Memories of Mercedes, Part 3

Part 3–Things Get Worse

Spring came, and the Mercedes remained in storage. I checked periodically with the guy selling it, but there wasn’t a lot of activity. The car now was officially an albatross around my neck. Supposedly there was an Internet site featuring the car, but I wasn’t able to find it. I searched in vain for an encouraging word. None came. By July the peak of car rutting fever had passed, and my bad situation would soon get worse.

I decided to take the car to the antique car auction run by the Thomas Hirchak Company of Morrisville held in Stowe each August. The fee was $100, no sale was guaranteed, and I would have to figure a way to transport the now unregistered vehicle, but my options were running out. I drafted my son to the venture reasoning that he should share in any automotive humiliation. Hadn’t I bought the car for him? If nothing else, he now understood the term “bad karma.”

I completed the paperwork for the auction, sent in my check, and arranged to take the day off from work. Sellers are permitted to place a “reserve” bid on their car, a minimum amount below which it can’t be sold, but I decided against it. This car was going to be gone, even if only for $1.

The story could proceed to a logical close, but the God of Vehicular Vanity and Retribution decided that I had not been sufficiently punished. Forty-eight hours before the auction I received a call from someone from Springfield, Vermont who had seen the car on the Internet and who had to have it. It almost seemed like more trouble than it was worth, but I agreed to meet him and show him the car. He turned out to be a recent high school graduate (just like my son) who was joining the Navy, and who thought it would be nice to own a classic car.

One side of me said, “This uninspectable maintenance glutton would be the worst financial mistake of your young life.”

The other side said, “It sure is a great looking car, but it is a (dramatic pause) Mercedes, and it RUNS GOOD.”

After twenty-four hours of frantic deliberation the young man decided not to buy the car. I would like to think that this is because I had been so completely honest and upfront about the car’s limitations. The more likely explanation is that the lad’s father had exercised a combination of common sense and tough love and said, “A ’75 Mercedes? Are you out of your mind?”

With a heavy heart and a sense of foreboding, I went to pick up the trailer to take the car to the auction. It was 95 degrees out. The clerks at the trailer rental place were surly and incompetent, not so incompetent, however, that they failed to point out that the half-trailer I had reserved would not work with an automatic shift car and that the full-size car-hauler required was too heavy for my Caravan to pull.

“Nonsense,” I protested anemically, reaching for a well of testerone that just wasn’t there. We went so far as to hook up the car-hauler, which dwarfed the van, causing my testosterone to leak out onto the parking lot. I slunk home, a vehicularly defeated man, resigned to the continued ownership of a Mercedes that served only as a monument to vanity and incompetence. I would have this Mercedes yoke around my neck for the foreseeable future or the rest of my life, whichever came first.

I called the auction company to tell them I wouldn’t be there. To my surprise the person on the other end of the phone seemed genuinely disappointed. “Too bad,” he said, “We’ve had a bunch of inquiries on your vehicle.”

“A bunch of inquiries?” This meant that someone wanted to buy my German-engineered piece of shit. “Well, maybe I can make it. I’ll think of something.”

I called the most reliable mechanic I know, Chip Milnor of Chip’s Auto and Tire, and laid it on the line. “Can you get a 1975 Mercedes from Camp Brook Road to Stowe tomorrow morning by ten o’clock.” He moaned about being too busy, but when I explained that my masculine pride was on the line, he took pity and agreed. The towing charge would be $136, he cautioned.

By ten a.m. the next morning my son Patrick (the original co-guilty party) and I reconnoitered with Chip at the auction site off Route 100 a few miles south of Stowe Village. As he drove off, he asked, “Now, you won’t be needing a tow back, will you?”

“Of course not!” we chortled back, full of transparent bravado. We were brimming with macho confidence. This car would sell. It had to sell. If it didn’t we would be out $100 auction registration, two $136 tow charges, a day of lost work, and we’d still own the #@%!!**&% Mercedes!

There was a prediction of rain showers, and you could tell that this was an event that would be a lot less fun in a downpour. An enormous farm field was converted into an antique auto super mall. After registering we moved our car into slot #21, right next to a 1975 Jaguar XKE in mint condition. Its owner polished non-stop, holding a aerosol bottle in one hand, a chamois cloth in the other. Patrick and I looked at the bird shit on our car, and suddenly felt like residents of a Third World country. A Mercedes has never looked so dowdy.

We bought a bottle of spring water and used my handkerchief to smear around the bird shit in a futile attempt to match our neighbor’s cosmetology. We overheard someone asking the Jaguar owner how much he expected to get for his car.

“Well, these are going for anywhere from $32 to $70,000,” he said, his voice smug with confidence. I suddenly hated this guy with a passion I hadn’t known since the Yankees beat the Red Sox in the 1978 playoff game. This guy was instantly my personal Bucky Bleeping Dent (the hero of that game for the Bronx Bombers). He turned over the Jag’s engine, and it roared into a rich 20-valve symphony.

Meanwhile, we prayed that no one would ask us to start up our Mercedes for fear that we would envelope the entire Stowe auction field in a cloud of blue, noxious smoke.

