Grand for a Grand

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Although Stanley’s car (as it was forever called by us) was purchased at a very reasonable price, I leapt into Mercedes ownership at the very top-end, for although now clearly a lady of a certain age, she had immense authority and presence on the road and was capable of sustaining 120mph all day on the autobahn. Thirsty certainly, but worth every penny as a family transporter, friend and “home from home” on many continental holidays, we all grew to love our dear old lady. Then the boys transformed apparently overnight into young adults, universities beckoned, they drifted away from home along with my wife, so I reluctantly placed it in a classic auction five years ago, where it was snapped up by a famous actor’s agent who was thrilled to hear of its famous provenance. He probably calls it “Stanley’s car” to this very day…

Triple TriangleNow flash forward five years and find me still grieving for this remarkable vehicle. How to replace her, I wonder, without being ripped off or buying, as my dear old father would have said, “a pup”? In fact, I had purchased a car (Mondeo estate auto) on eBay in 2006 and it was a perfectly civilised arrangement with a car exactly as described in great mechanical shape, now passed on to a grateful youngest son. But a classic Mercedes? Via eBay? Well, why not give it a go? So with trepidation I entered my eBay account number…the usual old warhorses were listed there, under “Classic Mercedes”, for sure, and ones with mileage approaching moon distance, but there, magically and apparently unnoticed, a 1988 classic SE300 auto estate boasting only 85,000 miles! Five days still to go to close of bidding, and with only a few desultory hands raised to the tune of less than five hundred pounds. As it happens, eBay discourages deals done outside their system, but there is in place a method of contacting an owner with legitimate questions such as the ones I indeed had: service history, documents in place, reason for sale, inspection possible, selling from home rather than the forecourt of Watford Gap motorway service station? All receiving positive answers, I decided to call the owner, Graham, for a chat. I find this personal contact an invaluable, although not always entirely reliable, pre-purchase tool. Graham, it transpired, works in golf equipment merchandising and although based in Manchester is covering increasingly longer distances in the pursuit of his work. He sounded genuinely reluctant to let the car go, and said he had had second thoughts after a previous e-bidder had defaulted with his payment. Now relisted, the car’s owner seemed more intent on checking me out as a potential owner rather than vice versa!

CockpitSo, to cut a long story short as they do say, I drew some money out of my post office account, and booked a cheap Virgin train ticket to Manchester (by this time the marvellous looking car had failed to reach its reserve and had been withdrawn from sale). But I was naturally still very interested. Graham arranged to meet me outside Manchester Piccadilly station and as I saw the light green / silver (an impossibly magical colour to capture) Merc sweep towards me I knew I had lost my heart. A short drive to Bury saw us in a delightful house boasting a driveway capable of containing a half dozen Rolls Royces, sitting around the kitchen table pouring over the paperwork. There was one slight moment of panic when, pen poised in hand over the registration document, Graham’s eye misted over and he said “I know I’m going to regret losing her, and in three or four years I’ll be searching for a replacement, just like you did”. My heart skipped a beat, would he sign or step back at the brink? But then thirty minutes later I was behind the wheel of my new pride and joy, on the motorway back towards London.

Now, you may ask, what was the “damage’ for a twenty-two-year-old head-turner like this? A grand, £1,000 cash in hand, plus £20.15 for a one-way Virgin train ticket to Manchester. Not much of a price to pay even for the dubious triangle, but here atop the bonnet of a truly classy vehicle. Good hunting!

PS. My delightful neighbour who has two young children and a husband stuck for many hours a day behind the wheel of quite a tidy BMW, happened by as I was parking the car after its maiden (by me) voyage. “What about this then?” I ventured. “What about what?” she replied guilelessly. “That”, I replied pointing at the elegant sweep of the chromium- topped bonnet, “the best looking car Mercedes ever made before the tank they called a replacement aimed purely at the Arab market came out in 1992…” I trailed off as I saw she had no idea at all what I was talking about. “Oh yes,” she muttered distractedly, “didn’t you used to have something…different?” “Indeed”, I replied with a suppressed sigh, “a Ford Mondeo”.

Paul Joyce is a writer, filmmaker, artist, photographer and director. He is the great-grand-nephew of James Joyce.

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