During the late 1950s, Army officer Ace Rosner was stationed in Vienna, Austria. Like the rest of the world, Austrian civilians were desparate for new cars, but they were not to be had. Most of the traffic on the streets was composed of older cars that had survived World War II or relatively new Volkswagen Beetles.
If one had been on the streets Mr. Rosner would have remembered seeing a 1959 Mercedes-Benz 220S cabriolet, since he considers that model to be one of the prettier cars that Mercedes-Benz ever produced. One of those handsome cars, almost 50 years later, is now in his garage. The car followed a circuitous route to get there.
How the Mercedes-Benz got to this country is unknown, but it eventually ended up in Northern Virginia horse country. The owner of the car, Mr. Rosner says, owed a friend of his a large sum of money and, in lieu of cash, paid with the car and a couple of horses. The car was trucked to the new owner's home in McLean ,where the four-speed manual transmission confounded the owner. The owner contacted Mr. Rosner to help him unravel the mystery of the transmission. Despite Mr. Rosner's best efforts, the transmission student did not graduate. Consequently, the car was rarely driven.
However, Mr. Rosner wanted to purchase the car. The owner wasn't motivated because he, too, liked the appearance of the 220S.
The owner died in 1995, and Mr. Rosner purchased the Mercedes-Benz from the estate and took delivery in 1996. He drove the 15.5-foot-long car to his northwest home with the 2.2-liter in-line six-cylinder engine purring.
Once at home, he discovered there was no boot to hide the black top with a plastic rear window when it was lowered. Fortunately, he had a friend with an identical car who loaned him the boot so he could have a copy made in camel-colored leather to match the original upholstery. When the top is raised, the interior of the car is as sillent as a closed sedan thanks to a lined and padded design.
"It's a unique car," Mr. Rosner says while pointing out features such as the stainless steel trim on the door jambs, the color-keyed hubcaps to match the color of the car and even the two small reflectors at the rear, each on its own pedestal, inboard of each taillight.
Commonplace in 1959 were the wing vent windows. The speedometer is ready to record speeds up to 110 mph although literature about the car claims a top speed of 99 mph. "It'll do 100 easy," Mr. Rosner says.
A 6,000 rpm tachometer is ready to provide engine information to the driver when a shift of gears might be in the best interest of both driver and engine. The output of the engine in the 2,950-pound car is rated at 100 horsepower.
The German manufacturer might have been on to something a half century ago when it put a lock on the door providing access to the 16-gallon gasoliine tank. With gasoline at $3 or more a gallon, a secure tank is a welcome feature. "I burn regular gas, and the engine doesn't ping," Mr. Rosner reports. Fuel is fed to the engine via a pair of Solex compound downdraft carburetors. Surprisingly, the crankcase capacity is 8 quarts of oil.
Typical of cars of that era, the Mercedes-Benz is outfitted with three ashtrays. Each door panel has a storage pocket which can be opened by pulling on an attached leather strap. When Mr. Rosner turns the steering wheel with a chrome-plated 360-degree horn ring, the cabriolet, on its 111-inch wheelbase, can be turned in an 36-foot circle on its 14-inch wheels.
Mr. Rosner says his car that stands an inch more than five feet has some star quality. He says, a twin to his car was driven by Cary Grant in the Alfred Hitchcock movie "North by Northwest."
The odometer on the Mercedes-Benz is only now approaching 85,500 miles, not much more that it had recorded when he bought the car a decade ago. "I take it to car shows and use it in parades," he says.
The uppermost of the four lights at each side of the front of the car function as parking lights. Below them are the headlights followed by the turn signal lights and finally the fog lights.
Space for an ashtray is carved out of the wooden dashboard as well as a grab bar for the passenger. "I love the wood in this car," Mr. Rosner says, "It's unbelievable. It's absolutely gorgeous."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.