I’d like you to meet my new friend “Sophia”. She is a 1971 Mercedes-Benz 230. Don’t be fooled by her elegant baby blue exterior and classy lounge-like interior, the straight-six under the bonnet is an assertive, naturally aspirated engine that knows what it wants. This engine is very happy on luxurious highways.
We’ve become close friends recently after my last car (whose name, make and model will remain unnamed for fear of my losing whatever credibility I have) and I split ways after a 10 year long relationship.
While my Mercedes is not without the need of some serious TLC, the condition and reliability of this car is truly remarkable for its age.
It’s not without its quirks; the previous owner lived in an area of Sydney where local residents liked using the roof to break in their new Nike Airs and thought the badge would make for some respectful bling. Then there is the electrics: for instance if I turn on the heat fan it fries the fuses that control the indicators and brake lights… and more recently the horn sounds every time she takes a corner (which is seriously the most elegant horn I’ve ever heard.. but still).
While I can see all those rational people out there rolling their eyes at me thinking "you could have bought a reliable late 90’s holden astra for the same price and it would have air conditioning, electrics working, be cheaper to run"... and all those other things that make total sense when working out what you need from a car.
BUT… the real rational question to ask is… does it make you smile? When I got into this car for the first time, I felt like I’d returned home. My first car was a Jaguar XJ6 Series 6 that my Dad bought for next to nothing and restored on his own ingenuity and favours. This was back in the 1980s when everyone around us were doing-up their Valiants (aka the Marrickville Mercedes), in hindsight Dad was going against the grain of the time in wanting to bring an old Jaguar back to life.
Growing up it was the family daily, and by the time I was old enough to drive, my parents could afford a more responsible modern family car and I got the Jag! Driving to High School with my friends in this car, listening to RnB mix tapes and talking crap, the Jag (nicknamed the “Shaguar”… yeah I know, real inventive) was so much a part of mine and my friends' coming-of-age that I remember every little thing about it.
The V8 engine a highlight, and the electric windows that you needed the manual force of one hand and your finger on the chunky switch with the other to operate them. The suspension in the seats made for a bouncy drive, that old car leather smell, the walnut veneer on the dash… you get the picture.
Driving this Merc took me right back there, and it felt goooood. While they’re totally different cars, the smell, the quirks, the weight of the car and force of the engine, her presence on the road, the simplicity of the machine, all felt the same and made complete sense to me. While we’re no longer in a time where petrol prices were so cheap no-one cared about fuel-efficiency, we are in a time that is throw-away. Over the course of our relationship, Sophia will slowly but surely have all her creases ironed out, and I’m sure will be home to many more memories.
Heleana is a force of nature. The founder of In Venus Veritas and The Petrolette, and a co-founder of Rising Sun Workshop. Heleana shares her love of vintage cars, riding motorcycles, and (not-so-secretly) dreams of flying planes and piloting a riva aquariva (a la Sophia Loren) very fast through the canals of Venice. Supportive and connected, community is her lifeblood, and she is as real as they come.