Thursday, 20 February 2014

450 SLC: The Sentient Benz

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Once upon a time, three friends of mine – who, for the purposes of this tale, we shall call Will, Barrie and Baston (because, er, those are their names) - set up an unofficial little business buying and selling cars from auctions. Nothing too ostentatious, a rusty Sierra here and a sleepy Fiesta there, just what little they could afford with their spare pennies, which then got a good clean and sold on eBay for profit. The margins were small, so it was a reasonably successful little sideline.

One day they found themselves at an auction in Enfield, face to face with the most beautiful car they’d ever seen. It was a 1973 Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC in full diplomatic spec: black leather with cream piping, fully loaded with every gizmo available in the early seventies and, of course, that juicy 4.5-litre V8. It smelt just like a classic luxury car should, all supple hide and gently patinated walnut. It was on offer with no reserve and nobody was bidding. They couldn’t resist. They snapped it up at an embarrassingly low price.

Unfortunately, after rather a lot of time spent quietly gazing at the slumbering behemoth, they couldn't bring themselves to sell it. It was just too pretty.

It lived in Barrie’s parents' garage for a few months, occasionally being admired and stroked, but largely just sitting there on its own in the dark. Then we moved it to my old garage for a while. Then it was stored in Will’s parents' garage for a few more months, whiling away the days gathering dust and giving the cat somewhere classy to sit.

Eventually it was decided that the best thing to do, sad though it would be, was to bite the bullet and say goodbye to the old girl. After all, everyone was out of pocket and no-one was actually driving the thing. It was just sitting there, expectant and forbidding, like some neglected, bitter fairytale monarch.

So, Will and I dragged the car out of the garage, gave it the cleaning of its life, then (after a good ten minutes of trying to stop the wayward washer jets from squirting [the reservoir tank is surprisingly large]) took it out for a spin down some country lanes.

It's the closest I've ever come to dying in a car.

As we wound through the country lanes outside Faversham, the throttle unexpectedly jammed itself wide open. 250-odd Teutonic horses rapidly smeared the hedgerows into blurred green spectra. The aged, ineffectual brakes were doing little to slow progress and, horror of horrors, the autobox was somehow stuck in Drive as well. The key couldn't turn in the ignition. It seemed like there was no way to stop the car, bouncing off the rev limiter and screaming at vastly illegal speeds down worryingly narrow lanes. On a straight stretch of road, Will took off his seatbelt and dove headfirst into the footwell, returning moments later with the accelerator pedal in his hand and a look of utter bafflement on his face. He looked as if he’d had an idea but wasn’t sure what it was, and had been thwarted before finding out.
With a Herculean effort, between us we forced the gearlever into neutral and coasted to a halt, the engine still energetically redlining. Then, in a scene straight from a dodgy b-movie, it slipped itself back into Drive and we pelted down the road again, leaving the longest number-eleven skidmarks you've ever seen.
And then it ran out of fuel.
We gradually rolled to a standstill, coming to rest just before the trees that otherwise would probably have impaled us.

This story is true. And entirely inconsequential.

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