My Car Quest

March 20, 2018

My Car Adventure – A Mercedes-Benz 280SL Roadster

More reader stories; this adventure began the day I bought a clean 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280SL roadster in dark metallic green…

by Bob Wachtel –

Sometime in mid 1973 I drove from Brooklyn, N.Y. with my first wife to the town of Haupague, N.Y. on Long Island to look at a 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280SL roadster.

I was especially interested in this particular car for it had a 4-speed manual transmission which is pretty rare. The car didn’t have A/C or the factory removable hardtop. It wasn’t in the beige paint that I was looking for but it had the Cognac interior that I wanted.

Mercedes-Benz 280SL Roadster

The owner was looking for $5,000 for it but I was willing to go as far as $4,500. This way if I decided to purchase after test driving it I would have around $1,500 to play with in getting A/C installed at a Mercedes-Benz dealership and enough left over to buy a second hand hardtop from someone I knew. You see, I had recently sold my 1966 AC 427 Cobra for $6200.

I figured the extra $1,500-$1,700 would cover those extra expenses including the repainting of the used hardtop. I got into the car with the owner and proceeded to drive it around and then took it for a brief spin on the Long Island Expressway. The car drove like a dream. It had nice power, the transmission shifted beautifully, the Becker radio worked perfectly and the car was very quiet.

There were no excessive engine or exhaust noises. The car was also rattle free and the interior was like new in addition to the paint being in superb condition. So……..I proceeded to buy the car for $4,500 cash. I got a bill of sale ready for him to sign, got his registration signed over to me and threw a spare set of plates on and began to drive back to Brooklyn with my wife following me.

The ride was extremely quiet and as I got halfway home I noticed the temperature gauge was starting to go towards the higher degrees on the dial. There was no gas station around so I pulled the car over to the side of the road onto the grass to pop open the hood.

On inspecting the engine compartment I realized that the fan belt had broken which caused the car to overheat. I waited a little while and then loosened the radiator cap to take off the excess pressure and left it in a loose position until I got home. I figured that by the time I’d get home the car would have a blown head gasket. Oh well, what can one do?

The first thing next morning I would throw on a new fan belt, top off the cooling system with fresh water and coolant and drive the car directly to a Mercedes-Benz dealership on Coney Island Ave. by the name of White Wing Motors. When I arrived there I told the service manager that I was aware of the blown head gasket for water was coming out of my exhaust pipes and the car was still overheating. I told him to pull the head off the engine and replace the head gasket and as long as they were working on the engine they could set up a factory A/C setup as close to it coming out of the factory.

Mercedes-Benz 280SL Roadster

Well we agreed on a total price of $2,250 for the entire job. They proceeded to take various things apart for both jobs to be performed. I dropped by a week later and saw parts all over the area where the car was being worked on. It was a mess. A week after that I passed by again to find out that nothing had changed with the exception of being told that the dealership had gone out of business. What a dilemma!

The next thing I did was to contact the Mercedes-Benz of North America dealership in Manhattan off the West Side Highway and tell them of my existing situation. They agreed to pick up the car from where it was along with all the disconnected parts and finish the job at their location. They asked for an additional $250 for transporting the car and its loose parts from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

All the work was completed in 3 weeks. I had to borrow $750 from my Dad to be able to pay the invoice’s extra costs for all the work. I then took the subway into the city to pick up the car. Driving home on the West Side Highway I noticed the engine was overheating and the radiator was also leaking which it never did before. I got off the highway and got some water from a nearby gas station and then went back to where I had just picked the car up from.

I told them that the radiator must have been damaged when the car and all its loose parts were transported to NYC. The radiator had been taken out and must have been banging around the flatbed that towed the car to Manhattan.

They gave me a hard time for accepting responsibility but eventually caved in and agreed to replace the radiator’s core at no extra expense to me and make sure the cooling system was working as it should. In a week the car was ready and I picked it up and drove it home with no problem at all.

In about a month I picked up a brown second hand hardtop and had it painted to match the metallic green paint of my car. Finally, after all this aggravation, I was able to fully enjoy this car. It was a beauty and a head turner.
I kept that car for two years until I swapped it for a silver gullwing “Cheetah”. But alas that’s another story.

I did not take photos of this car but I have included photos of a similar car in the same color with Cognac interior found on the internet.

Mercedes Benz Logo

My Car Adventure - A Mercedes-Benz 280SL Roadster
Article Name
My Car Adventure - A Mercedes-Benz 280SL Roadster
It was a mess and disassembled, a week later I passed by again to find out that nothing had changed with the exception that the dealership had gone out of business. What a dilemma!


  1. wallace wyss says:

    Yanking your car from a shop that is not doing the work right is something a lot of us have had to do–maybe someone will do a whole article on it…

    • Bob Wachtel says:

      Wallace, When I was building my Valkyrie (Ford GT-40 replica), I decided to drive it to this auto glass outfit a few miles from me. I spoke to the owner and told him I had all the necessary parts to install. I had the windshield with chrome trim, rear window with chrome trim, side windows with vent windows and window mechanisms. I asked if he could handle this installation of these components and he said as follows. Sure, no problem, was his answer. He couldn’t quote me a price. So I left it there for two weeks. I came back there with a friend two weeks later. The owner wasn’t around. I went over to my car only to find a giant German Shepherd laying all over my car’s interior with a food bowl and a water bowl on my carpeting. Nothing had been done at all. I immediately took charge and got the dog out of the car and threw his both bowls out also. I then put all of my new parts into my friend’s car and drove the car out before the boss came back. Boy, was he pissed when he found out what happened. His employees didn’t stop me for they felt sympathetic to my disappointment. Eventually I got an honorable glass guy to handle this work and he did an admirable job. I then did some plumbing and heating repairs for him. We always got along fine.

  2. Everett X says:


  3. Bob Wachtel says:

    Everett, You know what I just couldn’t understand about the entire run of 230SLs, 250SLs and 280SLs? Right up to 1971, the last year of that body style, they never had power windows. They just had a very slow manual set up. The car also could have had a sportier dashboard. They basically had a scaled down dash from their bigger cars.



  5. Bob Wachtel says:

    Everett, I never felt that the M-B 200 series SL roadsters were sports cars. I felt that the ones with a/c were just luxury two seaters personal cars. They rode smoothly whether they were automatic or manual. They had power steering and a very comfortable interior. I just felt as though power windows could have at least been an option. I don’t feel I’m being picky. However, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion and I respect that. I suppose that from going from a 427 Cobra with sliding side curtains to a 280SL with manual windows that would be a step up.

  6. Bob Wachtel says:

    You certainly got a point there Everett. I know some early T-Birds had power seats but I don’t remember any 1955-1957 models with power windows. Maybe it was an option in 1957 or possibly before.

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