It happened in the blink of an eye. I was standing in the repair shop, VISA in hand to pay a $4,500 repair bill, and the next moment I watched as my 1959 Mercedes 220S rolled backwards down a ramp from the second floor, sans brakes, and slammed into another car.

This was our second ponton. Deciding that the best SCM family car would be this classic Mercedes model, due to its attractive shape and robust mechanicals, we bought a “very original” 1959 219 on eBay for $6,500 in late 2009.

When it arrived, it was as original as described, but not nearly as presentable as we had expected it to be. Its black paint had been buffed through in places and spotted in in others. Its worn burgundy leather interior could almost have been called attractive. The stains around the rear window of the headliner were unfortunate, but who looks backwards when they’re driving anyway?

The incorrect-but-more-powerful 220S engine that had been fitted ran well, and with only a few thousand dollars of brake and suspension fettling, we had an original — but not very attractive — driver. “I don’t want that ratty thing in my driveway,” was Wendie’s assesment. We consequently sold the car for $8,400.

Bring on the Next One

I decided that I had chosen the right model, just not the right car. A few weeks later I found another ponton, with a shiny black paint job, a ravishing original red leather interior, good chrome and a flawless headliner. Cost was $8,000 delivered to Portland from Seattle.

Unfortunately, as good as it looked, it needed mechanical attention, mostly suspension and brakes, to a greater degree than our 219.

Over the next 14 months, we spent about $8,000 attending to all of its various needs. The finishing touches were new heater boxes, a completely rebuilt dashboard, rebuilding the fuel reserve mechanism and having the original, with paperwork, signal-seeking Becker AM/FM/SW radio refurbished. That was the bill I was about to pay, and it would have brought our total “investment” in the car to over $20,000.

During this period, I had insured the car with a collector car insurance company for the agreed-upon value of $15,000.

The Crash

The impact of the ponton slamming into another car buckled the trunk floor and bowed the rear fenders out. The crumpled fenders jammed the rear doors shut. The driver’s seatback and the steering wheel were broken from the impact, as the helpless driver was thrown around in the interior. A post-mortem revealed an empty brake-fluid reservoir; perhaps it had leaked into a malfunctioning booster.

I slowly put my credit card back into my pocket. While it was frustrating to have my “finally done” family car destroyed in front of me, at the same time I realized it could have been much, much worse. Wendie, with 4-year-old Bradley strapped in the back seat, was planning to drive the ponton to the Forest Grove Concours the next weekend, a 50-mile round trip. I don’t even want to imagine the bad things that might have happened if she had lost the brakes on the freeway.

Here’s Your Check

As the accident happened when the shop’s personnel were driving (or should I say steering) the ponton, and since it happened on their property, I was fairly sure that my insurance company would quickly take care of me, and that the shop had garage-keepers insurance that would take care of them. To the shop’s credit, they immediately told me not to worry about the repair bill. (Imagine having to pay a large repair bill for a car that was totaled by the shop that was working on it — just before taking delivery?)

Within a couple of days, the repair estimate arrived — $10,000 for labor, and $20,000 in parts, using N.O.S. from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, CA. The insurance company also offered me the option of buying the car back for $5,500, which was the salvage value estimated by Copart USA (, the auction company they use to sell their wrecked cars.

I got several emails from friends imploring me to save the car. SCMer Bruce McCaw, who has a 220SE ponton, kindly offered me whatever I needed from a parts-car 220S he has stored in Portland.

I decided to let the car go. I had just gone through months of refurbishment, and I just didn’t want to start over. Further, this was a never-hit car, and now, no matter how well it was repaired, it would have a story. And finally, we all know just how difficult it is to make a car that has been hit hard run and drive properly. I just didn’t have the energy.

So I took the $15,000, hoisted a schnapps in front of the car as my final auf Wiedersehen — and set out to look for another ponton.

Can’t Buy One for That Anymore

I immediately learned that $15,000 wasn’t going to buy a ponton of the caliber of the one that had just been wrecked. My 220S was a handsome car, with an excellent interior, good chrome, nice paint and it was fully fettled.

A better car, with a Webasto sunroof, sold on eBay for just over $30,000 recently. I believe now that to replace my car will probably cost $25,000 or more.

The lesson: As I improved the condition, and value, of my ponton, I didn’t raise my insurance coverage commensurately. The $15,000 value was correct for the condition of the car when I initially insured it, but as I poured money into it and improved it, I simply didn’t keep my coverage up to date. (As an aside, I immediately bumped the coverage on our award-winning 1964 Chevrolet Nova Wagon, which recently underwent a $40,000 restoration, to $40,000 from the $10,000 pre-restoration valuation I had put on it.)

Based on my experience, I strongly suggest you review your own policies and determine whether your agreed-upon value accurately reflects the current market — as well as any improvements you have made to your car. Trust me, you may regret it if you don’t. ?

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