• Suddenly Max is presented with a 280 Coupé he has inherited, and is confronted with a style icon he hadn't bargained with.

    Guest article: Uncle Benz.

    Confident performance. You can be seen anywhere with a 280 CE: the Coupé is timeless and popular.

    Text and Photos: Jens Tanz

And all of a sudden the Coupé is there.

The loading docks next to the lower “Hafenkantine” restaurant in Hamburg’s Sankt Pauli; nothing has changed here for decades. Max recognises them; he sometimes came here with his uncle when he was a child. Cars weren’t really Max Pohlmann’s thing. Max is a project manager. The 280 came as a complete surprise. His uncle, who always took him on his trips round Hamburg, died unexpectedly and far too young, in 2010. He left his car to Max because he loved it so much. Max now finds himself in a family heirloom which is full of stories. Memories of the brick-built dockside warehouses return. He hears the noise of cobblestones under the wheels again. He says “yes” to an historic coupé. Yellow-and-white loading sills. Blue gates. Thundering cobblestones. Max takes us to one of the places he saw from the rear seat as a child.

The loading docks next to the lower "Hafenkantine" restaurant in Hamburg's Sankt Pauli; nothing has changed here for decades. Max recognises them; he sometimes came here with his uncle when he was a child.
Paul Bracq's clear lines defined "a new class". The Coupé was the most beautiful Mercedes-Benz shape in its day. That has hardly changed.

A new generation of cars.

The clear lines without any additional features and the outstanding spaciousness, like the top-of-the-range W 108/109 saloons, were designed by Paul Bracq. Four- and five-cylinder petrol and diesel engines were given the model number W 115, whereas the large six-cylinders and the Coupé which was built from 1969 onwards are classified as W 114 – and popularly known as “Stroke Eight” after the year 1968 when they first appeared. The “Stroke Eight” was given front disc brakes as standard, double wishbones on the front axle and a modern diagonal swing rear axle. The interior showed changes too, with head restraints front and back, automatic seat belts and a centre console that still influences the style of today’s models. And for customers who found the boxy shape with the drag coefficient of a garden shed too minimalistic, from 1969 the two-door version was available without a B-pillar and with a sloping windscreen and more sophisticated equipment.

Clear beauty with a boot.

The coupé shape with the double bumpers still really suits the car which was built in millions for almost ten years. The car seems incredibly long and somehow much more agile than the saloons which with the least powerful diesel engine are often referred to as “wandering dunes”. Pohlmann likes the space, the large boot and the all-round visibility. The typical sofa-like seats turn long journeys into an experience. The original Becker Europa radio is a joy to listen to, with a sound quality that was astonishingly solid for its time. This 280 spent the winters in a dry, well-ventilated garage, with slightly higher pressure in the tyres and all the liquids topped up. If possible, it never saw rain or snow because of the risk of rust spreading in the self-supporting bodywork.

In those days he used to sit at the back in the middle and now he sits on the front left. The Coupé is full of memories which Max lovingly retains. Including its day-to-day usefulness.
You can't stop anywhere without someone engaging you in conversation about the car. Classic cars find each other, and their drivers are always happy to chat.

Uncle’s Benz as a photo model.

But as soon as the sun comes out, Pohlmann is off in his “Stroke Eight”. Besides his job as project manager, Max runs a company called “Photolove” and revives the old Polaroid camera. His company allows the internet generation to order their pictures via Instagram, mobile phone photo or digital camera and have them delivered to their own homes as old-style analogue vintage paper prints. Back to the roots, genuine photos pinned to the wall. The Coupé in front of the house fits this scene like the traditional crocheted hat for the toilet roll on the rear shelf. His uncle’s inheritance is given an accolade when Max says “yes” for the second time, this time at the registry office. The newly married couple sets off home, with flowers and gifts spread over the back seat and the entire boot – and they have to drive so slowly that they can remember every single line on the motorway. There are more than eight.

True love takes time.

The likeable young professional loved his wife from the very first day, but he grew to love his inherited car over the years. As the driver of a classic car, you have to develop a thick skin. It’s things like the petrol pump relay next to the control unit getting stuck that make the car grind to a halt, usually at a busy crossroads. You just have to ignore the hooting and the high-blood-pressure angry tirades from other drivers. Little scratches in the paintwork or a scrape from a shopping trolley at a supermarket must not upset a daily driver – these are just part of everyday life and provide the patina that makes a vehicle so loveable. As the Coupé drives over the cobblestones near the lower “Hafenkantine” restaurant, a tear trickles down his cheek. Yes. It was here, this place, this car. It’s just like it was back then. Only his uncle isn’t here any more.

If, IF something is not OK, it can be mended quickly. The in-line six-cylinder engine is clearly arranged and robustly designed.
Travelling well – the Coupé isn't a racing car, but if it needs to go fast, the in-line six-cylinder doesn't hesitate but promptly marches ahead.

The circle of life.

Even without the vivid memories, Max Pohlmann would probably have had a fling with the Coupé anyway, but he can still feel his uncle’s presence in the CE, and that is what makes it special for him. It’s the car he loved as a child, so he takes great care of this jewel. The ceaseless coming and going of well-loved people in our lives is not only reflected in the thin Bakelite steering wheel of the pre-facelift car with the three-pointed star: it can also be seen in the shape of a child’s seat viewed through the undivided side windows. The Pohlmanns are expecting a baby, and like little Max with his uncle, their child will one day observe the world behind the sloping windscreens from the rear seat and continue to write the story. Because it never ends.