I wish I’d bought... a Mercedes 300SL

Ex-Scottish Sun editor Derek Stewart-Brown recalls the gullwing classic that slipped from his 15-year-old grasp (in his wildest dreams…)

My dad was a long-distance lorry driver with a 15-year-old son who was going off the rails. I was sneaking the odd fag from his packet and staying out until midnight, listening to Pink Floyd and The Who with dubious friends. Some of them were even girls...

A ‘father/son bonding exercise’ was the remedy, and so, one Saturday morning, dad armed me with an air rifle and set me to work eradicating rats from the grain mill where he worked. After giving me some sage advice about wearing gloves and adopting a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, he left me alone while he turned his hand to his regular Saturday morning job – cleaning and maintaining his pride and joy, the family Vauxhall Viva SL90. So much for the bonding bit…

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Naturally, as an aspiring petrolhead as opposed to a would-be big-game hunter, once inside that huge, dark hangar of a rat-infested grain store my attention was drawn to the various automobiles kept by the mill’s owner.

An Aston Martin DB4, Mini Cooper, Bentley Continental, and then… a strange, silver beast, hidden at the back. Casually covered in part by a few dust sheets, and sporting a three-pointed star on the grille and lush red leather upholstery behind dusty windows, was a Mercedes 300SL.

Sunshine filtered through the grimy skylights, highlighting the massive chrome bumpers and silver bodywork. I swear the world outside went quiet. Music started playing in my head. Even as a spotty kid, I knew this car was special – and God, I wanted it.

Throwing caution to the winds I threw off the covers, and for a few hours I examined every nook and cranny, working out how to get inside via the space-age and delicious gullwing doors. Settling into the bucket seats I languished in the cigar-smelling interior, imagining taking Angela (17-year-old babe) into the nearby Lammermuir Hills on a picnic that could possibly change both our lives...

It had an impressive toolkit, wrapped in canvas and leather, and a radio that echoed from roof to floor. In just a few minutes, I was transformed from a boy to a man – Angela would love this.

On that hot summer morning I dozed on a cushion of red leather, dreaming of a future that would see me (and Angela) with a semi-detached house and glam lifestyle, hanging out with Rod Stewart and buying cheese ‘things’ for cocktail parties.

I have no idea how long I slept, until a mature cough from the mill owner reduced me back to the spotty youth I was. ‘Hello, you must be Jim’s boy,’ he said. ‘Do you like it?’

As the peasant I was, I apologised, grovelled and stuttered my love for his abandoned Merc, before apologising again for my all-too-obvious newfound familiarity with the 300SL.

He gave me details, which 40 years later I forget. Trips he had taken, countries he’d visited in the car. I remember he said how much fun he had in Monte Carlo. But sadly, the Jaguar XK was more practical as a daily runner, he told me, and the Mini was easy to park.

When dad arrived back, he apologised on my behalf for me being a nuisance. And, unlike me at that time, I stood up for myself: ’Would you sell the Merc?’ I asked.

The mill owner laughed. ‘That would be the thick end of £10,000,’ he replied. And my dad added: ‘You might need to get a bigger paper round son.’

That night (getting back to the bonding thing) dad and I talked. ‘It’s impractical son,’ he told me. ‘Funny doors and heavy on petrol. It’s not for us.’

In my ‘rebel without a pause’ period, I tried to explain the concept of ‘future classic’ – although, like ‘barn find’, the notion hadn’t actually yet been coined. Tears wouldn’t wash, and the promise of abandoning Black Sabbath and ‘bad girls’ for years to come didn’t cut any ice.

That Sunday, I washed and polished the Viva SL90. Come 2018, dad’s gone, along with the Vauxhall. He’d traded it in for a Saab 99 just a few weeks after my 300SL experience.

I knew it was a mistake. Even now, it hurts to think about it. Had we bought that Mercedes, today our family would have a £1.5 million machine.

But hey, I’m not the only one to make a Mercedes 300SL gullwing mistake. In 2007, no less than Bernie Ecclestone sold his own example for £300k – only to find six years later it went under the hammer for £1 million. The only one I can afford now is considerably smaller...

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