- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

The centerfold picture in the August 1990 issue of the Star totally captivated David Van Duzer. In the days that followed the arrival of the magazine, his attention was thoroughly focused on the curvaceous lines of the featured subject.

Now that more than 15 years have passed, he still draws a large measure of pleasure looking at the beautiful pictures in that old magazine, even though an identical 1959 Mercedes-Benz 220S Coupe is securely ensconced in his garage.

From the first time he saw the gorgeous car in pictures and later at antique car events, Mr. Van Duzer has been on the hunt for such a Mercedes-Benz. Some were so restored as to be museum pieces while others were in such poor condition they were beyond redemption.

The search went on for the elusive 220S coupe until he saw the car advertised in a Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts magazine in August 2005. After corresponding with the husband of the owner in Redmond, Wash., Mr. Van Duzer was satisfied that this car was his personal Holy Grail. He agreed to pay the asking price.

He then received word that the owner had changed her mind and wasn’t in the mood to sell.

Mr. Van Duzer persevered and kept in touch for several months via e-mail. Her reply was always the same, “I’m not ready.”

At the end of last year the owner’s husband contacted Mr. Van Duzer with the news that his wife now would sell the car. That very day Mr. Van Duzer wired the money to the couple in Washington.

The next few hours were like a roller-coaster ride.

Mr. Van Duzer contacted a transport company to haul the Mercedes-Benz cross-country. He was told that there wouldn’t be a truck coming his way for two weeks.

A few minutes after a disappointed Mr. Van Duzer had hung up the telephone, the trucking company called him to say a change in schedules would permit them to bring him the car if they could pick it up the next day. It was like a new lease on life. He immediately agreed.

That’s when the owner’s husband telephoned to say his wife had changed her mind again. Mr. Van Duzer explained that he had sent the money and contracted with a trucking company and there would be a large penalty owed them if they couldn’t get the car tomorrow.

The disgruntled husband explained the facts to his wife and reluctantly they agreed to the already-agreed-upon terms of the sale. Mr. Van Duzer became the fifth owner of the 1959 Mercedes-Benz with 79,000 miles on the odometer.

The enormous truck transporting his 3,065-pound dove gray car rolled up to his architecture office in Falls Church on Jan. 18 and, he says, “the entire office emptied out to see the car.”

The sculpted dashboard and window sills are constructed of light birds-eye maple. which complements the leather upholstery and deep pile wool carpeting. The trunk contains the ultimate accessory — an original four-piece set of leather luggage.

Until he had possession of the car and its recorded history, Mr. Van Duzer was unaware the he had purchased a car with a checkered past. Reportedly a Baltimore dentist purchased the car new on Sept. 20, 1958, with a 90-day, 4,000-mile warranty. Soon afterward he moved to Seattle, where it was sold in 1995. The second owner amassed 55 collector automobiles in 18 months financed through a con artist scheme. After he was convicted of bank fraud and money laundering stemming from fraudulent leases of equipment to Catholic Charities, the federal marshals seized the collection.

Just before Thanksgiving 1997, another Seattle man purchased the car when the marshals auctioned off the collection. It was to be a surprise Christmas present for his wife until she told him that “whatever you do don’t buy me a car for Christmas.”

The fourth owner bought the car in 2000 and kept it until selling it to Mr. Van Duzer.

Papers that came with the well-documented car indicate that it sold new for about $7,700 and came equipped with a Hydrak transmission that was neither fish nor fowl. The driver had to shift but without a clutch. After a quarter century of frustration, the original owner, like so many others before him, had a four-speed manual transmission installed.

The cozy cockpit is well planned and filled with convenient features such as map pockets on both kick panels beneath the dashboard. Similar storage compartments are in both doors below the arm rests. Although it is not lighted, the passenger’s visor has a vanity mirror.

Within easy reach of the driver while seated behind the two-spoke steering wheel is the Becker Europa AM/FM radio. With the twist of his wrist the driver can unlock the sunroof panel and effortlessly slide it open. “There’s no electronics to go wrong,” Mr. Van Duzer says thankfully.

Instrumentation is complete with a speedometer that tops out at 110 mph. Mr. Van Duzer explains that the speedometer may go 110 but the car doesn’t, at least with him on board.

The rare coupe rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase supported by an independent front suspension and single-pivot rear swing axles. A coil spring at each corner helped handling while finned drum brakes behind each 7.25x13-inch tire handled stopping chores. In 1959 the combined coupe/convertible production total was 786.

Fuel from the 17-gallon tank feeds the 2.2-liter, 130-horsepower, six-cylinder engine and with the current price of gasoline, Mr. Van Duzer is pleased that Mercedes-Benz designers 47 years ago placed a lock on the gasoline filler door on the right rear fender. How thoughtful.

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