Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2300 miles in an AMG 320ce Cabriolet

I am feeling like a six-year old on Christmas Eve. It is early Wednesday evening, and I am heading to Montreal, so that Thursday morning I can pick up one gorgeous Almandine Red 1992 320ce and point it northwest, towards home.

This is a car that I know only from pictures, from an independent inspection report, and from talking to the guys that are selling it. You could say this is a foolish risk (and you could be right) but nothing ventured, nothing gained. The car has been bought and paid for, the insurance arranged, the in-transit permit obtained, and the route has been mapped. All I need to do is get to the car, have them show me how the top goes up and down, stick the transit permit inside the windshield, and off I go. Grinning.

Forty years ago a skinny, clean-cut 16 year old kid thanked his dad for dropping him off at the edge of town, stuck out a cardboard sign that said simply "PLEASE" and thumbed his way from Ontario to British Columbia. One of his first rides in that journey was with a family from Michigan exploring the edge of the Canadian Shield in a new 1969 Mercedes Benz sedan, a huge step up from dad's old red Valiant. My first ride in a Benz, ever. 40 years later, that kid has turned into a no-longer-skinny guy who still likes a long-distance drive but would like to take the choice of ride into his own hands.

The trouble with buying older Benzes is that some day a Benz that is nicer comes along at a reasonable price. My '81 280ce was great until I found the '84 AMG, and within a year I had gone from no old Benzes to two solid w123s. And that was more than enough until I stumbled onto the Red Cabrio on the internet. Wow what a good looking car. And I showed the website photos to my wonderful wife who immediately exclaimed "that's gorgeous", and I was helplessly sliding into owning three cars besides my trusty Avalon.

So here we go. Day one should take me 500 miles / 800 kilometers from Montreal to New Liskeard in Northern Ontario. It will be two hours from Montreal to Ottawa, where I may take a brief detour and explore my childhood downtown neighborhood, a place of petty crime and few pretensions. Ottawa is a government town so this may have changed... Then out beyond the city limits where my dad dropped me in the hazy summer of '69 and on up the Ottawa Valley, past the end of the 4-lane and on to North Bay. A choice awaits there: keep going straight west on King's Highway 17 to retrace that kid's hitchhiking route, or turn right and go north along Highway 11, saving about 300 miles and covering some road that I have never been on. Simple choice - take the road with the stretches I have never seen.

Past New Liskeard the towns get farther apart, and a tired guy in an unfamiliar car might want to pace himself because there are still days of driving ahead. I might press on for another hour; I might call it a day. I might be exhausted from the unfamiliar rush of driving a convertible at highway speeds with the top down for 9 hours; I might be miserable from having pushed through the rain all day with the roof up, to the unfamiliar rhythm of a w124 windshield wiper. In either case I might have a grin on my face like a hound in a headwind. Doesn't matter, a guy should get some sleep. Rest those grin muscles because I will need them again on day two.

But you know, something else could happen. I might have had to deal with some unexpected reality and decide by the time I get to Ottawa that what I really need to do is ship this car by rail or truck back to Edmonton. No problem, find the service, make the arrangements then jump onto an airplane. In life it doesn't much matter what happens to you as long as you survive it and get a good story to tell. Or so says a wise old family friend.

I know, I know, Benz fans want to hear about the CAR, the gleaming w124 320ce with the Wald front air dam, the Lorinser wheels, the AMG trim parts and the remote possibility of an actual AMG e36 motor. Sorry, I have yet to see it. It's Christmas Eve, remember?

More tomorrow, I promise, as long as I can get an internet connection at whatever place I end up staying.

UPDATE June 18:

Made it to New Liskeard, with a few adventures along the way. The car is good but not perfect, and its imperfections included the need for wheel balancing, which has been taken care of, and the sin of not wanting to start if the engine is hot, which may go away on its own after a bit more driving. Who knows? Nothing fatal, and it is a blast to drive this car. What is German for Eye-Catching?

Follow the updates on the Benzworld forum at this link.

Further updates to June 28 same link.


JR said...

Beautiful car! I've been following your travels at BenzWorld and have enjoyed the narration. Great stuff!

You've covered a lot of ground that's very familiar to me since I've lived in Ottawa, North Bay, Dryden and Winnipeg and have driven that route a few times.

Re. your comment about your old downtown Ottawa neighbourhood: "a place of petty crime and few pretensions. Ottawa is a government town so this may have changed..."

Right, it has changed. Now the crime is much bigger, more pretentious, mostly legalized and committed by the federal government. On second thought, I guess that was always the case.

Halfwise said...

Hi JR,
Thanks for following along. We will be back in the Peg on Saturday to finish the trip.

My thoughts of the pretensions and the crimes being bigger these days, match yours precisely.