Planned Endurance….M-Benz : Airstream

The recent commentary by the Man in the Maze prompted me to review his evaluation. His allegiance and devotion to the Airstream brand is legendary. And why not..?….he edits and publishes the pre-eminent lifestyle magazine in the RV industry.

In the early 1960s, Airstream featured their coquettish Bambi, towed by a 190SL, in advertising as seen below:


From the Stella Byam collection, 1961

The Mercedes Benz 190 SL had extraordinary build quality as a touring roadster, but also an anemic four cylinder engine of less than 2 liters displacement. Think Volkswagenish whine. Pulling a Bambi would have taxed the limits of the 190 SL, even though the sporty roadster commanded a whopping $ 4000+ window sticker.

During that same advertising campaign, this less than dynamic duo was also featured adjacent to a longer Land Yacht being towed by a 1961 slab-sided 4-door, eight cylinder Lincoln hardtop. Note: I can’t find that photo in my archive.

Fast forward 40 years, Scottsdale, AZ, the Man in the Maze and this writer, Insightout attended the January auction of RM Motorcars at the legendary Arizona Biltmore Hotel.


Note lot # 212, a Mercedes Benz 190 SL roadster which sold for a whopping $ 93,500 and was obviously well maintained and restored to a high standard. You might ask, however, a 2300% increase over a period of 48 years at what cost ?

Insightoutalso is fortunate to have a 1960 190SL in his small stable of cars. Purchased in 1992 in below average condition for $1800, it was finished in a non-factory color, a flamboyant metallic Lincoln diamond blue. Mechanically very sound, but the flashy paint covered plenty of inferior bondo rust repairs. Imagine an older trailer with rotted floors, rusty frame, and the pervasive aroma of mouse droppings; the parallels to vintage car ownership are easy to visualize and smell. Over a period of years, the car was restored in stages (as finances permitted) at a cost of ~~$ 40,000, always licensed, insured, and driven cross country more than 35,000 miles in the eighteen years (car conventions, vacations, parades, Sunday afternoons with the top down). Never trailered, always stored during the salty winters, it was driven to Lancaster, PA, Minneapolis, MN, Athens, GA, Niagara,NY, points beyond and to many Cub games.


In repose at the Indiana farm


The rump of the Excella and the old barn form a scenic backdrop

Oddly, the color, graphite grey (Daimler Benz 190 G) is the same as the roadster offered in Scottsdale. The key point for either the cars or the trailers remains the same. Routine maintenance and regular use = long term appreciation and continuous pleasure. It comes as no surprise then that well maintained Bambis or the more desirable Caravels in the late 50s to late 60s now command prices in the mid-five $ figure range. Think about it: you can invest, own, and enjoy for many years (vehicles and/or the trailers), add up all the receipts and then sell out at the end and make a handsome profit. It’s almost criminal.

The success is contingent upon strong club support, whether it is the Tin Can Tourists, Vintage Airstream, or with the venerable 190 SL International Club where you meet and make friends, find parts, reliable restorers and vendors, and members willing to help one another. In an otherwise chaotic world, this is one of the simplest and rewarding of pleasures.

Now, for the Man in the Maze, his purchase of a brand new 2010 SUV was perhaps 17 years too soon. He might have waited until 2027 and bought a well maintained, low mileage, one-owner GL 320 after the depreciation bottomed out and began the inevitable upward climb. Personally, I feel he made a prudent, thoughtful decision since he sorely needed a tow vehicle and 1961 Lincolns are hard-to-find. Although both brands, Airstream and Mercedes-Benz, are worthwhile vintage investments, MB is still the trump card, unless the editor plans to launch a Mercedes Life magazine.