Into road trips and vintage cars? Up for the excitement and fear of not knowing when a hose will blow or air will give out? Crave the risk of a cross-country road trip in a sketchily repaired car? If so, this article written by Davey Johnson is for you.
“So, it looks like the Lagonda isn’t the newest four-door in my collection anymore.” The message came from Houston oncologist Dr. Sanjay Mehta, a man who owns a McManse almost wholly devoid of furniture. His six-car garage, however, is packed to the rafters with what has to be a million bucks’ worth of high-performance machinery, including a turbocharged Lamborghini Gallardo. He has at least a dozen other cars stashed elsewhere. Three weeks prior, he’d purchased one of the William Towns–designed Aston Martin Lagondas, a car most notable for its extreme folded-paper design language and an ahead-of-its-time digital dash that proved to be as fragile as it was futuristic. I clicked the link Mehta included in his message. A 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 popped up. A brown 450SEL 6.9. It was so physically and metaphorically brown that there is a strong argument to be made for its being the brownest car in history. Mehta had purchased this W116 on eBay for the meager sum of $6006. On a whim. In case there were any doubt, Mehta is single.
The car was in Los Angeles. I was asked to deliver it to Houston. But nobody knew if the car would survive the trip. We had it sent over to the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, where factory-trained technicians presented Mehta with a $17,000 quote to bring the Benz up to snuff. He politely declined the offer, seeing as how decent 6.9-liter 450SELs usually sell for about $15,000. Instead, the car went to Westwood Mercedes, an independent shop in West L.A. Technicians there got the turn signals working, replaced a gear-stripped flywheel, and generally made sure the car was mechanically sound. A day before I was scheduled to depart, they informed us that they hadn’t really test-driven the car, as it had arrived sans plates. A mad shuffle ensued, and Mehta was able to procure temporary Texas proof of registration and have it overnighted to L.A. Despite six grand in repairs, I was headed off on a 2000-mile journey in a car whose roadworthiness was still in question.
And so begins a four day trip from Los Angeles to Houston. Enjoy reading the saga of four days in a golden brown Mercendes 450.