There actually were people interested in our car. The most enthusiastic was a middle-aged Mom with two kids from Portland, Maine who developed a crush on our car. We answered her questions honestly and enthusiastically (well, fairly honestly). Neither of us told her that rather than being the most distinguished car at the local country club or PTA meeting this would be her one way ticket to vehicular hell. We knew that this car would be as problematic for her as it had for us. We never told her it RUNS GOOD. That’s only for guys.

People pried us for information. Had we, for instance, put a “reserve” bid on our car, meaning a price below which we wouldn’t sell it? We hadn’t. The car could be had for a bid of $1. Bidders like this, because means they can pick up incredible bargains. It makes sellers very nervous, and injects a note of high drama into the proceedings. The most frequently asked question, oddly enough, was “Does the air conditioning work?” It did, we answered, neglecting to mention that this was a moot point since the heater was constantly on, too. We pointed out the rusting floorboards to everyone and repeated our mantra:


After a viewing period from 11 am to 1 PM the auction began. A full house was packed into a huge tent. The auctioneer was on an elevated podium as the cars were paraded in front of him. The rain was holding off, and our spirits were high as the auction began. In lots of five the cars left the viewing area and drove into the tent to meet their fate.

Ten cars later, however, our spirits were lower than a mud puddle. Nothing was selling, or if something sold it was for a pittance. We watched in horror as a beautiful 1970 Cadillac de Ville in immaculate condition was offered initially for $8000 and eventually brought $1100. Most vehicles did not even reach the reserve amount. This wasn’t looking good. Before long, it was our turn.

We followed the Jaguar toward the auction tent. A carnival atmosphere surrounded us as we proceeded. A gaggle of onlookers surrounded us throwing out last minute questions:

“Do you have a reserve?”

“How does it run?” (“Runs good,” of course. We NO longer spoke in capital letters.)

“Does the air conditioner work?”

“You willing to dicker if it doesn’t sell?”

I reminded Patrick, who was driving, not to stop the car on an incline, lest we treat the crowd to a display of the Mercedes’ blue cloud-making ability. Was it possible that our foray into the rarified world of Mercedes ownership would have one last cruel twist in store?

Now, the Jag was inside. The bidding started at $60,000, then quickly dropped to $30,000, then finally to $15,000 to “get it started.” Finally there was a bid. The price quickly rose to $20,000, but stalled at $21,000, a mere pittance for a car that was the class of the show, and that the owner valued at up to $70,000. Auctions make honest people of us all. The owner of the Jaguar stopped the auctioneer by getting out of the car. The auctioneer gave him the floor. He announced that he had a reserve of $32,000 on the car, but that he really had to have “at least $27,000” to let it go. He didn’t get it, and the car left the tent, unsold. Its luster looked a bit dulled and its puffed-up owner suddenly looked shriveled behind his steering wheel.

Now it was our turn. What humiliation awaited us? No bids at all? Selling the car for $100. Handing the key over to the nice lady from Portland? We had already determined that anything under $1000 would be a humiliating defeat. Over $2000 would be a victory.

We crept forward to the dais. I could hear the auctioneer reading the descriptive copy I had submitted. “The best-looking car in town…..Imposing, yet elegant.” What a crock!

The bidding started at $4,000. If our car followed the pattern of others, this would be halved, then dropped to $500 to “get it started.”

The price dropped to $2000. Then, amazingly we heard the auctioneer say “We have two, do I hear twenty one hundred?” One of the auctioneer assistants poked his head in the driver’s side window.

“You must be pretty pleased with that,” he said.

“Happy enough to kiss you on the lips,” I thought, but just smiled and nodded. Inside I was screaming, inexplicably in Italian, “Imma so happy. I lovva you all!”

The bidding finally stalled at $2550. When we heard the punctuation exclamation of “Sold!” Patrick gave the audience a thumbs-up, and we drove out of the auction tent, giving each other high-fives and whoops of delight.

But who had bought the car we wondered? Did the unsuspecting lady now own our problem car from Hell? I went to the auction office to complete the sale. This was the easy part. I signed a mileage statement, and the title, and was told to leave the key in the car.

“That’s all?” I asked, incredulous that the ordeal of Mercedes ownership had come to such a quick and painless end.

The clerk told I “That’s all. You should get a check by next Thursday.”

“Can you tell me who bought it?”

“A Mercedes specialist from Waterbury. He buys older cars and fixes them up.”

Relief. A pro now owned the car, someone who knew what he was getting into. No guilt at selling the car to someone’s Mom.

Part IV– Things Get Better

The trip home was jubilant. When we arrived home we recounted several bogus and disastrous accounts of our adventure before revealing the happy outcome. Sure, the experience had cost us over a thousand bucks, but it was a small price to pay for Mercedes ownership for a year. We had the transportation and prestige, plus my son had received some valuable lessons in life. From a vehicular perspective, he had experienced a rite of passage. I realized that he had earned his lesson well when he commented on the low prices some of the cars at the auction had commanded.

“Let’s go again next year,” he said. “We could buy a really nice car for $2550.” Attsa my boy, I thought, smiling as I looked out at the empty, Mercedes-less driveway.

Thanks for the memory, Chip!

Thanks for the Memory, Chip!

Silverback SM

4 thoughts on “Memories of Mercedes, Part 3

  1. Oh, the stories!! I suppose the Neanderthal that invented the wheel got a kick out of this!!

  2. What a saga and “tip of the hat” to good mechanic Chip.
    Best of memories to all today!

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