Coupe de Grace II ….three plus decades later

Carchitecture
VIN: WDBBA25ABB002268
MODEL: MB 380 SLC
MILEAGE: 93,250
s-l1600-3Factory brochure 1981

In April, 1981, an engineer/inventor living in East Grand Rapids, MI, drove to Loeber Motors in Chicago to take delivery on a special order Mercedes Benz 380 SLC coupe.  One of only 3,789 produced from very late 1980 through 1981, the model designation was quite rare, however, adding nothing to the value*.  The MSRP $46,638 at purchase was reduced to $43,000 cash ( = $ 117,850 in 2016 $).

Norman Rautiola selected the coupe for his wife, Kathleen, who drove it 88,500 miles (~ 3000 mi./yr) until it was donated to the Holland, MI Hope Rescue Mission 32 years later.  Always garaged, no pets, non-smoking, the primary miles gained on the fair weather commute between Grand Rapids and the Nartron Corp. HQ in Reed City, MI.

CEO and founder of Nartron, Mr. Rautiola holds > 1400 patents, notably the first keyless entry system for automobiles, and in 1995 Nartron invented the electronic sensory device for touch screen technology.  Listed by Inc. Magazine as a top 50 innovator in the nation, the list of Nartron 1sts is extensive.  Of signifigance to car enthusiasts, many of the patents will be utilized in the inevitable development of the perhaps unwelcome “driverless vehicle”.

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Courtesy JEFF BRODDLE | CADILLAC NEWS©, 10June2008

The Apple I-Phone on the left and the control panel on the right being held by CEO Norman Rautiola have one thing in common: sensing technology pioneered years ago by Reed City’s Nartron Corporation.

As 2nd owner, I found the car to be exceptional, requiring attention to only normal areas of maintenance to drive in “as new”condition;

  • replacement of outer sway bar links, bushings, steering dampener, rubber suspension components
  • Oxygen sensor and idle control unit
  • Radiator hoses and thermostat
  • Precautionary, replacement of OE timing chain tensioner, strengthened timing chain guides, and new chain rails

Adding four Michelin Defenders, aligned and balanced, resulted in a safe, reliable, modestly spirited ride.  The profile is elegant, the 111 inch wheelbase a far more comfortable ride than the 97 inch SL roadster, and much better proportioned.  Although the roadster has the open top panache  (overrated), like ø Miss Piggy, the coupe, with the sun roof open, is like ♥ driving with Marilyn Monroe in shotgun.

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 ↑ 2x click to enlarge

A big plus, the increased length and lowered footwells, allow exceptional room for two additional passengers…think, Helen Mirren and Vanna White.  Backseat comfort, unlike most coupe designs, which are restricted to dwarfs, snot-nosed kids, or double amputees.

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Finished in 473H, “champagne”, the color varies from japanese pewter to gold, depending on the sun.

Note, below, two examples of the short version, which appear rather clumsy with the elongated bumpers.  Ugh, insert a frown face, in both directions, a double yuk.

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Below

  • the burled walnut transmission, hazard, and window lift cluster
  • rear seat with armrest, sumptious pleated cowhide
  • unusual butt-end leather stitching (only year offered) vs. standard piping

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Investment grade, the coupe would only rate a D, however, for driving pleasure at < 12% of the original purchase price, a resounding A for the purist. The coup d’grâce never sleeps, it just needs to be rocked.

 Not for sale

*IN THE U.S.A., 1972-1980, the same coupe wore a 450 SLC badge, and in 1982 it became the 500 SLC.  All three, virtually identical, less minor differences in cubic inch displacement of the V-8 engines. Euro versions were available in six cylinder, however few were imported.

 

©insightout2016

 

Indiana Anatomy vs. Buckeye University

An old Hoosier geography lesson states, “North Vernon is in southern Indiana, South Bend is in northern Indiana, and French Lick isn’t all it’s cracked up to be”.

So I’m off to PUB 2015, ‘Pagoda University, Blacklick’, an unlikely burg east of Columbus, Ohio, to share owner experience with a peculiar group of devotees to a car produced, briefly, from 44 to 51 years ago.

In 1981, an internal urge, i.e., delirium, resulted in the purchase of an aging two-seat roadster, a 1971 Mercedes 280SL.  With an active business and two pre-teens, calling this impractical would be an upgrade.  Thirty-four years later, the “pagoda”, so named for its reverse parabolic roofline, remains in our stable, running like a ‘schweizer uhren’ (swiss watch).

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The group, known by its chassis designation, W113, is an internet fraternity bonded in the digital universe.  Aside from 27 states represented, there are 11 Canadians (Ont, Que, Manitoba, New Brunswick), two Australians, a Swede, Frenchman, and a Dominican, all of whom have ‘met’, online, through the club forum and now transformed into a band of brothers.

The unlikely meeting place, the shop of one Joe Alexander, a mechanical guru, personable yet unrefined, with two bad knees.  His milieu, two acres of shop surrounded by a jungle of cadaver cars, oxidizing under the watchful eyes of cannibals.  And poison ivy.

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Few people knew that Jim Morrison named his rock group, The Doors, and wrote the lyrics to “Light My Fire” * in 1965 while under the effect of cannabis grown in Joe Alexander’s boneyard.  The evidence below:

You know that it would be untrue

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You know that I would be a liar

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Attractive rumps on a damp day

Come on baby, light my fire

While the cars are the magnet, they are inorganic.  They are arbitrarily assigned name, gender, and personality when none exist.  They do not suffer headaches, menstrual cramps, or bi-polar disorders and cold shower alert, they don’t know you own them.

