The phone rings on Thursday night, “We need you up at Laguna Seca to shoot a modified 991 GT3 we are testing” says Dieter Heinz, the boss at San Diego’s HG Motorsports. An awesome task you say, I agree but there is one problem, my project 996 911 is not ready yet and my wife won’t let me take her E61 BMW wagon. Something about needing a car and taking care of our children seems to trump Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Porsches. A quick call back to Dieter and I am tossed the keys to the “Bomber”, a 1992 Mercedes 300E that was purchased for $250 many years ago. “Do you think it will make it?” I say, “well it made it to Bakersfield (which is half way to San Fransisco) once,” He says. What a way to inspire confidence, right?
She has patina and wears her 243,000+ miles as a badge of honor. We pop the hood, it is low on oil, water, and it won’t start, so things are looking up. A quick jump start and into the service bay it goes where the fluids are topped and tire pressures checked. I pick up a new battery on my way home to pack and to make sure my will is up to date.
And we’re off...... I know Mercedes of this era were very well built. In fact, German engineering and manufacturing were so expensive at the time that the W124 chassis was designed and built so Mercedes could use the design for over a decade. This is the era of “German Engineering” a phrase that stood for quality and cutting edge technology. This 300E was sold for over $50,000 new in 1992 or about $85,000 in 2016 dollars. The W124 was the first chassis of the E class. A chassis sold in the USA from 1986-1995 and had a huge variety of engines. This body style was powered by 2.0 liter inline 4s all the way up to 6.0 liter AMG V8s. In fact, a few of these W124s have reached over one million miles, so I should be fine right?
Entering the 300E is stepping back into an interior design from the early 80s and personally, I love this era. The first thing you notice is the view out of the tall greenhouse. The slim A-pillars and low belt line give you a wide screen view out of the car, a trait I really miss on modern cars.
Let’s look at the lines here, clean and crisp but a bit 80's boxy. I think this style is very timeless and I love that it does not have an iPad stuck on the dash like every modern Mercedes. From the driver’s seat, you can reach every button and switch in the car including the glove box latch. The wood trim is real wood, not some little blue pill enhanced plastic.
The captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign and if you don’t put it on before you start the engine I am going to shout at you with a long annoying BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA to remind you. Which is exactly how it happens, safety first or we annoy you. The destination for the evening was actually the mean streets of San Fransisco to be a guest with Dieter on the Driving While Awesome Podcast then Laguna Seca the next morning. It is 11:30am and I need to cover 500+ miles to arrive at 7pm. California needs an Autobahn......
Hammer down and slowly gaining speed as the 80s era auto slams into top gear. It is summer in San Diego and as a result, I want some cold AC in this beast. Looking down at speed to unscramble the Enigma machine that is the climate control buttons, is a case study in distracted driving. Forget texting and driving kids, not knowing what these buttons do could kill you. Do I press the white fan and the hollow arrow with the EC (extra cold?) or do I press.......and you’re dead, crashed into an RV towing a car that is towing a boat. The solid and tactile click as you adjust the fan speed is so satisfying. Mind you, this particular 300E has over 243,xxx miles and these buttons feel brand new. I have seen newer BMW, Audi, Porsche, and Mercedes buttons with half the miles fall apart and have the paint wear off. This tank was built to last. Once you figure it out, it is easy: three fan speeds on the right, vent settings in the middle, and temperature on the left, but whatever you do don’t press the red button in the middle.....#ejectoseatocuz’?
Coffee break, a large shot of caffeine to power me toward the horizon, but where to put it? There are window switches in the middle and the passenger side power mirror joystick, but alas no cup holder.
BAM! Flip out and adjustable what more could you ask for right? Well, it is only me but if I had passengers they would be holding their drinks between their legs because it is the only one in the car. Modern cars could not offer such luxuries, as the side airbag would shoot your Starbucks Frappuccino through your body like a shotgun. So AC, check, Coffee in a cup holder, check, cruising comfortably at speed, check....this will be an easy modern car journey or will it?
