Craig Gildner knows there are plenty of Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts who aren’t exactly fans of his white 1966 Mercedes-Benz 200 and its infamous “heckflosse.” It seems you either like the car’s slight (but controversial) “fintail” – a subtle nod to American designs of the 1950s – or you’re completely turned off by it.
Since Gildner owns one, you can probably guess his opinion on the subject.
“It has a polarizing effect on people who like classic Mercedes, but I always get a ‘thumbs up’ wherever I go,” he said. “I think the car is a nice mix of classic Mercedes style and the trends of the day.”
Gildner took a roundabout route to Mercedes-Benz ownership. Born in 1967, he grew up with “a real strong interest in anything with four wheels.” And living in the Midwest, that meant mostly American cars.
“My mom bought a ’64 Bonneville new – white with black interior, black top and spinner hubcaps – and it’s the first car I ever remember riding in. When she sold it to my cousin, I cried,” said Gildner, who owns a recording studio in Washington, D.C. “We had a lot of cars because my dad thought anything with 70,000 miles on it was old. My mom also had a ’70 LeMans hardtop coupe that I loved – it was dark blue with blue interior, white top and Pontiac mags.
“All through grade school I was drawing cars when I should have been doing homework. And I collected brochures. While other boys my age were interested in sports, I was interested in GM’s 1973 lineup of intermediate cars.”
Gildner’s parents indulged their car-loving son in 1974 with a trip to the Studebaker Museum in South Bend (Ind.), followed by the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum and auto auction in Auburn (Ind.).
“Dad appreciated the older designs, and he taught me to respect other people’s cars,” said Gildner, who was 7 at the time. “I’ve passed the ‘don’t touch’ rule on to my kids (Graham, 7, and Margot, 4).”
Gildner said his father was perplexed by the amount of automobile information his son was able to ingest and retain. “Dad never understood how I could know the different models and styles of cars from one year to the next but couldn’t manage my money,” he said. “For the record, I eventually learned.”
Gildner’s first car was a ’77 Buick that he purchased from his aunt. He chose that car over a 1981 Firebird. “I went to pretty rough high school. I was safer in a big Buick.”
Looking back, Gildner laments some of the cars he missed, like a white ’69 Lincoln four-door with suicide doors. “It had green leather interior and top. It was very cool. My dad couldn’t figure out why I would want ‘someone else’s junk.’”
Dear ol’ dad actually planted a seed in Gildner’s eventual quest for a classic Mercedes when he purchased a new Mercedes-Benz 420 SEL 4-door sedan in 1987. Of course, Gildner had plenty of childhood memories to draw on, too.
“I remember seeing Mercedes sedans when I was a kid,” he said. “James Bond was chased by some bad guys driving a fintail sedan, and that must have stuck in my mind.”
In 2007, Gildner saw an ad for “anyone interested in learning how to restore classic cars.” It was there that he met Bill Hopper, president of the local Mercedes-Benz Club, and Hopper invited him to a car show. “I brought back a bunch of books and read up on Mercedes. They were very innovative when it came to safety – they tested the living daylights out of their cars before putting them on the market. I used that later when it came to convincing my wife, Angela, that I needed one.”
Gildner had scanned eBay looking for a classic Mercedes close to his birth year (1967-68), but never saw anything but project cars. When his wife gave him her blessing to go for one, he began searching in earnest. A few got away, but in 2009, Gildner found two of them on eBay, one in California and the other in Portland, Ore. A car dealer owned the Portland car, and “he was very straightforward with me,” Gildner said. “He was the fourth owner of the car. He sent me photos and a complete inspection from the guy who had worked on it for the original owner.”
Gildner knew what he could afford. So he placed his top bid … and lost.
“Then I received a ‘second chance offer.’ I couldn’t believe it. The high bidder backed out for some reason. So I got it for my top bid. The car arrived two days before my daughter was born. We named her Bianca – the car, that is. She’s like a member of the family.”
In addition to his actual family, Gildner is happy to be part of another family, the Mercedes-Benz Club of America.
“I can’t imagine owning a vehicle like this and not being part of the club,” said Gildner, who has been a member of the MBCA since 2007. “They’ve all been so helpful; it’s such a great resource.”
Gildner couldn’t be happier about his classic car of choice.
“The 200 is a wonderful car,” he said. “Yes, Mercedes kind of bowed to American design, but I think the fins are tastefully done. It was the first time they really tried to market to Americans, and it made sense to appeal to what drivers here liked at the time.
“I love it. It’s a good car, and I got it for a great price. I couldn’t have picked a better car from the ‘60s.”
About the Mercedes-Benz Club of America
The Mercedes-Benz Club of America (MBCA) is the largest Mercedes-Benz enthusiast organization in the world. As a non-profit 501(c)(7) organization, the Club proudly serves close to 30,000 Members who belong to one of 85 MBCA Sections throughout North America. MBCA’s mission is to provide Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts with unique access to casual and competitive car shows, cash savings on new Mercedes-Benz vehicles, 24/7 online technical advice, parts and accessory discounts at participating Mercedes-Benz Dealerships, performance driving events, safe driver training, plus world-class membership conventions not available elsewhere. A subscription to the Club’s 100+ page magazine, The Star, is delivered to Members every other month and is included with annual membership dues ($49/U.S.; $59/Canada & International).
MBCA’s national business office is headquartered in Colorado. For more information about membership and member benefits, please visit www.mbca.org or call 800.637.2360 weekdays 8am-4:30pm Mtn Time.
More Than a Car Club. We’re a Community.