Andrew Roberts - Suffering From the Benz

Contributor Andrew Roberts decided to sell his humdrum Volvo and splash out on an old Mercedes-Benz. Sensible? No, not really... 

Since I last wrote about my fleet, my Volvo 760GLE passed its MoT, needing only a set of new tyres. As an everyday car that was comfortable, generally reliable, and very capacious it had certainly served its purpose but, after a year of ownership, I was wondering if I really needed it.

Most of my non-classic work involves commuting to London by train, and my stepchildren are now grown up, so a large estate is not as advantageous as it once was. The Volvo was one of those cars that was bought for a purpose  which no longer exists, leaving me with a large and fairly thirsty vehicle that is not exactly the last word in charisma. So, what I really needed was something sensible – something small, cheap and economical.

I still miss my old Mercedes-Benz S-class of the W126 persuasion that I sold in 2013, and once the 760 had been despatched to a fellow classic car enthusiast in the New Forest, I acquired, for a very reasonable sum (£1300) a 1989 Mercedes- Benz 300SE. The vendor, Anwarul Haque, was clearly very sad to see it go but, as he has other vehicles to worry about, including a rather magnificent Honda Legend Coupé, I did not feel overly guilty.

Interior is restrained yet opulent. The steering wheel is known to go straight.

Interior is restrained yet opulent. The steering wheel is known to go straight.

A few minor idiosyncrasies were pointed out to me – the central locking functions only on the front passenger door and opening the sunroof can cause major disruptions to the headlining – but this is rather a lot of motor car for not a lot of money.

And so it was time to return from North London to the badlands of Peterborough, in the company of my intrepid co-driver Nick Larkin. We both agreed that this M-B lent distinction to the roads even if its parking brake mechanism takes a little acclimatising  and the car’s sheer width can seem quite disconcerting in town. But on the A1(M), the 300SE was in its element, speeding past other cars with verve and aplomb.

There was even a cruise control, a device that Mr Larkin and myself vowed not to use until we had the car’s full measure and were no longer confused by the combined indicator/wiper/
headlamp flash stalk.

I can report that the heater is magnificent – and who could resist ivory coloured leather trim? Then, it was time for the last leg of the journey, a trip to my new home in Oxfordshire and here the 300SE proved utterly adept at tackling rural B-road bends and totally unsuited to picturesque market town high streets.

 The charming settlement of Sonning proved a particularly interesting experience when enjoining a narrow road filled with very expensive (although none with the elegance of the W126) and very bulky parked Hedge Fund wagons. 

We then approached a mist shrouded bridge that looked even narrower – ideal for negotiating in the dark with a large, wide and heavy 25-year-old car.

That engine bay is certainly packed full... 

That engine bay is certainly packed full... 

But we finally made it to terra firma (actually just outside Reading) and with only £30 spent on fuel – although this was really due to Anwarul kindly providing half a tank of precious petrol.

In short, I do like the 300SE and after New Year, I plan to treat it to a paint refurbishment. It will not be used for London commuting but I do envisage a future for it as a classic for longer journeys.

As for my VDP Princess 4-Litre R, this is due for MoT (it has been treated to some new front dampers and a brake refurbishment) but that will be the extent of my fleet.

The BMC car speaks to my ‘cultural leanings’, such as they are, but it is good to have a machine of a more recent vintage (and one fitted with a decent heater) for bouts of winter motoring.

Two such fine cars is plenty and, after 12 years of writing about classics, my new motto is the Orwellian ‘less is more’.

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