I’ve been dreaming of the big Mercedes coupé since I was a boy in the Seventies and they were almost new cars. Now I have finally bought one. It’s just not quite new anymore.
“Do as I say, not as I do”. Repeatedly, ViaRETRO has for financial reasons empahsized the sound advice, not to buy project cars in the misguided belief that they will end up cheaper than an already finished and perfect car. And now I have bought – a project car …
There are several good explanations, though. First and most importantly: The Mercedes SLC has been on my dream list for many years. Many, maaaaany years. I saw the big Mercedes’s on our family holidays in the Seventies (yes, we were in the Harz) and, being eight to ten years old, I was impressed by their presence and format – including double exhaust pipes and speedometers to 240 km/h. It seemed they were always the ones who overtook us on the Autobahn with the largest speed surplus, and they made a truly deep impression on me. In fact, the SLC is actually one of the few cases of which I myself suffer from the theory, that you today dream about the cars you could not have as a child.
That’s the one explanation: Emotions. Nothing rational in it at all. I just wanted to own an SLC and twenty-one years later it was getting annoying that I still hadn’t.
The other good explanation concerns why this became the one: Simple – because I already knew the car. Back in 2013 I even drove it on an occasion where its owner partycrashed a ViaRETRO BossaNova Tour – at which point the least he could do was let me have a go and he kindly obliged.
I was impressed: Mostly because the car was roaringly fast – much faster than I had really expected. Secondly because I was finally behind the wheel of my old dream car. Shortly before, I owned a Mercedes 250 Coupé from 1970 – the predecessor, and found that I was actually really pleased with all that Mercedes stands (I guess that should be “stood”?) for. More of that, thank you very much. And I actually can’t possibly express more precisely what the SLC is all about – compared to the 250 Coupé it was just more of everything. In fact, nudging at the border of decadence – which is also quite pleasing sometimes.
After that first drive, I couldn’t help but wonder whether he would sell. So half joking, I asked – although the question was purely hypothetical, as I did not have the money, no matter what amount he had come up with! He wasn’t keen on selling anyway, and to cut a long story short, these talks went on for months and years without ever coming to anything. However, I never forgot the car – but he almost did, as I eventually learned that he never drove it anymore. I took that as a good sign in relation to a sale at some point, and when I finally had a bit of money I intensified the pressure: Some time during 2016 I called him and proclaimed that I would now call once a month just to hear whether he would sell.
So that’s exactly what I did – and eventually his girlfriend finally had enough of my calls! So in the summer of 2017 we reached an agreement where he would let me buy the SLC.
Only thing was that when I drove it in 2013, it had a fresh MOT and had furthermore just participated in a historical reliability rally. Since then it had basically just been stood in a garage. As you know, this may well cause some problems. The good seller, however, was equally optimistic as me, so he suggested that with a new battery it could easily start. So I duly brought one with me on the collection day and planned to drive the Merc’ back home. Yes, two optimists!
It actually did start – with some serious massaging from his favoured mechanic. But a petrol hose was leaky and the engine never ran really well at low revs. To cut a long story short again: Two road assistance rescues later, the SLC finally arrived in my garage. Upon which I honestly doubted whether this was wise.
What precisely is it that I have bought? Well, it’s a 1972 Mercedes SLC automatic, last MOT’ed in 2013, Danish registered and at times drivable. It must be said that when it’s running, it’s really running – like an comfy armchair placed on top of a flying blanket, so there’s probably nothing fundamentally wrong. And it’s fast, as I’ve already stated. I’ve driven two other 450’s, none showing even remotely the spirited urge of this one. The engine is very strong and above 3500 revs it wakes up and finds its second life, the sound almost assuming (but only almost since it is after all a Mercedes) NASCAR character. Both the seller and I are convinced that the car is modified in one way or another, and apparantly the previous owner had bills of several hundred thousand kroner being spent on the car, including a new engine (Note to seller: Remember to send them!). Which is why I don’t really feel that the indicated 337,000 kilometers (!) is a problem.
However it clearly needed some love after its long hibernation, and I prioritised it like this: First sort the starting problems and poor running at low revs – then at least I would be able to drive the car properly. After that I would attend to the paint which was very matt. And then there was the matter of the body kit – hmmm.
