Tales from the Garage
Dorothy: Her Story
In this Tales From The Garage we are going to visit “Dorothy.” At sixty-nine years old she looks pretty good, not great but pretty good. We have been part of each others lives for forty-seven years. And most would describe it as a totally co-dependent relationship. But the good kind.
It was the winter of 1973 and once again I was at the car parts counter trying my best to keep one of my less-than-reliable vehicles on the road. As I was leaving the parking lot I noticed that behind the Volvo dealer next door, was a car sitting all by itself. A bit like that one girl at the dance sitting alone and looking at the floor hoping no one will notice. I noticed.
I stopped my car and went over to investigate. Sitting totally alone was a 1951 Mercedes-Benz 220 Sedan in gloss black with a fabric interior. Not only did I want to dance, I wanted to take her home.
I went inside the Volvo dealer to get the story. It seems that months ago, a woman (named Dorothy as you can guess) drove it to the dealer and bought a new Volvo but the dealer would not take the old Benz on trade. They did, however, offer to store the car outside for her until she figured out what to do with it. I immediately called the owner and after a short conversation a deal was struck. This made no practical sense of any kind. This is the type of crazy car-guy behavior that you read about but can’t explain. I had no job, still in school, no money but yet I desperately wanted to buy a now non-running, tired Mercedes sedan. No sense whatsoever.
I did not even have a place to store the car. Not a lot of options here except to rent a tow rig, attach the car and drag it to my parents’ house. Thankfully they had a two car garage and only one car. The perfect solution.
Then began the usual cleanup, drop the fuel tank, flush the fuel system, new fluids, new tires and back on the road. A very short lived resurrection as it turned out. As with any old car, and particularly an old German car, there was plenty that needed attention but with zero budget, none of that was going to happen. The thrill of of backing it out of that garage and driving it down the road for the first time is etched in my memory. It would have to be, because I never again drove it. For forty-seven years.
Yeah, I know, crazy. Like leaving your child with the grandparents as you go off and live your life. My parents took official custody of a rare non-running German sedan.
This is a very interesting car from an historical point of view. It was, for Mercedes-Benz, their first “luxury car” after the war, introduced at the 1951 Frankfort Auto Show. A big deal for the German automaker with only 3,453 sedans produced in 1951 and never imported to North America. Looking at the car today you think it is from the 1930’s with its huge fenders and running boards. It turns out that during the war all the Mercedes factories were bombed out and all that survived were the huge pressing machines that made body panels. So while the car was introduced in 1951, it wears the sheet metal of a different time. For me, that was its charm.
Over the years (pre-internet) I would save every article I could find about the car. I did store the car properly, drained all fluids, filled the cylinder head with 90 weight oil and raised the car off its wheels on jack stands to preserve its suspension. Then, time just marched on as it seems to do while we are not looking.
My father eventually died and my mother remained in the house with the sleeping Benz below her in the garage. Finally it was time for her to move on and sell the house. What to do with my car? Now it had been twenty-one years, I figured I was never going to restore it so I decided to go back to Pittsburgh where the car was stored and, dare I say it? Sell the car.
Well that is the great thing about plans and good intentions. Once I got to Pittsburgh, prepared to say goodbye to my old friend and kill the dream, a funny thing happened. I went to the garage, turned on the one overhead light, and pulled the cover off of the car. How to describe the unspoken language of car-love. It seemed to wake up and greet me with a “…where have you been?” expression. I cannot explain it.
Now you are ahead of me. I cannot sell this, this is just too cool and we have a long relationship. Perhaps this time it will work out. Calls were made, the car was prepped for its cross-country journey to my home in California. From the enclosed car carrier to a flatbed truck to being hand pushed into my garage we were finally re-united. Dorothy was now back up on jack stands waiting for re-birth.
Many people have a “someday” car project. Over the years I would suddenly think, okay this is the year. I would get estimates for a complete restoration and every year the price got higher and higher, well exceeding the value of the car. It became a hard trigger to pull. The car cover would slip over the car once again, time marched on. The car sits, protected, waiting.
Also, over the years various attempts were made to sell it but my heart never really committed. That voice inside kept saying, “Someday, someday.”
Friends, there are always friends in your life to help you see your own behavior. One of these car friends said, you know, it is unlikely that you are going to do a Full Monty restoration on this car so why not just get it running again and enjoy it as is? Cars and Coffee and Sunday drives. Not a bad thought.
A journey of 1000 steps begins with the first one. I decided to clean it up cosmetically to motivate me to move forward. An exercise in self-motivation. It seemed very natural. The first thing I thought to do was take a few bits of trim that had come off the car many years ago and have them repaired and re-chromed. The large Mercedes Star and the 220 script from the trunk lid seemed like the perfect place to start.
Reality can be startling sometimes. As I paid the bill for the two small pieces of restored trim I realized at that moment, they cost more than I had paid for the entire car. Motivation began to wane.
Dorothy loves her new jewelry, but has decide to stay indoors for the time being. It is, after all, a long term relationship. | GSM
- Rodney Kemerer