It isn’t uncommon to see cars dissolving into the dirt under the relentless sunshine here in Arizona, but usually what you’ll see is limited to American vehicles from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s with some Japanese cars from similar eras sprinkled throughout.
To find something European is a rarity and sometimes worthy of a mental note. I can recall a now-empty lot that used to be home to a handful of oddball cars including Citroëns and Panhards that I would always make effort to drive past if given the opportunity.
My friend Keith is a local mechanic and vintage car enthusiast with an affinity for Mercedes-Benzes. When it comes to all things automotive he definitely gets it, so when I was invited out one Saturday to check out a few cars he was buying I didn’t hesitate to take up the offer.
When I showed up the first car I saw was the 300SEL, which was literally slammed to the earth. With full knowledge that the reason for the car’s current ‘stance’ was a now completely rotten factory air suspension system, the child in me still got a kick out of seeing one of these big Benzes so close to the ground.
Parked a good distance away from the sedan was a 280SL. Probably the most desirable car of the bunch, they’re sometimes referred to as Pagoda SLs due to the design of the removable hard top included with some cars.
Fun fact: the roof options for this car back in the day were removable hard top only, soft top only, or both.
Parked even further away was an SLC, abandoned behind the house. Far from its former glory, it sat with its body straight and fully intact.From Dust To Dust
My knowledge of the history of these cars is limited, but clearly they have seen better days. It is my understanding that the cars were purchased by a successful Chicago business man who brought his family to Arizona, presumably to escape the city.
He obviously had a fine taste for vehicles, driving the W109 himself. The Pagoda top SL belonged to his son, and the SLC to his wife or daughter – I can’t recall. According to what I heard, the 300SEL broke one day and simply never got fixed, maybe due to a lack of necessity and/or interest to a man in his late years.
The Pagoda SL, as you can see, was unfortunately involved in an accident. With values of these SLs rising, I wonder if it would still have been taken off the road had it crashed today?
I wish I could remember the story behind the SLC. I would assume it’s similar to that of the sedan; broken one day, parked forever the next. This generation of SL might not be the most well-liked, but personally I really appreciate the clean understated lines of the R107/C107.
The 300SEL retains its original Illinois plates, suggesting it was purchased there and brought here to the desert. It is entirely speculation as to whether or not this particular car did this, but I love the idea of making that road trip in such a beautiful barge.
Seeing the cars in this kind of shape and environment was both exciting and haunting. Exciting because I’m a huge fan of vintage Mercedes in any form, and haunting because of the dilapidated state they were in.
The unfortunate truth here is that these cars simply are not worth enough to justify the costs of full restoration. The cost to overhaul the air suspension on the SEL for example would equate to a significant chunk of the value of the finished car.
It might be sad to think that these cars will likely never see the road again, but it’s important to realize that with the limited component resources available for cars like these that parts cars can be the best option for restoration projects.
In the end these cars will live on in one way or another, bringing life to new projects and keeping their brethren on the road. These may not be the most valuable cars from Mercedes-Benz’s illustrious past, but they were the stuff of dreams for so many in their day and I’m sure just as many in the present.