The Puffy Chronicles

I never considered owning a Mercedes until I first met this 220S in November 2005: a wild convergence of luck and fate. She, from what I gather, lived in San Diego for many years, at least 'til 1974 when she made the trip from the Left Coast to the East. A scrap of a handwritten mileage log found in the glove compartment indicates that she trekked west to east through various cities in the midwest, Arizona, Texas and Tennessee and stopping (for an indeterminate amount of time) in Roanoke, Virginia. The hands of previous owners bespeak sometimes a tale of care and love, sometimes neglect and scorn. I choose to believe she was loved.

Papers gifted with the title indicate that the last owner lived in McLean, Virginia--coincidentally not more than 2 miles from her present new home in Arlington. Apparently, the car was sold at auction by Mr. G's estate upon his passing (ca. 2003). The car then disappeared in the auction circuit until bought by a Mr. Billy Graham Jr. (yes, indeed) of Deale, MD for an undetermined sum in late 2004. She caught my eye in November of 2005, sitting quietly in a liquor store parking lot (those that know me need not ask me why I was there) in Deale. The direct sales pitch soaped onto the window: "1959 RUNS" enticed my eye in part. Her comely curves seduced me in whole.

Making an appointment with Mr. Graham the following weekend, I motored home with excitement and hopped on-line, looking up this version of vehicle and, to my good fortune, found the Mercedes Benz Ponton Page: http://www.mbzponton.org, What's a Ponton? I asked and found on this fine site much about this class of vehicles and a wealth of information on the care, feeding and love lives of these vehicles. I just wanted to find out if I could buy oil filters for these; I discovered there a whole lot more.

The appointed Saturday arrived and I returned to Deale to take her for a noisy test drive (for her exhaust system was all but ferric-oxide powder); I was hooked nonetheless. Moreover, certain aspects of her character wrenched the appeal more tightly: wood dash, cool push button start, four-speed column-shift, tube radio, all trim accounted for (mostly), tolerable levels of rust and an engine that sported identifiable subsystems (ah! there's the distributor and there's the fuel filter, and there's the two--count 'em, two--carburetors, just like my '66 VW Squareback). In my mind, I am working with my dad again, adjusting the points and timing (Although my father's tooling days are over, I wonder if he'll let me borrow his Sears PENSKE timing light: great design with hefty chrome body and sleek Buck Rogers pistol grip and I wonder if he remembers that it was me that let the sync cable lay and melt across the exhaust manifold of his '72 Town and Country station wagon. The blob on the red conductor still a fearsome carbuncle).

Turning the key and pushing the starter button she fired right up, after just a slight prompt from the choke, and soon we were buzzing around the back roads of Southern Maryland at an easy 60 mph, straight on the straights and cornering with surprising nimbleness. Aside from the propensity of the shift-shaft to come loose from the column, she responded well and was ready to run.

So I fell in love. I told Billy her I'd take her home as soon as I could. He, decorated with tattoos and a sporting a friendly grin, was a little sorry to let her go. His 7 year-old daughter had nicknamed the old lady "Puffy," and after much general agreement (Ol' Puffy, Cream-Puffy), this moniker settled.

The following weekend, I brought my son back to the Western Shore of Maryland to shuttle Puffy to her new home. We loaded up the back of his SUV with every tool I've collected since high school, they mostly dormant and gathering dust as life and toil drove waves against the beach of time. Older, not necessarily wiser and probably against my better judgment, I was to drive her from Southern Maryland to Arlington, a distance of fifty-some miles, crossing DC and the Capital Beltway, prowling with unfriendly late model sedans, menacing and carniverous Hummers, beastly tractor-trailers, hungry tow trucks, pot-holes, menacing macadam and cops. Before we departed, I spent an hour of wasted time (won't be the last) on the cold ground trying to wrap some useless exhaust patch goo around the biggest hole south of the header and then jumped in the car. Alas, no cranking, no juice in the battery, time to jump start. My son observed the proceedings with a painful look on his face: his dad had gone over the edge. Maybe, but I was unapologetic.

Trying to kick life into the machine, several passers-by slowly trolled alongside. An elderly gentlemen sidled up in his late model MB sedan and offered me parts right there on the spot. "I've had a stroke and can't work on my car anymore, but please give me a call; I've got some trim you might need." Something appealing about a quixotic quest: it enlivens the effort.

But with jumper cables connected to my son's blazer, Puffy started right up, but she wouldn't hold without an external 12V source. Alas, the battery was dead so the first thing I'd get before leaving Deale was a new cell, which necessitated a quick side-trip to the local garage. And it's kind of funny the look you get when you ask for parts for a vintage machine, but it's also amazing how interested (some) people are in sharing your find. Others, though, react without understanding upon the telling of one's new passion: "It's just a vehicle" quoth from a boorish dinner party patron some weeks later.

At any rate, battery connected and with fresh joules at the ready, the 50 mile trek to Northern Virginia begins, but not without a little initial trepidation. A local cop had obviously been alerted to or had noticed the activity around this vehicle as we prepped her for her first ride in a while and as we pulled out from the parking lot, he folded in behind us. Aw crap, here it comes. Fortunately, I had a small bit of sense to get new VA tags for her and at the next light--a long four miles of rear-view mirror glancing later--the cop took a right and we headed straight to Virginia, making good our escape. Honestly, I think he was happy to see the machine leaving his jurisdiction.

To make a long story shorter, Puffy arrived (back) in Northern Virginia and now sits waiting my next decision and action and an indeterminate amount of money, busted knuckles, cursing and (the Lord willing) some joy. If I am as persistent as she is stately, maybe I can turn back time to her glorious original self.

The Start