…you just might keep it for awhile. Especially if it is an older one. Today I reached a 20-year anniversary of owning an ’85 300D, and felt it important to celebrate in some way. Quietly without fanfare would be fine, because both myself and the noble old Mercedes are completely about understatement – not flash. Allow me to explain.
Perhaps at any given moment, most automotive enthusiasts have a list in their mind of what cars they dream of owning. While that list may change, one thing that’s constant is there are multiple tiers of fantasy versus reality. There are the vehicles one would purchase after winning the lottery at the top tier, with each subsequent level below getting closer to the the grim reality of what could be purchased with one’s actual means. Today during a particular trip down memory lane, I reflected on cars that remained fantasies – and one that I was able to make a reality.
Graduating college in December 1990, I had my own list of reachable and unreachable dream cars at the time, but no money. After being fortunate enough to find a job right away processing orders and trades for Prudential stock brokers, I became aware of how low Chrysler Corporation stock was after a rough year of slow sales brought on by a post-’80s recession. Keeping tabs on automotive news publications, it was hard to miss the updates regarding future “LH” platform models Chrysler had in the works due for release in mid-1992.
The LH platform styling seemed impressive and the technology was more advanced than anything Chrysler had done up to that point. Since I was confident they would be popular among buyers, it made sense to follow traditional stockbroker wisdom of buying stock one actually knows about. Part of every paycheck went directly to purchasing stock in Chrysler Corporation – because Lee Iacocca had saved Chrysler from bankruptcy in the early 1980s, and he would no doubt pull it off again ten years later with top engineering talent he had recruited to the company.
Two years later upon their release, the Chrysler LHS, Concorde and Dodge Intrepid models were in fact quite successful in the marketplace. By the first of December 1992, company stock had gone up 350% compared to its price two years earlier in December 1990. Looking back, that investment still ranks as the best return I have ever received on anything in two years.
With a tidy profit in hand, it was time to make ownership of one of those higher-tier automobiles a reality. My daily driver was a 12-year-old wreck that was no longer practical to use every day, and being able to shop in the $15,000 range allowed a number of new (or newer) choices at that time. Respectable entry-level performance cars such as a new Ford Escort GT, Volkswagen Jetta GLI, or Saturn SL2 each promised around 123 horsepower and an enjoyable experience behind the wheel. After coming close to purchasing an Escort GT sedan, thinking about how $15,000 would also purchase a favorite car I always respected and admired growing up (Mercedes diesels in the 1977-85 “123-body” midsize design) changed my mind.
Sure the newest ones on the road at this point would already be seven years old, but these were the last Benzes with the unparalleled 5-cylinder turbo diesel engine the company had perfected during a decade of manufacturing. Unlike newer offering, the older power plants were simple, ran forever with few problems, and simply sounded cooler in their own contrary fashion. I would locate the best 123-body possible in lieu of a new Escort GT.
After looking through the month of December, I finally found a one-owner ’85 Mercedes 300D in perfect condition with approximately 50,000 miles on it. This was the last year 300D of this style, and the “anthracite” dark gray/brown metallic color worked on these cars. Working as a mechanic during college, it was easy to see this particular ’85 sedan was the one after seeing it. Minutes later, that middle-tier dream car became a reachable reality for me, and I drove it home on the day before New Year’s eve in 1992. Having a Mercedes at 24 was a real luxury and many mistook me for a wealthier version of myself. No problem there.
It seemed right to find the car a proper name. Although that involved figuring out which gender the 300D should be, little thought had ever been given to the subject. Was the car tough and masculine, or alluring and feminine? The utmost careful consideration was required here because this detail needed to be determined correctly. A friend pointed out the 300D seemed to have more masculine traits than feminine ones since the diesel engine exhibited military-like gritty toughness, loud noise, and smoke. This made sense, and shortly thereafter the name “Bruno” was picked to honor the car’s chief designer Bruno Sacco.
Soon after my initial thoughts of trading Bruno on something newer began to diminish, and finally dissolved completely. I racked up the miles with Bruno giving him the best care possible at all times. By 1999, it was possible to retire Bruno from full-time duty of winter salt driving when my wife purchased a new car and passed her old one on to me.
These days Bruno resides inside the garage, but often continues to take me on my 90-mile round trip commute to work. But only on clear days when the roads are dry.
Fuel economy of 32 miles per gallon achieved in the 300D saves a great deal of money compared to the 16-mpg sport utility vehicle parked in the driveway. But mainly, I still love driving this car and hearing the diesel engine – warm nostalgia for anyone who remembers the 1970s and ’80s.
Bruno is now old enough to be considered a classic and is beginning to be noticed more again because of the rarity of this body style which increases with each passing year. Sell Bruno now? No way.
So how does one celebrate a 20-year anniversary with a car? Smash a cupcake against the windshield. Stack champagne glasses on the hood? Throw a party? Guests might think me certifiable. What I did remember was a saying that yesterday is back the road that you came, down memory lane. Perfect! So after some plotting on Google maps, today Bruno and I proceeded to take a drive around to all the places we used to commute to and frequent most often, all stops conglomerated into one giant lap of New Jersey.
An old Mercedes advertisement once described owning one as a “deep-seated, satisfying experience”. As we made our way around the state, I thought about how true that claim really was. Sure they were mere words created by a copywriter, but I also considered myself very fortunate to have enjoyed so much of that very satisfaction for so long.
As a driver in a newer E350 passed me, I could not help comparing my ownership experience with what I imagine his to be. Could I afford to trade up to a newer model? Yes. Do I feel the need to? No. Sure I don’t have the nicest, most expensive Mercedes compared to that guy, but I honestly believe I’m having more fun. And while the eggshell white color of his E-class that was four generations newer than mine did nothing for me, I can also honestly say I still really like the color of mine.
Hold on to what you cherish, my friends.
December 30, 2012