin-cam M110 engine and is fitted with a 4-speed manual gearchange. A basic car, it has cloth upholstery, wind-up windows and lacks air conditioning.
At $1,100, it seemed a bargain and, placed in the driveway with a red bow tied to its 3-pointed star, made a nice surprise high-school graduation present, as well as a reward for maintaining a 3.0 GPA. It had the usual rust in the rear quarters, showed the scars of long and well-used life, and smoked at startup. We ran it down to the folks at MBI Motors, where Rich Helzer and Sig Raethke waved their magic wands over it (that was two waves, at about $1,000 each), attending to a multitude of deferred-maintenance-related sins. The car has performed admirably since. (Let's not discuss whether we could have gotten a better car by spending $3,100 up front. It was cheap at $1,100, and we all know that what is spent after buying a car doesn't count against the purchase price.)
Well, two years later, the smoke has gotten worse. "Visible emissions," was the verdict of the environmental police. "You'll never get this car registered in Portland."
By all logic, we should push the car off a cliff and be done with it. A valve job would run at least $2,000, and a complete overhaul could hit $7,000. A responsible course of action would be to look for a late '80s 5-speed 190-series Benz four-cylinder, for $6,000 or so, and put him into the more modern car. But such simplistic solutions go against the grain of someone who once figured out how to adapt Nash Metropolitan front uprights onto a Bugeye Sprite by reversing the bushings inside. And our son is fond of his 280, enjoying its rather surprising performance and its manual shift.
So we've found a 1975 280 (an earlier 114 body style), carbureted, that according to the owner, "runs great and would be perfect if it hadn't been hit so hard on the right side." With 112,000 miles, asking price is $850 and clearly negotiable. Its M110 engine can be adapted with "just a few modifications" (famous last words) from the earlier chassis, and we've been given a quote of around $1,000 to do the swap.
We'd avoid killing the car that Eric is fond of. Simultaneously, we'd have changed our financial position in the 280 from being just a few leagues underwater to being flattened on the bottom of the Mariana trench. We haven't made an offer on the '75 yet; Eric won't be home until Christmas. He'd like to drive the 280 back to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for the spring semester of his junior year. Shall we save it or junk it? E-mail your thoughts to email@example.com, or fax them to 503/252-5854.
Z CAR TO GO
Our quest to experience inexpensive, interesting cars continues. You may recall that we first purchased a 1968 911L, drove it for a few months, then sold it to an SCM subscriber in Germany. An Isetta followed, which was replaced by our current car, a like-new 1972 Datsun 240Z with 38,000 original miles, purchased from a subscriber in Chicago. A trouble-free and refreshingly straightforward sports car, it just completed the Northwest Classic Rally without any drama.
It's time for something different. We've spent about $12,000 on the Z-car, and are open to sell or trade it up or down for nearly anything of interest. For instance, a post-1988 C-4 Corvette, a restored TR6, another early 911 or a Jaguar E-type 2+2 would all work. If you've got something in mind, no matter how strange (remember the Isetta) send me an e-mail or fax.
Seminars and Schedules
We're looking forward to our 4th annual Insider's Seminars at Barrett-Jackson, January 18, 19 & 20, presented by Grundy Insurance and Barrett-Jackson. We'll have a host of SCM experts on hand to help you decide when to hold on and when to fold when the car of your dreams crosses the block. More details may be found on page 63.
To get our coverage of Monterey to you as quickly as possible, we've moved our report on RM Meadow Brook and Silver's Hot August Nights to the November issue. Of course, the complete results of all of these auctions are in the process of being posted on SCM's collector car registry, eCarCentral.com. Drop by and visit the site; while it's under construction, it's free to subscribers and friends.
ON THE COVER
The sun-drenched days of June, July and August have already come and too soon gone by. Artist Nicola Wood's portrayal of a 1966 Corvette convertible, on an Australian beach, conjures up memories of the tours, concours, cruise-ins and rallies of the departed summer.
This painting was commissioned by the southern California owner of the Corvette, and, at 30 x 22 inches, is significantly smaller than Ms. Wood's preferred size of 4 x 6 feet. A member of the Automotive Fine Arts Society, she most recently displayed her work at the Concours at Pebble Beach, the Newport Beach concours and the Palos Verdes concours. Her show at the Goldstrum Gallery in the SoHo district of Manhattan opens October 24, and a ten-year retrospective of her work, sponsored by Cadillac, will be mounted at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles, from February 17 to May 28, 2001.
"The very first painting I did was a '59 Cadillac," said Ms. Woods, who attended Parsons School of Design in New York and the Royal College of Art in London. She now lives in Los Angeles and drives a '62 Cadillac convertible. Prints of her paintings, made by the Giglee process of continuous tone printing on watercolor paper, are available by custom order. Her paintings may be viewed at www.nicolawood.com; for purchase information contact the artist directly at 310/839-1027. (CA)