Melvyn Meloy; Mad about the Merc
Many a love affair has blossomed whilst a soldier is on duty in a foreign land away from home for long periods. National Service for Melvyn meant 1958-59 were spent mostly in Germany, a country still recovering from the war trying to get back on its feet and rebuild its infrastructure. The car industry mainly relied on the pre-war design of the Mercedes Ponton the chosen steed of the taxi driver, robust and very reliable. Melvyn’s affair with the German marque started all those years ago and has stayed strong for over 50 years.
Currently Melvyn has a 1957 Ponton that has been in his care for the last 3 years. Imported from New Zealand this 220 S (manufacturing code W180) required his expert touch. The interior is simply stunning a lovely place to spend some time, the exterior is unmarked, great paint and with some investment and hard work Melvyn has brought the car up to high standard.
It wasn’t the Ponton that introduced me to Melvyn, at a local show his 1966 300SE Coupe (Code W112) stood out from the crowd. One of only 270 RHD cars built the 300SE has shared his garage for 28 years and it was a few years after taking possession that the first restoration was completed; a further strip down and repaint was repeated in 2004 and that’s the image we see today. The car is used regularly with many trips to shows at home and abroad including plenty of Channel crossings to Germany. Melvyn took me for a drive and the first thing to note was the sheer size at 16ft long and 6ft wide, this Merc is no Tinkerbelle but with effortless ease the 3 litre straight six cylinder wafts you along. The specification is impressive for a sixties machine, 4 speed auto, power brakes with discs all round, self-levelling suspension, Bosch fuel injection and 60mph in 11 ½ seconds. The drive in the 300SE is more a luxury relaxed experience rather than a sports coupe, even so there is no doubt the 185 bhp engine can propel over 1.5 tons of Stuttgart steel along rapidly. Mercedes even entered a 300SE ‘sedan’ into the European Touring Car Championship and that same version won several international rallys.
The 300SE was years ahead of the competition in many ways, notably it was the first car to have a safety cell and crumple zones. The safety aspect of the car was the culmination of years of design by engineer Professor Bela Barenyi who actually started with Mercedes at the outbreak of World War 2 and continued for 33 years. Although not the designer of this coupe, that was credited to Paul Bracq, many of the Professors safety aspects were incorporated and put to the test by none other than Ringo Starr who somersaulted his 300SE (several times) on the notorious Robin Hood roundabout at the start of the A3 in May 1980. The car, although destroyed held its construction and both Ringo and wife to be actress Barbara Bach walked away with only minor injuries. Shortly after the crash Ringo proposed to Barbara saying ‘if we can survive that, we can survive anything’. Owning a 300SE is not for the novice, they are rare now and thus expensive to acquire and costly to run as parts are becoming scarce and fetching a premium. This car is in the right hands, Melvyn’s knowledge of the 300SE and indeed the marque is encyclopaedic.
His history with Mercedes started with a 1952 W187 220A saloon way back in 1961. The same decade a further three W180 220S saloons and a 1954 180 saloon were purchased, ‘you could pick up a Ponton for £60.00 in the sixties’ Melvyn confided in me whilst flicking through pictures of his previous machines. The seventies a 1959 W180, a 1965 220SE fintail and a 220S fintail from 1964, the list goes on and is comprehensive.
In the 1980’s Melvyn really peaked enjoying 11 Mercedes including four W112 300SE Coupes (two of which became parts donors). Having paid £2000.00 for the car, rear end rust was the main issue that had to be rectified; Melvyn keeps all the details and pictures showing the car having replacement front wings and rear panel plus repairs to rear quarter panels and boot floor.
On to the nineties and another five Mercedes came his way including some of the more modern examples from the marque. Since the turn of the millennium another three offerings from the ‘Three Pointed Star’, so the question needs to be asked ‘why so many?’ to which the answer was ‘I have tried to own many more’.
The 50 year fascination with the brand and particularly the older cars is not going to stop, it may have slowed a little but an affair that started in a foreign land when the world was a different place is still as passionate and long may it continue. My thanks go to Melvyn for his time and input.
The 230SL Mercedes of 1963 was not really a replacement for the 300SL Gull-wing masterpiece or its cousin the 190SL, for their time had passed; an ‘all new’ car was required and Stuggart delivered the W113.
230SL Mercedes Pagoda – A Sensible Dream
The most sensible dream car in the world’ was the boast from Mercedes advertising department. The marque had put a tremendous effort into the 230SL for 1963 which was necessary if they were to compete with the great array of early 60’s sports cars, many from the UK. One name that worked on the project was French designer Paul Bracq who penned the wide stance but slim shape that the SL range followed until the end of the 80’s; Bracq went on to create BMW’s 7 series and was part of the French TGV (train) design team. Whilst the SL (super light) wasn’t especially minimal in the weight department and didn’t offer the sports car looks of the E Type, the model was built to the highest standard with a price tag to match, a 1/3rd more than Jaguars icon. The detachable hardtop from where the 230 received its nickname was created by Bracq and Bela Barenyi. Hungarian born Barenyi was also the world leader when it came to safety aspects of the modern car, including the SL’s front and rear crumple zones, which he had first applied to the Ponton range of the 1950s. The in-line six-cylinder engine featured a cast block with an alloy cylinder head. Fuel arrived courtesy of Bosch mechanical injection and 150bhp ran through a four speed manual or an optional 4 speed auto. In 1967, a 250SL version arrived with the option of a 5 speed manual with disc brakes all around and improved torque, although maximum power remained unchanged. The 250 was only produced for one year being quickly upgraded to 280SL which boosted performance to 170bhp. The last version was the best-selling, especially in the States but the SL had evolved over the years into a ‘Grand Tourer’ with softer suspension and increases in the overall weight. After being introduced to the world at Geneva’s Motor-Show in 1963, just under 20k of the 230 variant were sold and by 1971 nearly 49,000 of the ‘Pagoda’ type SL’s were produced, over half for the US market; all buyers would require a healthy bank balance.
