Old Cars, Stories Told

Looking upwardly mobile on the cheap


Late. I hate being late. My brother waited for me upstairs in the bar. I’m most comfortable in cozy, local places, especially those with far smaller prices than this high-end chain steakhouse offered. But a gift had been given us: here’s enough to more than sate you, and please sober up before you drive home.

The joint had just opened in this new, upper-end development. Many of the parked cars spoke of higher aspirations, if not higher realities – five-year-old Lexuses, new BMW 3s, and the high-trim trucks ubiquitous in the Midwest. Such is the look of those on the way up or wanting to appear on the way up. Fat car payments filled this lot. There I was in my paid-for, squeaky old Ford Focus, feeling out of place — and hustling to reach my brother. But still, I made a moment to take in this Mercedes.


I don’t know much about Mercedes-Benzes. In my childhood working-class reality, Buick was as high as anyone aspired, and always five years used. New cars were Chevys and sometimes Pontiacs. Thanks to engineering school, hard work, and luck, my adult reality far exceeded working class a long time ago. But my old Ford attests: orientations die hard. Still, it’s easy for a low, lithe, red convertible, top down, to pause a man.


No pretense: I needed Wikipedia to learn a little about what I’m looking at. So these were sold in the US from 1973 to 1980. They packed a (probably thirsty) 4.5-liter V8, and were prone to rust. A quick jag through eBay Motors, however, showed any number of rust-free examples just sold. There I learned the sly wisdom of modern 450 SL convertible ownership: most of them sold for around $15,000. This is how you look good at a trendy nightspot without enormous debt.


Classic low, long looks never lose luster, even though the burst headrest seams speak of a not-perfect car. I’m sure a few more minutes’ inspection would have found other signs of wear. Instead, I hurried upstairs to start pounding Manhattans and cutting choice beef with my brother.


I wrote this in 2014 for Curbside Classic, the blog about old parked cars. When I came upon it recently, I liked it enough to re-run it here — and encourage you to join us over there. We have a lot of fun talking about old cars. Check us out here.