Petrolheads are very biased beings.
Ask any one of them which classic cars are the best to own and they will happily talk your ear off on why MGs are better than Austin Healeys, or Fords over Chevs. Like most of us, part of our loyalty is inherited from our parents and then slowly nurtured over the years by our own experiences.
For my family and I, it’s one of two brands – Alfa Romeo or Porsche.
One has a vast following of enthusiasts buying volumes of new models, produces cars used as benchmarks for other brands and has such solid build quality that the majority of them are still on the road today.
The other one is Italian and is none of those things.
Regardless, both marques blend the spirit of driving so deep into their fibre that it oozes out of them at any given opportunity. Even when the cars are flawed, their heritage and commitment to the cause means you cannot help but forgive them.
With this strong bias in the family, it is very difficult for us to deviate into other brands. The day we heard of a friend selling his W108 Mercedes-Benz, we were skeptical. Skeptical, but also curious.
The car in question was a cream W108 280S with a lovely red interior. The seats weren’t original, but they looked great and the car was from the Northern-Cape so rust was minimal. We knew absolutely nothing about these cars, other than they were usually owned by small town doctors and lawyers, as they were the only people who could afford them in the 60’s.
Having our curiosity triggered, we scooped up the car and I proceeded to drive it home.
After the first bend it became very clear that this is no 70’s Alfa Romeo. The Merc is a massive thing and it goes around corners like a queen-sized bed.
It’s only when driving a non-sporty classic that you truly appreciate the 5th gear in a 105-series Alfa. The Merc doesn’t have 5th gear and when I go around slow corners in third it will slip out of gear every time. It doesn’t stop very well and I’d imagine that if I was doing more than 60km/h and something had to jump in front of me, I’d be better off jumping for cover in the back seat than trying to manoeuvre around it.
So yes, it’s no Alfa Romeo, but that’s not a bad thing.
Because it’s not an Alfa, all the panels are still as flush as they were when the car was put together. Having become judgmental over the years about how a car’s doors feel (it’s your first point of contact with the car, after all), the sensation of solidity that accompanies every opening and closure is satisfying to say the least.
The interior is a comfortable place to be, with seats more like couches than body huggers. If the gearbox doesn’t prevent you from feeling like Stirling Moss, the seats certainly will.
The 2.8l straight-six is more about gooi-ing smoothness than gooi-ing mielies. Where the Alfas and Porsches get better once you push them, the Merc grabs you by the shoulder, hands you a whiskey and tells you to take it easy in your lounge chair.
It’s a driving philosophy which was instilled back then and is still apparent in today’s S-classes. I genuinely believe if I drove this car every day, I would live longer purely from reduced stress.
Much like the German and Italian cars that were my first loves, this car is aesthetically pleasing in its own right. The W108 is the last of the “upright” headlight Benz’s and is still the prettiest S-Class in my opinion. It shares a lot of design cues with the SL Pagoda and is almost identical to its 2-door brother, the SE coupe and cabriolet.
Considering the price of Pagodas and SE coupes today, the W108 is a real bargain for what you get. Even though they were made in greater numbers, it’s not like you see them driving around everywhere anyway, so exclusivity is still part of the package. True exclusivity also comes at a price, because an equally old Bentley or Rolls-Royce would make the headaches we’ve had with the Merc look very minor.
I went on a Mercedes Meander and I love it. Sometimes you need to step out of your comfort zone and experience something new – you just might surprise yourself. Best of all, I can make a strong argument to my insurance broker for reduced life insurance premiums, now that I spend more time in a classic Merc and less in an Alfa or Porsche.