Preserving Family Values With Wheels & A Drop

We enthusiasts are a bit of a fickle-minded breed. As individuals who claim to love cars, we often judge them solely by the summation of their parts, or accomplishments. But taking cars at face value is a double-edged sword. They become as easy to dismiss as they are to accept.

As Speedhunters, it’s our job to dig a little deeper and find the stories in cars others might pass over. Be it a car covered in dust at the side of the road in Japan, tucked away between trailers at a track day, or one that could fly right under the radar due to its relative normality. In many cases, it’s the vehicle that carries the story, but stories are often worthy of carrying a vehicle as well.

As you’ve no doubt already surmised in regards to this Polar White Mercedes-Benz SL 500, the latter is true.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1240
Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1425

Speedhunters’ North American nomad Keiron stumbled upon this low-slung roadster while unearthing a plethora of feature vehicles in Boston, Massachusetts a little while back.

Assassinating the breeze shortly after shooting this AE86, one of Keiron’s trigger phrases was uttered: Mercedes-Benz.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1482

Though he does a good job of hiding it here (picking up a BMW E21 helps), Keiron is a Benz fanatic. As he would soon come to learn, despite owning one Paul isn’t.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1286

“I’ll never not love this car, but sometimes I hate it,” are words lifted directly from Paul’s own Instagram feed. That little love/hate wrinkle piqued Keiron’s interest, and as Paul thumbed through photos on his phone, he explained his very personal connection with this Mercedes-Benz.

Family Heirloom
Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1378

Paul’s R129 was manufactured in November of 1995 and was originally owned by his grandfather, Salvator Balsamo, who purchased it new straight off the Massachusetts Foreign Motors West lot. Optioned out, the purchase price rang in just a hair under a hundred grand.

Unlike his grandson, Salvatore was a Mercedes-Benz aficionado, typically keeping at least one in his possession at all times. He owned a W140, W220, and W221 and others before eventually leveling up to a Rolls-Royce.


While Salvatore offloaded most of his Mercedes-Benzes after a few years of ownership, the SL managed to stick around. “I was six the first time I drove the car,” recounts Paul. “My grandfather sat me on his lap and let me take the wheel. I immediately drove it over a curb.”

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1678

In 2005, Salvatore passed the car to Paul’s mother Linda, who drove it for a few years until eventually wear and tear threatened to sideline it permanently. Paul’s parents have never really had an interest in cars, so the notion of selling an aging Mercedes didn’t faze them. However, selling it at a loss did.

In its deteriorating condition, offers hovered at or below the $1,200 mark. Bill, Paul’s father, didn’t want to let it go for such a low amount, so he tasked Paul with writing an online ad for the car. The thought was, a market outside the local one would fetch a higher sale price.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1636

Cursor blinking and writer’s block fully engaged, Paul realized that he couldn’t be a party to selling a vehicle that had been such a prominent and permanent fixture of his childhood. Through his grandfather and later his mother Linda, the Mercedes was simply always a part of his life. It was purchased just months after he was born, and to that end Paul and the car were almost brothers.

So naturally he did the only thing he could do to make sure it would be around forever. He purchased it himself.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1356

Kintsukuroi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer that is mixed/dusted with gold, silver or platinum. It’s a method of mending an item without drastically altering its appearance or removing its character. Essentially, the decorated repair becomes part of the item’s new form.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1440

And it’s the mindset of kintsukuroi, preserving not recreating, that drove the choices Paul made with this car once the title was in his name.

The suspension was plenty worn by 2015 and the gold-laced epoxy stitching it back together starts with a custom air ride setup. The hard-lined system is built around Air Lift Performance management, twin tanks and dual compressors.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1498

CAtuned W124 front struts and BILSTEIN B8 rear shocks damper the car, while Slam Specialties bags replace the factory springs. Piecing together a workable suspension setup involved a bit of trial and error, as it was reputedly only the second vehicle of its model type to be put on air, and the first in the Western Hemisphere.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1451

Measuring 18×8.5-inches, the fifteen52 Tarmac wheels are not obnoxiously wide, nor do the tires fitted to them have an excessive amount of stretch. “I want to grow old with the car, so I didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t reversible,” Paul noted. “The fenders aren’t even rolled… flares, extreme camber… they date a car I wanted to make style choices that could go the distance.”

JDM clear corner lights replace the amber lights, and that’s quite honestly all Paul has done to the exterior. For now.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1397

Paul has an authentic AMG body kit waiting in the wings, but until something forces that particular modification he’s fine leaving the exterior the same as when it left the factory.

Inside, an even lighter touch has been applied. It’s been cleaned up, but again only just enough to be presentable.

The high-touch areas show plenty of wear, signatures from its former owner. The carpet is frayed from Salvatore’s dress shoes, and the inner door handles are scratched from his rings. There’s also no doubt a scuff or two in the passenger foot well from Paul himself jumping in the moment his grandfather would pull up.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1634

But polishing or repairing these areas would remove some of the car’s sentimental value, so they’ve been left untouched. Again, preservation prevails over alteration or restoration.

