I stand at the window. Pace up and down, rearrange things pointlessly. I look at the time. He said he was going to be here by now! Where is he? I have done something I’ve never done before: ordered a classic car over the internet without viewing it — “Car Tinder”, if you will. A Mercedes-Benz 380 SLC, model series C 107. A very rare model, as I found out later, as it was only manufactured in 1980 and 1981. I love surprises. Perhaps these special moments are part of the reason for buying a car like this: you know — butterflies in the stomach, emotion trumping logic.
The car was my Christmas present to myself. I still can’t believe that I have, without further ado, paid a high five-figure sum for a motor vehicle whose existence is attested to by a picture on the internet the size of a postage stamp. And apart from that, just a couple of facts: model year 1981, 218 hp, coffee brown, coupé, louvers (loooooouuuuuvers … yesss!) at the C-pillar, from a dealer based in southern Germany. There is, thank goodness, nothing remotely practical about this model — it is pure 100 percent style. Happiness you can buy. This is not about status: this is about blocking out pragmatism. It’s about that pure and unadulterated feeling of looking forward to something that has nothing to do with everyday life and yet is still an important part of it. For I will be driving my classic car every day; it will be a part of me like my handbag, my scrunchy, my phone and my lipstick.
The dealer, who comes from Lake Constance, wanted to deliver the coupé himself right to my door here in Düsseldorf. He should have been here ages ago. In 1981 I had already sat in a Mercedes-Benz. Donna Summer was singing out of the Becker Mexico car radio-cassette player while my parents were driving me to school. Our car was white on the outside, dark blue on the inside — a Calvinistic, very North-German color combination. I have spent my whole life in cars like that — I personally am now driving Mercedes No. 10 — and No. 11 has just rolled up outside.
It’s arrived! Of course, I want to reverse the coupé off the trailer myself. Everyone wants to be midwife at times like that. But the dealer says it would be too dangerous. So I stand by, watching the car inch out, rear first, into my life. And now the moment has arrived in which I take my place in the cockpit for the very first time. There’s that smell that I’ve known for over 40 years. The childhood-you’re-safe-now-smell. I sit behind the steering wheel and look at everything closely.
The dealer is trying to say something to me, something about the engineering and where the touch-up applicators paint can be found. I simply can’t listen to him — anyway, it will all be self-explanatory, I’m sure. Automatic transmission, adjustable exterior mirror from the inside, three pivoting black ventilation outlets, a sliding sunroof, red nail varnish on the seat heating switch — after all, you’re buying a bit of history with the car. What’s with these black and white switches in the center of the dashboard? A kinda yin and yang, I guess. I drive a couple of hundred yards. The first yards.
The seat is still top class; my predecessor must have been a real lightweight. The seat heating, which she clearly loved, can simulate the warmth of a bed: level 1 — cashmere blanket, level 2 — goose down. Starting the engine for the first time: there’s no roaring here, no bucking, no testosterone popping; instead, there’s the elegant purr of a Lear jet. This vehicle comports itself well, has good manners. At the traffic lights I let the others pull ahead of me and enjoy going up slowly through the gears, but at the first real push on the speedometer the coupé shows its sporting pedigree. Of course it’s got a lot under its hood.
Yeah, and here’s a question: Are you allowed to overtake in a car that’s over 30 years old? Oh yes you are! Just before I go to kiss the steering wheel to express my gratitude and my lust for living, I turn around to check if anyone is watching me. Did I really just kiss…? ’Twas ever thus: love is a gut feeling. And now that object of desire is mine. I love its flaws — which entirely suits the stubbornness of the ’80s! But I’ll deal with it, simply because there is nothing that shines brighter in the firmament than this particular star.