Here’s a poser: A little over a year ago I bought the ’73 Mercedes 450SL that still has things to to for restoration and just a little over a week ago I bought the ’85 380SL which is in excellent condition. Which one would or should make me feel prouder?I was thinking about this the other day while researching what parts I needed for the first round of repairs on the 380SL. I was lucky to find the 380SL. It had just been listed 3 days ago on Carfax and the company that was selling it didn’t realize it was listed. I think they must have registered it for the Carfax guarantee and didn’t realize that would automatically be listed on their site as well — at least that’s my best guess. It was about to be listed on eBay and I got to it in that narrow time between when it showed up and before it was listed. I ended up with a great classic car because of luck (or divine intervention, if you prefer!).
I love the 380SL (for those having trouble keeping track, the first one I bought is a white 1973 450SL and the one I just got that is in excellent condition is a red 1985 380SL), don’t get me wrong, but other than persistence and patience in searching for the right car and not getting sucked into buying the wrong one, the condition of the car is not my responsibility. On the other hand, when I bought the 450SL, it still needed work and I learned a lot while working on it. I helped improve it from what it was to what it is. It’s not in the prime condition of the 380SL, but I can take credit for it being able to pass state inspection and for running well. As an aside, in Virginia, a vehicle has to pass a safety inspection every 12 months. Cars more than 25 years old can be exempt, but they have to have antique plates on them and are limited to 2,500 miles a year. Supposedly they are only driven to and from auto shows and repair shops. The 450SL could, at this minute, still be drivable and functioning, but with antique plates instead of being able to pass inspection if I had not maintained it by doing work on my own and paying for other work to be done.
Pride is a funny thing. What right do we have to be proud of a car we’ve just bought? We have the right to be proud of earning the money to pay for it (if we have paid for it). We have the right to be proud of the process of discernment we used to find a good vehicle for a good price. We certainly have the right to be proud of having the foresight to pick a car that provides good value as well, whether that value is in safety, performance, or something more ethereal, like style. However, do we have a right to take pride in a car that runs well when we’ve just bought it and have not yet had to take any responsibility for taking care of it?
While I love driving the 380SL (and haven’t driven the 450SL since I got the new car, other than to park it in a storage place), it seems to me I have more reason to be proud of the car I’ve maintained and helped restore. If I were to keep the 450SL and restore it to the condition the 380SL is in, then I would have a great reason to feel proud of it. In another year, I’ll have changed the oil in the 380SL a few times, I will have fixed it up and taken care of the few items that need fixing, and I’ll have started restoring the interior with new seats, new carpeting, and new trim. Unless there is a disaster, though, most of the reason it would be in excellent condition in a year would be because it was well kept for the past 22 years more than it would be because of what I did in one year of ownership.
Still, I can’t help feeling more of a thrill when driving the red 380 than I ever did on the white 450.