How I got the Bug


He’s just this guy, you know?
21 years ago I bought my first car. It was my Grandpa’s 1972 Mercedes-Benz 250 and I paid $500. He’d bought a grey market ‘86 280CE and we spent the last two years fixing and teaching me how to maintain this one and a half ton behemoth. My buddies dubbed it the brown bomber.

The odometer was broken when Grandpa bought it ten years prior from his nephew and registered 170k miles I got it to turn again by pulling oil it the instrument cluster and puttimg in a few drops of 3 in 1 oil. The 4bbl Weber carb mated to a SOHC straight six and three speed auto gave me 12 Mpg on premium gas and it didn’t like to run in the rain but damn, was it a smooth ride. It was so smooth that I ended up knocking the oil plug out of it while bombing too fast over a country road. The engine was toast and my Pop hated it because it wasn’t American and the grill was attached to the hood, so he’d always bang his head on it so he wouldn’t let me put a new engine in it. I’m

My grandparents bought an 1980 240D from the factory, toured around Europe in it, then shipped it home on the Queen Elizabeth II. That car was there for my entire childhood and is still on the road today. The smells of that car! The wool carpeting, the leather seats, the diesel waft. That’s what a car is supposed to be. Slow, you must plan every move knowing you can’t get out of your own way. Regal, with nearly silent vacuum operated locks. A royal pain in the ass when a vacuum leak presents itself in the 20 miles of vacuum lines. That was Grandma’s daily driver for 33 years, garage kept, and it’s still running strong today, although the odometer stopped at 220K and the fuel gauge doesn’t work.

Grandpa’s grey market 280CE was more than an oddity and head turner, it was a huge hassle. We had to get the factory manuals in German, which was fine, as we speak and rea the language, but as everything had to be sourced from the Fatherland and Mother Mercedes so any time we needed parts we’d be looking at about 6 weeks and would often rig a solution until the parts arrived.

I’ve had plenty of cars, Dodges, Jeeps, the occasional(briefly) Ford and Olds, Subarus, Toyotas, Hondas, and my second favorite, Volvos (214K on one) but nothing is the same as a Mercedes powered by an anemic Diesel engine. There’s a certain logic to the engineering that resonates with me. As my Grandpa, who we just lost after 99 years often said, the American engineers go out for a drink when it’s good enough, the English engineers go to the pub at lunch and do most of their work drunk, but the Germans work, then go to the pub, then back to work until it’s perfect.

I knew one day that I’d be getting a van, and when my family didn’t fit in the Volvo wagon anymore I went searching for a low mileage late model B-Series van, since I’d had a lot of good experiences with them as a kid. The 318 or 360 and the 727 Torqueflight are a nearly indestructible combination. I didn’t think that I’d ever be able to afford a Sprinter but I found the one and it reminded me, and continues to remind me of all those lessons I learned from Grandpa.


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Graphite Dave

Dave Orton
Too bad times change. Those old Mercedes vehicles were outstanding examples of excellent engineering.

I had a good German friend who bought and old Mercedes sedan for $200. Met him when I talked my Dad into buying a new 1955 Volkswagen bug. He showed up at the door to teach me about the car. He was a mailman and someone on his route could not get the Mercedes to run. He fixed it by finding a leak between the intake and exhaust manifold.

It was anemic as described above. More a door stop than a moving vehicle. His solution was to remove the sewing machine engine and replace it with a truck GMC straight six with double the displacement. That turned the car into an excellent vehicle. The install was immaculate and looked stock.

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