Our example is exceptional in more ways than one. Firstly, it is presented in incredibly immaculate condition today, offering an irresistible invitation to get in and drive. Secondly, it has an unusual history, having been delivered new to Caracas in Venezuela, through the distributor Zico. A copy of its Datenkarte tells us that the car left the factory on September 13, 1957, complete with specific features for “export” models including lights and underbody protection.
Our example has benefited from a full restoration carried out by Top Classics in Wervik, Belgium, specialists in the restoration of classic Mercedes. Every aspect of the car has been refurbished, including all mechanical elements, the electrics and the bodywork. This restoration, carried out over nearly two years, was completed in December 2019, and the car has covered just 250 km since.
The current owner, a rigorous long-term collector, has invested more than €155,000 in the restoration of this car. The quality of presentation is particularly appealing. The body has been repainted “Weissgrau,” enhanced by a superb red leather interior and black top, conforming to the original. It also comes with a sublime set of bespoke luggage, adding extra charm. The rebuilt engine is the correct type, and while the numbers conform, it is not the original factory stamping.
The 190SL is a model particularly appreciated by collectors for its beauty and interior comfort. Our example has benefited from a no-expense-spared restoration offering an unmissable opportunity to take to the road.
|Vehicle:||1957 Mercedes-Benz 190SL|
|Tune Up Cost:||$650 (includes ignition equipment, valve adjustment, carburetor adjustments)|
|Chassis Number Location:||Right firewall under hood|
|Engine Number Location:||On driver’s side of engine block below cylinders 3 and 4|
|Club Info:||Mercedes-Benz Club of America|
|Alternatives:||1960–63 Porsche 356B cabriolet, 1963–70 Datsun 1500/1600 Fairlady, 1964–67 Glas GT cabriolet|
This car, Lot 152, sold for $157,458 (€143,040), including buyer’s premium, at Artcurial’s Paris sale on March 18, 2022.
From its description in the auction catalog, it is obvious that this example is a driver. However, reading closely, you will notice that the seller is letting it go after just 155 miles and a mere two and a half years of ownership. That arouses my suspicions. While it is not stated whether the seller owned the car prior to its restoration, I am going to guess that somewhere along the line before restoration, this car was part of a package deal put together by a European broker. Read on and I will explain.
Whatever happened, there seems to be some key information missing here. Why would you spend two years and plenty of money restoring a car only to hold it for such a short time, in which it was barely used, and then dump it at auction with no reserve?
Here some possible theories, in order of likelihood:
- The seller may not actually be a “long-term” collector, but rather restored the car with aspirations of flipping it. This is a typical white lie many sellers tell to provide false assurance that the vehicle they are selling is better than other examples on the market.
- The car may not function correctly or reliably. There are a few issues that can keep a 190SL, even one freshly restored, from driving properly.
- The seller could be asset dumping. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced many people to sell off their assets, either because they cannot access their money, or because they have family in need of financial assistance. A friend of mine recently bought a car from a Ukrainian Mercedes collector who needed to “use the money to buy bullets and a plane ticket.” The timing here might be a bit aggressive for this explanation, but expect to see this scenario come up more as the war drags on.
A phoenix rises from a pile of rust
Because this car came from Venezuela, there is a high chance that it developed major structural corrosion during the course of its life. While this would not be related to snow or salt, it may have lived near the ocean, which is almost as bad. It could also have been improperly stored during the wet season, leading to water accumulating inside the unibody. Over 50 years, that can do plenty of damage.
There are a lot of Mercedes in Venezuela, even to this day. Due to the precarious ups and downs of that country’s economy, many of them have fallen into disrepair. While there is no documentation about our subject car’s pre-restoration state, I am willing to bet that if anyone saw it, they would have kept their hands down during bidding.
To be clear, it is a good thing these cars are getting restored. Just don’t look for any traces of originality, as frequently none have survived.
Restoration business models
This car may have been part of a package deal of rusty shells that included several similar cars, with our subject car likely being the pick of the litter. While other cars in the package may have been sold to other shops to be restored (and to recoup some of the initial purchase price), our subject car was retained for its potential aesthetic attributes.
As for the stated €155k restoration cost, without detailed receipts (which should include labor hours, part numbers and materials costs), anyone can make up a number. It is reasonable to assume that if someone really spent this much on this 190SL, it must have started out as a rusty shell.
Many restoration shops have silent business partners that will buy a car, fund the restoration and then sell the car a few years after completion so that both parties can profit from the enterprise. If this car was restored with the simple intention of selling it to make a profit, the buyer may be in for some headaches. With little mileage since completion, it is likely that the car has yet to be sorted enough to deliver a $160k driving experience. Just getting the carburetors to settle in requires at least double this mileage.
There are three common issues with 190SLs. The first are vacuum leaks from the rubber flanges in between the carbs and the intake. These become gummy and leaky after they are exposed to fuel. Mercedes knows these are junk but keeps on selling the part. A better fix is to use hard plastic flanges with an embedded O-ring.
Another problem involves cheap aftermarket ignition condensers that can lead to random stalling. These will present a diagnostic nightmare for those who do not understand the issues. (The best condenser to use to avoid this issue is M-B part number 0001568101.)
The third issue concerns fuel delivery, including problems with aftermarket or refinished gas tanks, aftermarket fuel pumps that don’t always pump, and the vapor-lock issues endemic to 190SLs. Again, these are not catastrophic for a specialist who knows what they are doing, but situations that can need sorting with use.
My commentary aside, the 190SL is actually a great driver’s car. I have never found them to be underpowered, contrary to many claims. They are also reliable, fuel efficient and easy to service.
While the final sale price here might be typical of 190SL values, there are so many better ones in this price bracket that this example should be considered well sold. We may never know the real story behind our subject car, but let’s hope the new buyer here doesn’t have too much work left to do. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Artcurial.)