Cutting through LA was a mix of bumper to bumper traffic and construction zones that was eating into my tight schedule. The 300E took the congestion in stride, as the aftermarket stereo played satellite radio and I sipped my coffee down. Smooth and easy were running their mouth’s as traffic piled up going up the grapevine. Sitting static in the 100+ degree heat, I notice the AC had lost its chill. I glance down to the temperature gauge (on the far left) and I am bit confused. 0, 80, 120 are on the gauge...Celsius is my guess and the needle is approaching 120. Then the smell of coolant wafts into the cabin. My mind is racing... I am going to be stuck on the side of the road in the melting heat, I am going to kill Dieter, and I am going to miss Porsches at Laguna Seca. Oh hell no, I aim the three-pointed star on the hood at the slow lane and swap the climate controls to full heat.
Analog tip (for all you uninformed drivers, if your car starts to overheat, blast the heater and the car will redirect some of the hot coolant to the heater core giving it more time to cool down. If your water pump or radiator is toast this will not save you, but if coolant is flowing then you stand a chance.)
Shooting through cars I am able to get a bit of speed up, so between the heater and the airflow of moving, the temperature needle starts to dip just as I crest the top of the hill. Crisis averted! I kick the Mercedes into Autobahn mode and attempt to make up for lost time. Rocketing up the 5 with one eye on the temperature gauge and the other on the radar detector, I am still a long way from San Fransisco.
I am going to be honest, the rest of the journey was a bit uneventful and the car made it home as well. Aside from trying to navigate the hills of San Fran in the fog, to find the house where the podcast was, it was a breeze. By the way, when I arrived I mentioned the overheating scare to Dieter and he says “oh yeah, I think it needs a fan clutch, I didn’t mention it doesn’t like traffic?” I can’t complain, I had made it....in comfort and style.
Let me tell you a bit more about Dieter’s “bomber”. It is slightly modified as you may be able to tell in the photos. The ride is handled with Bilstein sport shocks and a set of Eibach lowering springs. This takes a car that is very floaty in stock form and settles it down without giving it a harsh ride. Not only does it handle bumps better than most stock modern cars but it still can handle dips, speed bumps, and driveways with ease. A large Eibach front sway bar means it turns in well and enables you to carry momentum through the corners. The combined lowered ride height and AMG monoblock wheels give the car a factory AMG style of subtle performance, which I love. My brother owned a stock 300E right after I got my license and let me drive it a few times. The “bomber” even in its high mileage state feels just as tight as I remember my brother’s 300E being all those years ago.
Here is a teaser from the Porsche Owners Club track day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, which I plan to also write an article on here for you all to read:
Analog Neo Classic Reviews:
Driving in modern cars is very safe and well, usually very boring. Even a Nissan Versa is fairly quiet and calm rolling down the road at 80 miles per hour. So let’s get Analog!
There has been a lot of talk in the automotive press about analog cars lately. Cars we enthusiast love, like the Porsche Cayman GT4, BMW M2, Fiat 124, Alfa Romeo 4c and of course the Mazda Miata, are all “analog”, but I think this is utter bullsh*t. When journalist call these cars analog they are referring to the manual transmissions, the simplicity of the cabin amenities, or the pure driving dynamics, but none of these cars are truly analog in the traditional sense. Almost all have throttle by wire, traction control, and electronic steering. If you want analog you need to get out and drive an older car. I don’t mean true classic 60's muscle car or some rare Italian broken sports car. I am talking about a Neo Classic Analog car.
“What is this Neo Classic business”, you say? Well, it is my way of describing a car older than 25 years old but newer than 1975. By standard terms, any car older than 25 years is considered a classic, but considering that term would cover all cars from 1991-1886, I think we need to break that term up a bit. It is kind of like saying, at 25 that you want to date an older woman and what you mean is the hot 35-year-old yoga instructor not the 85-year-old water aerobics instructor. My goal with this column is to go out and experience as many of these interesting Neo Classics and share those adventures with you.
My name is Patrick Stevenson, I am a freelance Automotive Journalist and Photographer who formerly wrote, shot, and edited for Auto Eclectic Magazine. I have since started Motor-Affair.com to play and share my love for art, cars and the love of driving. More Art here- Instagram