The glue in this endeavor, an array of disparate individuals sharing a common passion.  Below, one Stephen B., a retired U.S. Army Colonel, wiping his near perfect example with a turkish towel.  The more he wiped the car, the cleaner the towel became:

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A PhD in mechanical engineering, from Quebec,  Inna S., articulate advocate of higher learning:

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Below, Rolf D. (333miles, London,Ontario), Johan W. (3333 miles, Gothenburg, Sweden)

compare odometer readings:

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Come on baby, light my fire

Many too numerous to mention:

  • An accomplished oil painter, nearly anonymous in the crowd, with a handsome collection of cars cloaked in his loft
  • A state department diplomat (ret.) with an exquisite eye for detail, a Rosetta stone memory
  • Radiologist, used to viewing negatives, with a 15 year restoration in progress; a decade away from conclusion
  • A clothing executive (ret.), sharing this experience with his hometown friend and barber…a drag racer of renown
  • 14 y/o Jacob, a grandson, who may carry the pagoda torch into the next generation
  • Former POW, Hoa Lo prison (aka Hanoi Hilton) USAF pilot and parachutist, whose identity shall remain private

A most memorable moment, sitting on the patio after a delicious Sat. evening dinner, watching the sunset over the Columbus skyline, in the company of three German émigrés discussing the homeland;

  • Rolf D, Canada, struggling over his wife’s declining health
  • Gernold N,  Arundel, Maine, mechanikermeister, born near the French/Belgian border
  • Urban J, Duluth MN, recently widowed, a transplant from Dusseldorf

The wine, average, the conversation was not, as the latter two enjoyed fine cigars of Cuban heritage.

Doesn’t get much better than this……..Blacklick trumps French Lick.

    Try to set the night on fire    

 

* ‘Light My Fire’ lyrics, courtesy Manzarek/Rothschild Production

©insightout2015

 

Flesh

On cruise control, I-94, Baraboo, WI, to South Bend, IN, passing the southern tip of a Great Lake, the waves and a memory swell……..

Early July 1965, Michigan City, IN, an outstanding warrant of the rust belt, has the ambiance of a boy’s locker room…smelly and sticky.  I walk up an extra wide stairwell, littered with waiting patients, to the packed 2nd floor office of King Jones M.D.  The decrepit wooden building on Franklin Street is 180 degrees from the impeccably fashioned Dr. Jones; resplendent in a crisp white shirt, tailored Italian suit, brilliant grin, against the background of silky chocolate skin.

The King is an excellent GP, a favorite in the black community, a popular figure at the hospital, and a prolific prescriber…hence, my visit.  A fresh anglo recruit, 26 y/o, representing an obscure Swiss pharmaceutical company, I’m here to introduce a ‘new’ drug, an antidepressant of marginal value.  Typical of the industry, it was simply a chemical first cousin of two existing drugs, neither of which were particularly effective, all too expensive, and accompanied by a litany of side effects.

The truth be damned, posit enthusiasm, tee it up, full steam ahead…fresh from a regional sales seminar, armed with a leather satchel loaded with colorful brochures, pens, advertising gadgets, and free samples, I’m welcomed by the doctor for a brief visit.  After feigning approval, he asked to see a sample.  I demonstrated the drug exactly as described in our product bulletin, 25 mgm., size # 4, flesh-colored capsule.

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He stepped back, flashed that signature grin, and remarked, ” Mr. Charles, that all depends on what color yo’ flesh is !”  We both had a good laugh.  There was no tension, he held onto my shoulder and promised he might prescribe the drug.

Fast forward one month, I meet with the division manager, a likable buffoon who had played linebacker for the University of Kansas, most often without a helmet.  We were having an ‘assessment’ lunch to evaluate the desipramine introduction.  Think how difficult it is to describe “lukewarm” or “limp” to your boss…with artificial, orgasmic enthusiasm.  Over a tuna salad sandwhich.  Five decades later, I still harbor guilt from those three years representing what is now referred to as BigPharma, a cabal proven the equal of the tobacco industry.

However, Old Mortarhead’s toothy smile waned, his brow deeply furrowed, when I recalled anectdotally; the reception by Dr. Jones.   I only mentioned it in passing to alleviate the boredom of a business lunch.  He wrote cautiously in his leather memo, a word-by-word transcript, abruptly adjourned the meeting and beelined for the nearest telephone booth.

Bottom line: the company did a quiet total recall of all samples, product literature, hospital displays, and reprinted journal promotional ads within weeks.  This was pre-TV ads implying, ‘ask your doctor if it’s right for you’.  Flesh colored had morphed into “pink” overnight. The cost, in today’s $, had to be in the eight figures. There was no press release, no acknowledgement; this was the era before political correctness.  Recall, the march from Selma to Montgomery, a fresh memory, occurred only three months before.

Later that year, I called on the King once again.  This time, to relate first hand what had transpired from our casual, two-minute conversation in July…he was overwhelmed, overjoyed, and gave me the most robust hug since my Dad returned from the Marine Corps in 1945.  Only then did I realize how important the encounter was for a poor black kid who had worked menial jobs, endured family struggles, just to finish medical school.

This was my personal Edmund Pettus bridge walk across the racial divide.  Sadly, little has changed in 50 years. Yes, there is ‘minority’ representation in the supreme court, the congress, the presidency, in the media, and near total dominance in most professional sports, but the reality belies optimism.  Some improvement, perhaps, but racial tension and suspicion continue, unabated.

I’m almost home now, both in age and @ mile-marker 75.    Our country is not.

There is no quick-fix in our technology hurricane, no antidepressant to elevate our spirit and serotonin level, no microphone-muff CNN press conference, urgently called by a reverend du jour or police commissioner. Insecurity covered with frosting.

Welcome home.  I wish I had the answer.

The  common denominator we share….humanity….remains elusive.  Both for the nation and the turbulent planet, with little regard for the color of your capsule.