In 1968 Mercedes-Benz manufactured 23,885 280Sl sports cars. Each one had a 2.8-liter, in-line, six-cylinder engine with two valves per cylinder and a single overhead cam. The powerplant produced 170 horsepower while delivering 19 miles per gallon of gas. Additionally, the sophisticated suspension assured precise handling. The base price was about $7,800.
Did any of these facts have any impact on Thu Stubbs?
No. However, she has been infatuated with the ageless design of the 280SL ever since she saw one as a pre-teen girl. Her Army intelligence officer father was stationed in Frankfurt in what was then West Germany and the two of them were on a street corner when she saw a 280SL drive past. The sheer beauty of the car amazed her and she has wanted one ever since.
Her family eventually returned to the United States and she went on to the University of Maryland and signed on to the Army ROTC program. Upon graduation she received her Army commission as a Signal Corps second lieutenant and was ordered to report to Schwabisch Gmuend in West Germany near Stuttgart.
In the spring of l986 she was shopping at the PX at Patch Barracks in Stuttgart and went to the rear of the facility to the stereo pick-up counter. There she saw a white index card with “FOR SALE” printed near a photograph of a metallic silver Mercedes-Benz 280SL.
“Wow, my childhood dream car,” she thought. She copied the phone number while wondering if the car was still available. There was no date on the ad.
A man answered the phone when she called. He had no clue what she was talking about. He was an Army warrant officer who had married a German woman and took his discharge in Germany. Then reality struck. He had recently bought a boat and his wife decided that one toy was enough and posted the ad offering the car for sale.
He emphasized that the car was not, repeat, not, for sale. After she told him of her longtime love affair with the 280SL he reluctantly agreed to an appointment to show her his car. “He assured me that it was
NOT for sale,” she recalls.
They met on the outskirts of Stuttgart and then he led her to a rented garage where his Mercedes-Benz was stored. When the garage door was lifted, she says, “I saw the car that I’ve always wanted.”
She was also shown the black “Pagoda” removable hardtop that was stored with the car and she happily noticed the transmission was a four-speed manual. “I was completely mesmerized,” she says. The car was built to European specifications and the speedometer registers speeds up to 220 kilometers.
Adjacent to the speedometer is the 7,000 rpm tachometer marked with a red line of 6.500 rpm.
“At the end of our visit, I persistently asked if he would consider selling me his prized classic,” she says. Since she seemed to really like it he said he would think about selling his car.
Several weeks later he phoned her with news that he would sell her the Mercedes-Benz, but only if she agreed to keep it. He wanted to find a good home for the car and did not want her to sell it.
“I assured him that I have always wanted a 280SL and would not sell it.”
The deal was consummated June 4, 1986. She took her prize home but for the next two years she hardly drove her treasured 280SL. The car was parked in a garage when the new owner could admire her car whenever she wanted - which was frequently. “It was meant to be,” she says.
She had the handsome vehicle was shipped to Baltimore in 1988 when she resigned her commission and resumed her life as a civilian.
Fortunately, the car survived the voyage unscathed. Thereafter, it was treated like jewelry and the owner would coordinate her clothing to it’s color.
On fair weather days when she takes her car out for exercise, she enthuses, “I’m in heaven.” She feels that way because the lambs wool seat covers that were on the car when she bought it remain serviceable and comfortable. “The acceleration is really fantastic,” she adds.
The wood trim across the top of the dashboard at the base of the windshield is not warped, a sure sign the car has been sheltered. The original wood tray on the console is also unmarred.
The car is virtually unchanged since she acquired it in 1986. The exception is a new set of Michelin radial tires she installed to replace the ones that were on the car in 1986.
“I’m so proud of this car,” she said enthusiastically. Like everyone else, even the owners of Mercedes-Benz 280SL sports cars can have unpleasant days. On the rare occasion that occurs, the owner says, “I take a ride in my car. It’s the best picker-upper.”