Wastelands of Suburbia

A place where the cast-off ephemera of the last four generations comes to rest, and is discussed fondly....Like junk, or the injection-molded minutiae of history? Welcome home...Junkyards, yard sales, roadside oddities, thrift stores and more-your memories are deep inside the box, so keep shaking.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Wilkommen Mein Greta!

And so the Circle of Life continues...you are looking at the first pics of my new/old ride, a 1987 Mercedes Benz 300D Turbo, whom I have affectionatley christened "Greta"-how I came about owning her is a look into my psyche and a testament to the miracle that is the Internet.

(Greta bravely weathers her first Pennsylvania snowfall.)

First, however, a word of advice-ALWAYS give your cars a name-it's simply good Karma, or in this case, Car-Ma. When your car has a name, it can take on a personality. If it has a personality, you can learn to deal with the nuances of it's personality.

When you are in the corporate world, you learn how to handle interoffice relationships by reading books like "Dealing with Difficult People". With cars, you read Chilton's, Haynes, or Clymer's manuals instead (or those by Robert Bentley if you are smart and one is available). If your car is giving you trouble, there's a good chance it's because you have treated it poorly, and it is showing you how you have hurt it's feelings. Leaking fluids are often just like tears, their various colors showing you what kind of mistreatment you may have caused. Some cars cry because they fear old age, or from memory of abuse from a previous owner. Sometimes cars, like babies (Or some of the psychotic ex-girfriends I have had) cry "just because". It is your job as a good parent to find out why, and to remedy the situation.

When stuck for a name, the default is to use my criteria in order to find one that seems to fit. Here I will generously offer it for free (normally a $150/hr value). The above paragraph should leave no doubt as to why I gave Greta a girl's name, but there is more to it than that. First off, she's German-I will most likely get the snappiest response from her if she knows I am talking to her ("GRETA! SCHNELL!" as I chase some graying mullet-bearer in an ancient Trans Am). Second, she's old-"Greta", therefore is more appropos than the sexier, though still Teutonic "Heidi". "Heidi" is a new BMW 325ic, not a 20 year-old, drab diesel sedan. So, nationality is a good place to start. Honda or Toyota owners have endless choices, most ending in vowels. Volvos and Saabs can use some of the same names as their German counterparts, or the names of the members of Abba. If you are dumb enough to drive a Renault in this country, a French name is de rigeur (not to mention the national flag, a plain white surrender rectangle, fastened to the antenna). A Jag or Vauxhall is easily tagged with Nigel or Clive, as many of the female names are interchangeable on both sides of the pond (though "Fergie" is a good bet). Your favorite Spice Girl or Pink Floyd member is also a good choice. DeLoreans could technically be named Irish or American. You will know, however, in a very short period of ownership, however, if your car is male or female. This whole arguement does not apply to trucks, whose plastic testicles are often seen hanging from their rear differential here in the US, leaving no doubt as to gender.

Meanwhile, back to Greta. Greta was born, and took her first steps as I was completing my junior year of high school. If cars aged at the same speed as humans, at her 20 years I'd be robbing the cradle, and most likely the envy of all my male friends. Since, however, cars have a tendency to show their age at a much more accelerated rate, Greta is more like a MILF with self-confidence issues, in need of an Extreme Makeover. As such, my friends instead think I am nuts.

(Around here, you only roll with bulletholes if they are REAL-these will have to go)

As I have been known to make the occasional bad automotive decision, this is not an unfair conclusion, but know this-Greta was acquired not through purchase but trade, and therefore any fiduciary judgments are hereby null and void. Moreover, she was traded for an OLDER motorycycle (albeit my beloved Satanic Scoot, the '84 Honda V65 Magna), so technically I'm trading UP. Finally, she is still a Mercedes, a product of superior engineering by very uptight, regimented people who smoke a little too much and make really weird porno (though much of that argument can be said of the Japanese as well).

I found Greta on Craigslist-the great clearing house of the internet. She resided in Toms River, New Jersey, in the possession of a truly great character named Carl. Carl personifies the likeable brand of Jerseyite to me-A bit loud, fast talking, and funny as hell. A tree trimmer laid off for the winter months, He conned his wife and son, along with the family dog, to drive the 2.5 hours to my hometown of Stroudsburg to show me the car. I recall him mentioning the promise of dinner and our infamous outlet shopping as his bribe to them.

He was looking for a bike in trade, and since my back injuries have left my motorcycling future in question for the time being, the bike was really only taking up space and collecting dust. Carl said he had had it with offers of ancient wrecks with no titles, hauled out from under porches and out of lakes to be offered up against his car. After all, he had done a fair amount of work in his short ownership period (Greta had been given to him to pay off a debt, not unlike some third world men have done with their wives, I suppose).

Carl had the right answers to a lot of my questions-I had done some research prior to even considering Greta. Some of it was courtesy of fellow blogger Mr. Jalopy, a great amateur mechanic and owner of an '87 300TD (the wagon version of Greta). The rest was gleaned off various forums of owners and enthusiasts.

For example, Greta had he original-equipment Becker cassette still installed. Becker is not known for great stereo, but they are decent, and original equipment in Mercedes as well as some other German models. It's existence in Greta's dash was a good indicator the audio wiring was unmolested. The next question, however was obvious-her power Hirschmann antenna was broken, and a ten-dollar rubber ducky was in it's place. Mercedes has a recommended lubricant for the Hirschmann, and an original antenna is usually evidence it was used, and again, proof of careful maintenance.

Her condition was 50/50-from fifty feet away at fifty miles an hour she looked damned good. But the ratio translated to other aspects of her. She was blessed with straight and un-corroded sheetmetal, but some budding Chip Foose had poorly sprayed her with a coat of pseudo Anthrazitgrau, covering her weatherstripping along the doors, as well as her body trim. Her interior carpets were surprisingly in good condition, though her front seat upholstery was copiously taped. Many of the normally nagging high-mileage issues were absent, though some others took their place.

Nonetheless, after a test-drive, I was in love. Carl was equally smitten with my bike, and a deal was made. A few days later he arrived with Greta on a trailer, being pulled laboriously by a late 90's Jeep Grand Cherokee. Paperwork was traded, chains were loosened, tie-downs secured and the Honda was on her way to a new home.

As Greta undergoes her slow, deliberate transformation, I will keep you apprised of her progress.


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