As my fingers hit the keys on my laptop, there is, as you may have noticed, perhaps more pressing issues going on in the world than project car stories. However, since I’ve had plenty of time at home, I thought I’d make use of this by finishing the many half-done items I have on my to-do list – this post being one of them. Hopefully Speedhunters provides a welcome place for escapism, so allow me to share with you my latest financial mistake, AKA Project 190.
As car purchases go, this has been a long and drawn-out love affair. But never let it be said, that buying things you don’t need – with dirt-cheap money loaned from the bank – from another continent, won’t be a fun-filled adventure.
‘Why do you want this personal loan, Mr. Chandler? Oh, a Mercedes 190 Cosworth – what a wonderful machine! Yes, that kind of vehicle most definitely qualifies for our low APR offer. Do enjoy your trip to the Nürburgring sometime in the future.’
I’ll add that to the long list of things that HSBC bank has never said to me.
But metaphorically speaking, thanks to a Brexit-inducing 3.3% interest rate – coupled with a five-minute approval process – someone at my bank was quietly encouraging me to live out all of my DTM dreams at the Nordschleife one day.
Pretty much 12-months ago, in the middle of October 2019, after a year or more of chasing this car down, my friend Richard Fisher – who I met via Corey Rosser at Air Lift Performance on shoot way back in 2014 – had 1.) finally agreed to sell me this 190, and 2.) received the paperwork back from the DMV with the correct chassis number on the title, therefore making it eligible for export. Faster than a YouTuber can say ‘like and subscribe’ I was wiring $15,500 to Fish’s bank account.
Quite soon, this very 190 E 2.3-16 would be heading to the UK on a big boat via the North Atlantic. But first, I had to get the car from Chicago to the Port of New York and New Jersey. Charlie from Classic Automotive Relocation Services (CARS) would be taking care of the shipping from the US to the UK. He’d kindly emailed over a quote of $1,850 to transport the car the 800-odd miles to the port. That’s about £1,400, a not-so-insignificant sum of money, but a fair price for covered transport across a handful of states.
Nevertheless, the DIY transportation approach of a flight, naff-all sleep, and a proper drive in the 190 seemed like a much more adventurous way to spend that kind of money. How much were the flights? £1,094 for a return economy coach. Bugger.
But – as you may have guessed from the photos of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 that preface these words – where there’s a will, indeed there is always a way.Man Maths
Ever the optimist, in what now seems like a bygone era, a phone call to British Airways revealed that 110,000 air miles would get me a business class flight out of London Heathrow at 10:30am the very next morning, arriving into Chicago O’Hare just after 1:00pm on a Thursday. I’d collect the 190 and have to get it to a place somewhere near the port the following day. There was a fairly firm deadline, because at 3:00pm on Friday the warehouse would close for the weekend.
My flight home would be leaving JFK at 7:30pm Saturday, landing back in London by breakfast time on Sunday morning. I’d just have to pay the £669.32 to cover the tax, fees and airport charges. This was much more appealing and would leave around $900 for fuel, food and one night in a NYC hotel. More than enough dollars.
The schedule was a bit silly, but the maths stacked up, and the 12.5-hour drive time made the 3:00pm Friday deadline 100% doable.The Transporter
If I emailed Charlie at CARS back and paid the $1,850 to ship the car, I knew I’d regret it. Whereas, if I drove the car from Chicago to the warehouse in Newark in NJ, I’d only be left kicking myself if something drastic went wrong. Plus, not going to lie to you here, being able to travel in a fancy lay-flat seat – all for a tenth of the usual cost – pretty much sealed the deal. With some shut-eye on the way, in theory, I’d be able to arrive in Chicago nice and fresh for the overnight road trip to NYC.
Saving time? Nope. Saving effort? Absolutely not. But when would I get the chance to do this again, though? To be honest, never. Not even in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be flying to the United States to collect the 190 I’d been chasing, have lunch with Fish, get the keys to the thing, and drive it straight to New York.
Usually, hanging out with Richard Fisher involves some deep-dish pizza, a Chicago Bulls game, and a quick update on his car collection. This time, all of that was off the menu. After getting collected from O’Hare airport in a fast – and surprisingly working – Alfa Romeo, we got lunch, Fish did his finest Salt Bae impression, we exchanged pleasantries, and the relevant documents to the 190 were handed my way.
With the car started, Mr. Fisher and Niko Vujanovich, like the true car salesman that they are, pointed me in the direction of the nearest ‘gas station’ to fill up the 190’s empty fuel tank. The deal was done. And I felt like a pig in shit.
It was just after 2:30pm and I’d made plans to meet with Prime NYC in Times Square at 5:00am. This would be a race against the clock. For one night I’d be like some sort of weird love child created by Alex Roy and Klaus Ludwig. That’s actually a really whacky thought. Maybe the lack of sleep over the years is messing with my mind. I take that back. Let’s just say that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip.Celebrate In Solitude
I don’t know how old you are, but I was born in the ’80s, and back when I got my driving licence you didn’t search for cars online. Things like eBay Motors, Mobile.de, Pistonheads or Bringatrailer weren’t really a thing – all you had was dial-up internet, MSN Messenger, and if you wanted to buy a car you picked-up a copy of Autotrader, the local paper, Exchange & Mart, or a specialist car magazine. Buying a car was a completely different experience from start to finish.
