- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Mike Hughes, now a senior sales consultant with Cherner Lincoln Mercury, was an Army brat 40 years ago when his father was stationed in Germany.

Even as a schoolboy he took notice when Mercedes-Benz decided to replace the 190SL model with the 230SL. From that day to this he has lusted after a 230SL.

While he was living in Germany a 1966 Mercedes-Benz 230SL was in the American Service Center showroom on North Glebe Road in Arlington. The body color was Havana brown with the removable hardtop, hubcap trim and upholstery all a Palamino color.

Who could resist such a beautiful machine equipped with white sidewall tires, a floor-shift automatic transmission and power steering?

Not Walter Southworth. From his McLean home he drove his 1959 Mercedes-Benz 220SE sedan and traded it in on the lovely 230SL. He received $1,447.32 for his old car on the $7,197.32 new car. He happily drove off in his 230SL, a car with ageless styling.

For the next 23 years the 230SL roadster averaged slightly more than 3,000 miles annually. It was faithfully serviced at the selling dealership according to recommendations in the owner’s manual.

While the 230SL was aging, Mr. Hughes had returned to the United States and was a Georgetown University student where he met and in 1976 married his wife, Lucia. Before they were wed he told her that one day he was going to have to buy a 230SL Mercedes-Benz.

In the autumn of 1989 the owner of the 230SL decided to find a good home for his treasured car. At the same time, Mr. Hughes was available. He had already owned a variety of sports cars, but never the elusive 230SL.

He was so certain that this was going to be his car that he found and purchased a set of vintage 1966 license plates.

At the last minute he lost out to Marvin Kay of Rockville. The car had a few minor door dings and Mr. Kay had the aluminum doors ironed out and the exterior repainted in the original color. “The slightly worn original carpeting and brown cloth convertible top were replaced,” Mr. Hughes says.

When Mr. Kay claimed the car in 1989, Mr. Hughes let him know that he would be glad to give the car a good home in the future if he should ever wish to part with it.

“It took 14 years, but finally in December 2003 Mr. Kay made the call,” a patient Mr. Hughes says.

An agreement was struck and he finally became the proud owner of the 1966 Mercedes-Benz 230SL that had captured his attention so many years before.

The odometer read 75,061, which indicated that the second owner had driven it an average of 367 miles a year.

“The first item of business,” Mr. Hughes says, “was to take the little Mercedes back to American Service Center for its 75,000-mile service.” By doing so he kept unbroken the 37-year record of having all scheduled maintenance performed at the same dealership.

Because he has been studying the 230SL for so many years, all its nuances are like second nature to him.

He is as familiar with the handbrake lever on the driver’s side of the driveshaft tunnel as he is with the French walnut speaker grille atop the dashboard for the Blaupunkt radio. The inside frame on the rear window of the hardtop is made of matching French walnut.

For a car approaching 40 years of age, Mr. Hughes says, “It has very modern controls.”

The speedometer is ready to record 140-mph speeds while the 7,000 rpm tachometer redlines at 6,700.

He explains the front-to-rear transmission shift pattern of 2-3-4-0-R-P. When the transmission is in 3 or 4, the car starts in second gear. Only when the 2 position is selected will the transmission shift to first gear.

The glove compartment is an electronic marvel. When the glove box is fully open, a light illuminates the interior. Open the door only a crack and a light on the outside of the door project a beam of light useable as a map light.

Mr. Hughes proudly displays the three-key set to the car. The keys operate the ignition, door locks and trunk.

Mercedes-Benz built the 230SL models from 1963 through 1967, a total of 19,831. Mr. Hughes says 4,945 were built in 1966.

His car left the Stuttgart plant on April 15, 1966. Factory records indicate the top speed of manual-transmission models as 124 mph while automatics could manage only 121 mph. The overly optimistic speedometer is set to record a top speed of 170 mph.

The 2,855-pound car stretches a hair more than 14 feet between the bumpers and rides on a 94.5-inch wheelbase. Luggage must be confined to a total of 12 cubic feet.

After he drove the long-awaited Mercedes-Benz to his Alexandria home, he pronounced to his wife that this was, “a car for life,” as he installed the 1966 license plates he had held for 14 years.

She concurred and wished him a “happy birthday” two weeks early.

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