Riding Into The Sunset
Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1583

Salvatore is no longer with us today, but the legacy he has left with Paul and his immediate family is. From a young age, Paul’s grandfather instilled in him the importance of the human element. A very social person, Salvatore tried to bring people together to create memories in every instance he could.

Paul is using the Mercedes and his enthusiasm for cars in general to do the same.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1642
Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1475

As Paul has a Civic Type R and Nissan S-chassis for thrashing, the SL 500 is mostly used for special occasions, but it’s definitely no garage queen. It’s been to New York, Vermont and Ocean City – popular enthusiast destinations where Paul’s been able to reconnect with people he’s met throughout the years as his passion for cars has grown.

Many an afternoon turned night has been spent in and around the car, sharing laughs with friends.

Paul's - SL - 6 - 3 - 2020 - Keiron Berndt-1509

At a time when cars are almost disposable among enthusiasts, it’s refreshing to tell a story of someone willing to keep a vehicle for an extended period of time. I’m sure each of us has a car from our past we wish we kept, and personally, I am envious of Paul for keeping this car for all the right reasons.

Dave Thomas
Instagram: stanceiseverythingcom

Photos by Keiron Berndt
Instagram: keiron_berndt



Comments are closed.


by Oldest
by Best by Newest by Oldest

That's a beautiful car in the rolling shots! I would generally wish there were more shots of airbagged cars in ride-height and not only lying on their frame rails.

That's a great story Paul preserved with that car and as i said: it looks absolutely beautiful in pure white with those wheels. I wish Paul the best for his ongoing journey with the car!


I couldn't agree more-- especially when the car in question is one that makes speed so fluidly. These are future classics for which we can also swap to manual transmissions-- giving us the chance to enjoy them in ways their original owners never could. What I love about them is that they are "every purpose" cars. It's a car for dressing up, and if tuned, it's a car for trackdays that never loses a hint of class. I plan to add one to the garage just as soon as I can add another bay!


Indeed, slammed down stance doesn't fit well on some cars. That one looks much better in its rolling height!


By the way are cars equipped with aftermarket air suspension doomed to look stupid while parked or are there options to keep them at a decent looking weight with some kind of travel stop.

I believe there is a way as cars factory equipped with air suspension do not have that behavior.


Pretty much getting a car on air to do that would be to either engineer in some bump stops at the desired height you want when you completely air out, or just set up a "lowest height level" for what you want your parking to be, and use that instead of the "all out" setting on your controller


I keep trying to convince my grandma to get an older sl. She wants to cash out on a newer convertible though.


That’s pretty sick. Great article, great car, great photos, great location. Just a normal day


Got to love an old SL convertible
Such a classy car


Man this is a classy build
Really enjoyed reading this article!

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

I'm never a fan of R129s, but nicely modified examples like this does get my attention.


What a great car and a cool story. I can't believe that I check Speedhunters today and see this build. I've really been tossing around the idea of getting rid of my Jeeps and going with a M-B convertible build. Thanks for hitting us from all angles SH!


Nice to see Dino isn’t the only Italian car lover here. Great story boyz. May Salvatore rest in piece and some of his legacy live on with and through Paul and the SL500.


Mercedes-Benz is German....

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

He meant Dino and Salvatore are both Italian.


Now I feel like an idiot. Haha.


That's an awful lot of Polar White.


I love things like this. The car looks amazing and now its something that his family can appreciate for many years to come! Articles like this keep me addicted to Speedhunters.


This is freakin' sweet! It's like a modern version of a Miami Vice car. Great story and pics!


I love this. Not overdone at all, very Miami Vice feeling with the white Benz paint. Would definitely go well whilst wearing a white suit with a half-unbuttoned pink shirt. I like the wheel choice - not glitzy wide three piecers like everything now a days, and this era of Benz is easy to bag with separate springs to the struts. I like the ethos of keeping things reversible if needed, having fun yet whilst not 'ruining' anything, especially given this is a car that has ran through generations in the family. Too cool.


I almost bought one of these very cars a 1993 mint condition 500 SL Sport just a couple of months ago that is still sitting on a used car lot for $6500 instead I bought a Lexus GS300 in the meantime.....I told myself if that car is still sitting there in the summer (it has been been sitting there since December)...... I'm buying it!


A set of BBS RM500 would be great on this Benz


I get a very "white Mustang 5.0 Vanilla Ice" vibe from the way this car is modified. Respectable effort but I am not a fan. Maybe it is the wheels, the white on white 90s greatest hits or just not being used to seeing low R129s? Maybe a set of OZ Mitos, 18 can turn it around.


These cars just remind me of touch sensitives music videos haha


I’ve got to say the picture on the front screen didn’t really entice me into this article as I’m mainly a Jap fanboy at heart. But I’m glad I read it as it’s now made me appreciate the car a whole lot more. Love the story behind it.


I am making 3k monthly for working from home. I never thought that it was legit but my best friend is earning 10 thousand dollars a month by working online and she recommended me to try it. for more info visit any tab this site Thanks alot... .WORKS66.ⅭOⅯ