The internet has changed a lot of things, especially the way that we purchase vehicles. For me, this is a double-edged sword. The world wide web and social media is good, it’s bad, and it can be downright ugly. I reckon 13-hours behind the wheel of a very uncomfortable 190 is about enough time to consider this, so please allow me to explain.
I think we can all agree that first drive in a newly-acquired car is always an interesting time. In fact, I am sure each and every one of you has a few stories you can share about that first drive after collection day. Your senses are heightened; every smell, sound and vibration felt is a piece of communication. Is that smell of burning oil coming from this 1985 Benz’s 2.3L 16V motor? Oh no, it’s that rust box just ahead, being held together by packing tape.
For me, the first hour or two of new (old) car day sees the stereo system turned off completely. Anxiety is peaking. This complete and utter silence – whilst I work out what the ‘normal’ noises a car makes – has consequences. My brain selects overdrive and the thoughts come thick and fast. Was this a good idea? Will I get tired? Why don’t I want to share this journey on social media? Coffee isn’t going to calm my brain down, but it will keep me awake. And petrol. Need more petrol.
The internet has brought me a lot of joy over the years, but, like Mark mentioned in a GT-R update a while back, social media has diluted the new car buying experience. Back when I was a kid, I had a few poster cars. The first was a Lamborghini Countach and the second was a Ferrari Testarossa. These cars were pretty much unobtainable then; you had to be a rockstar or a millionaire to own a supercar in the ’80s or ’90s. At least that’s what it felt like to me. Once upon a time, supercar ownership was a really special kind of thing. And I’d like to think it still should be.
However, things have changed. These days, it’s all a bit too easy to be flash. Cars have become fashion accessories for some. And you know what? I think it’s boring. Adding something fancy to your ‘garage’ every month for likes, subs or to ‘flex on the gram’, only to never drive the living daylights out of it? That’s not for me. All this hype is a turn-off and, rather weirdly, I no longer want to own some ritzy brand new supercar.
Maybe that’ll change someday, but the feeling just gets stronger. Put quite simply, I’d rather have the keys to something older and more unique than the latest and greatest piece of exotica.
My train of thought got swiftly sidetracked as the fuel light came on; I needed to work out how much to add since I was less than two hours from New York and the car needed to be delivered to the shipping warehouse with less than an 1/8th of a tank. The 190 was surprisingly good on fuel, and this, coupled with US gas prices that are cheaper than bottled water, meant the drive to NYC was easy on the wallet.
One thing I would recommend for a journey like this is keeping some cash handy for tolls – just in case you can’t use a credit card. I always try not to eat too much on a long road trip, as well. Not because I’m tight-fisted and don’t want to spend the money, I just find that eating can sometimes make me want to nap.
I messed up my fuel guesstimate and decided to fill up once more just before crossing under the Hudson River. I’ve only hung out in Manhattan a few times and I couldn’t remember seeing many fuel stations, so figured this would make sense. It turned out to be a good decision.
After driving through the Lincoln Tunnel thinking I was making good time and generally winning at life, that soon fell to pieces as I took a wrong turn on exiting. Google Maps lost its bearings and so did I. A quick chat with a friendly NYPD officer got me back on track as I shouted “I am so sorry, sir,” out of the window of the Benz. Ten minutes later and I was meeting with the Prime NYC crew just a few minutes later than planned.
The total journey time from Chicago to New York was just shy of 13.5-hours. Tell you what, the tactical lack of eating, meant I was bloody starving. The promise of a proper breakfast by Edwin and Pravan was more than enough to keep my spirits up. First, we’d grab some photos and head south from Times Square go to a spot Vincent knew.
We’re celebrating project cars at the moment on Speedhunters, so I’ll share the shots Vincent captured along with a plan for the car and a few other SH Garage updates over the next few weeks.
2020 and the various lockdowns have given most of us plenty of time to think. Amongst many other daydreams, I keep going back to the ‘whole old car versus new car’ discussion. I’ve found myself being more resourceful and less wasteful. What does this mean?
Well, despite being an absolute magpie for new shiny stuff, one thing I do know is that you’ll always be able to buy that fancy-pants shit. I guarantee for as long as you and I are breathing, companies will be working tirelessly to sell us ‘the brand new’ and ‘the latest and greatest’. There’s been plenty of discussion about the internal combustion engine and Blake’s recent Honda story delves into this topic.
But – and I hope that I am wrong about what I’m about to type – perhaps we’ve just entered the last decade where you can truly enjoy driving and the freedom it offers. Cars like this 190 E 2.3-16 might not be perfect when you buy them, but the experience is what it’s about. There’s something very satisfying about making the best of what you’ve got, meeting new people, collecting old press releases, learning, fixing and even just looking and being around these old things.
Whilst I shouldn’t be allowed near spanners, I’ve worked with the right shops to make my French tat 106 Rallye drive just how I like. And I’m certainly going to make the most of every single drive in the 190 Cosworth, no matter whether it’s to the shops for some bread and milk, or through a few European countries to get some laps in at the Nürburgring. This car collection might not have been the easiest option, nor the most efficient, but it was definitely a good adventure.
Long live the feeling of being truly free that cars give us.