The Choice of the Discreet Rich
Mercedes target audience was certainly reached and advertising was originally aimed at the enthusiast with a leaning towards sports cars and even motorsport. A 15-minute film was produced extolling the performance virtues of the SL at the Nurburgring. Mercedes drafted in Karl Kling a former racing driver and later racing manager who tested the car whilst offering a running commentary. According to Kling, the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL combined “new, unconventional styling with mature engineering”. Whilst he threw the SL around, at the end of the lap he proclaimed “This is a car for driving individualists for whom sportiness without a comfortable ride and exclusivity without worldwide service are simply not good enough. It is for those who expect one model to provide everything.” Somewhat over the top maybe but there was little doubt Stuggart threw everything behind the SL and with plenty of clever advertising this sports car never needed to win at Le Mans or even Brands Hatch to gain custom; the list of rich owners is very impressive. From the world of film Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn and Jennifer Aniston all enjoyed SL’s whilst the males included Charlton Heston, John Travolta and John Lennon. Racers have included David Coulthard, Moss and in fact Fangio; demonstrating the SL ticked all the boxes then and still does today. For Mercedes this model was no doubt a huge hit with their customers and remains timeless in its popularity, although many (including Mike) believe this achievement has never quite been repeated by the marque.
It’s all about the Engineering
Purchased from Mercedes dealership Rose and Young in Surrey on 17th May 1965, the original buff log book shows the first owner in Norfolk but just a couple of months later the Mercedes changed hands. Via Purley near Croyden the 230 became the property of John Dorn who also lived in South London. John is the brother in law of current owner Mike Bridger and the car was only used occasionally for holidays and ‘sunny day drive outs’. During the mid-1980’s John stopped driving completely and the car remained in a small lock up for twenty years. Finally, tired of paying rent for the storage space, John proposed that Mike took the car over and a low loader was organised for collection. Mike explained ‘we arrived at the lock up eventually, it had been so long my brother in law John couldn’t remember where the car was actually kept but once located the fun really started’. With barely enough room to get into the car and its location too small for the flat bed there was little option but to drain the brake fluid from the calipers, releasing the seized brakes and manhandling the Merc from its tomb. Once inside Mike’s workshop the petrol tank was removed and sent away for cleaning, all the lines were flushed through but a failed fuel pump prevented start up. This was replaced and the 230SL was back on the road equipped with new brakes but after about 8 miles the engine just stopped running, only to start up again once cold. After much consternation and part swopping the expertise of John Haynes at his early Mercedes workshop advised the replacement pump just wasn’t up to the job and an original factory unit would be the only answer, at a price. From that day the 230 has only required service items and has provided faultless motoring and with the tired paint refreshed by its new owner the Mercedes enjoys the show scene whilst not showing the 90k miles it has covered.
On the Road
The first thing of note entering the plush interior of the SL is the weight of the doors, closing with a reassuring clonk their bulk doesn’t require a slam just a gentle pull. The seats are very comfortable as you would expect and the big six turns over a couple of times then roars into life before becoming virtually silent on tick-over. The long, bumpy driveway from Mike’s house rattled my MGB’s shocks on the way in but the Merc just glides over them without any fuss but that was not unexpected considering that just one SL would have got you four Roadsters at launch prices. That is not to say the cost was unjustified, in the same way the MG was light years away from the Minor, the Mercedes was another decade on from Abingdon’s finest. The detachable hard top did not just inspire a name; the 80kg roof successfully changes a cabriolet to an enclosed saloon with just 4 snap shut levers. Brilliantly designed with the soft top option hidden under the rear deck the SL was built for all climates and changing seasons. The ride is superb and the steering very light. The 230 works well with the automatic gearbox, especially at low speeds and was the choice of the ‘Stateside’ customer of which there were many; America took the majority of all SL’s. Mike is a happy man cruising along the country lanes so I asked him, if you couldn’t keep the Merc and had an unlimited budget what car would you replace it with? An early Aston Martin or a Porsche was the reply but he acknowledged ‘I am more than happy with this old girl’.
The Market Place
All SL models were expensive when new and that situation has changed very little with the earlier cars from the 60’s fetching premium prices in today’s market. The Pagoda price range increased very little with Mercedes RRP for the later 280SL launched at just £250 more than the 230 four years prior. That slight increase remains similar today with the later cars demanding a higher figure but the driving experience is not greatly improved. The 280 may have enjoyed more cubic capacity but its extra weight negated much of the gain although the torque curve certainly improved. The brakes improved with discs all round but the suspension was softened and the earlier 230 offers a sportier feel. The 250 model was only produced for one year and thus its rarity forces prices higher but all of the Pagoda cars will leave you with a marked dent in your bank account. Low milage examples have rocketed in value over the past five years and £30k will get you an SL adventure but buyer beware of poorly restored examples as corrosion is the nemesis of the W113. With solid, perfect examples heading towards three figures this sporty Merc continues to be a dream car for most.
Mercedes 230SL W113 Specification
Engine: M127 In line 6 cylinder 2306cc OHC
Gearbox: Four speed manual or automatic transmission
Performance: 150BHP@ 5500rpm 0-60 13 seconds 120mph
Fuel system: Bosch mechanical injection
Suspension: Independent front and rear, with coil springs
Weight: 1300kgs plus 80kgs for hard top
Brakes: Servo Assist Fr Disc 253mm Rr 230mm