2012 Mercedes Benz SLS AMG: Birthday Benzes
March 13, 2013
Somehow the universe aligned. Several editors had gone to Geneva for the auto show and the SLS AMG sat lonely on the list, calling to me (not entirely true: I had to arm-wrestle Mike Schmidt for it, a formidable opponent). Good timing too, as the next day was my father's birthday and I'd planned to meet the old man for lunch. I didn't expect to meet him in a $243,000 roadster, but fortune smiled.
Dad considers himself a bit of a Benz man these days, smitten as he is with his six-year-old SLK 280. I haven't had the heart to tell him that most auto-snobs snicker at the little convertible as an executive secretary's special. But I doubt he'd care. Dad used to wear white bucks to high school and sometimes a bowtie to his plain-clothes assignments for the police department. He's not a man easily swayed by the whimsies of the cool kids. The SLK is also something of a salve, a car to soothe the memory of a 911 SC sold in a moment of haste when he was a much younger man.
To fully exploit the theme, we decided to hit up the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine after lunch.
The Classic Center sits among a cluster of automotive dealerships just off the freeway. You have to keep an eye out for it. The two-story, glass-fronted building wraps around a corner lot, with only a small three-pointed star above the entrance and a simple sign along the top of the building in classic Mercedes typeface. Driving by, there's nothing to tell you that it houses some of the finest Benz classics outside of the mothership center in Fellbach, Germany.
And it's not just a whisper-and-hush museum. The western regional staff of Mercedes USA corporate works on the second floor, while around half of the ground floor space is given over to a full restoration facility: body shop, paint booth, the works. On our visit, we saw a half-dozen 300SLs in various states of rehabilitation. Owners bring in their old Benzes for professional love, and sometimes the Classic Center will buy, restore and sell them on the floor. A pristine '55 Gullwing runs just $1.4 million. The more practical buyer can drive off in a meticulous 1995 E320 wagon for $30,000.
The SLS drew some attention from the office folks, not an easy crew to impress. The SLS's manufacturer plates and our general wonderment on entering gave us away as pretenders and not Orange County land barons looking to expand our garage. No one tried to sell us an SL.
Dad loved the SLS and kept urging me to "roll on the throttle again." We drove it back home through nearby Trabuco Canyon where the exhaust note lingered among the rock walls and canopy of oaks. We never once listened to the radio on the road, only briefly in the driveway to sample a $6,000 Bang & Olufsen sound system. The old man's only complaints were our optional carbon-fiber interior trim ("save it for the body; aluminum or wood inside, please") and the lumbar/bolster adjustment cluster perched under his left knee.
The Mercedes-Benz Classic Center is open Monday through Friday, and Saturday by appointment (i.e. you plan to buy something really expensive or can sneak in with a group after the Cars & Coffee car show). Well worth the visit for any carhead, definitely anyone into Benzes.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor @ around 20,000 miles