Initially I was convinced this should be stripped off the car at first given opportunity, and the SLC then turned back to a very clean and stock look, suitable for the white paint. Complete with steel wheels, oh yes. But then again: The bodykit is actually a rather rare Lorinser-piece, and I can not help noticing that period modified cars are coming into vogue again.
Finally, there was the biggest task on the whole car: The body needed a few rust repairs. As I don’t weld, this would need to be outsourced. And after welding you of course need paint. This was really a main question in the resurrection of the project-SLC: The car was formerly restored and kept its original white – but my dream my SLC was always metallic green. Depending on the amount of painting needed, maybe I should take the jump and have the car repainted in green?
The thing is – the interior is brown. Very brown. It’s leather as opposed to my preferred fabric, but brown leather would actually suit green metallic very well. And it’s all in good condition too, so here’s at least one place where the costs are under control. Although only one out of four electric windows work, and there is a lot of wind noise due to old rubber seals. Both doors shut like the proverbial door of a safe, and it’s simply a nice feeling.
So yes, it’s a project car. However, at least it’s a rolling project. When it starts! I don’t usually like anything projectlike and would never recommend it to anyone – but I did get the car at a good price, so there’s room for a bit of improvement work. Nevertheless, it will require tight project management in order for it not to end up exceeding the value of the car. The finest, most expensive and best SLCs are the original and unmolested cars, and mine can obviously never become that. It can become a nice SLC, but it can never become an original and untouched SLC. Initially I was convinced the thing to do with a scruffy project-SLC was to turn it into a rally-look-a-like with black bonnet, decals and all – but there was a touch of doubt anyway.
So after much consideration I decided to start with what I do best: Polish the car! My excuse for turning my initial priorities upside down was that the SLC would then at least look better when it went to garages to sort out the real problems. I am glad to say it came up rather nicely and that actually helped my decision regarding the rally look: It dawned upon me that the car could maybe end up rather nice anyway, so I dismissed the rally idea and decided to go for the late-Seventies-period nightclub-owner-look with the bodykit and suitable alloys.
The night club-owner would however have become frustrated with the bad starting and poor low revs behaviour, so after the polishing I delivered the SLC to a workshop specialising in Mercedes.
Someone had warned me, though – a Mercedes SLC used to be a very expensive car, and it will still be expensive when taken to the garage. It was: It turned out the passenger side electric window was previously bodged and needed a new motor as well as the mechanism it self – and the thorough cleaning of the myriad of electrics surrounding the engine took time. I hadn’t received a bill north of 10.000 DKK for years – but at least it all worked now.
The engine played up again later, but thankfully the garage did not charge extra for the second nor third check, and eventually I have learned a technique of starting the still difficult-to-start engine. Which was necessary in order to go on the last trip before winter – to the bodyshop. Further investigation of the panel between the rear lights showed it to be so poor that replacing would be better than repairing – and luckily Mercedes had the panel new. For 4.000 Danish Kroner – which I guess could be much worse. The old was cut out and the new let in, and after paint I must say that I can not see the two joins at all. Together with repairs at the front the look of the car is positively transformed from scruffy to – let’s say respectable.
I think it’s starting to make sense anyway – though my real-life experience with the SLC is still limited. Due to the starting issues, I have not driven it much, and after the rust repair I put the car away for winter. I may have covered a total of only 1,000 kilometers, but they were at least very promising: The car feels very planted, solid and long-distance-capable. Over winter I’ll attend to a few minor cosmetic details, and once spring is near, I’ll have the last fixes carried out: A small repair to a seat back, leather care, a little electrics, more cleaning and a final polish (I love that part!) – and not least I need to find a set of wheels matching the bodykit. Gold-centered BBS should do the trick, I think?
Then a final check and adjustment of the engine, planning of a scenic route to Sweden and then we’re off for a proper test run some time in the Spring: I’m so looking forward to that and I am sure the SLC is too.
The below photos are all of the hastily washed but otherwise untouched SLC after its years of hibernation – don’t try this at home, kids!