“Barn find” might have become something of a cliché among car enthusiasts and collectors, but evidence suggests there are still plenty of classic cars squirrelled away in hidden garages and out buildings. The Baillon Collection, a cache of 60 Euro classics discovered in rural France this past December, made headlines for the variety of cars as well as for the sad state of many of the rust-eaten hulks. The French collection made the news again in February when it was auctioned for $28.5 million, including $18.5 million alone for a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider.
A smaller group of Euro classics turned up in northeastern Colorado late last year, and in markedly better condition those rusty relics. Randall Faris, a longtime Mercedes sedan buff, had been looking for either a Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3 or the later 450 SEL 6.9. He was at his home near Devil’s Tower in Wyoming when his brother-in-law, Scott Milewski, called from Ft. Collins, Co., about 350 miles away and read him an ad from craigslist for five 6.3’s. And these weren’t parts cars or fixer-uppers.
The quintet of Mercedes uber-sedans had belonged to a wealthy cattleman who passed away in 1994. A grandson was handling the sale of the cars, which had been stored in climate-controlled storage buildings for 45 years and apparently not driven for the last 20 or so. Not surprisingly, the craigslist ad was generating a lot of interest.
“My brother-in-law had just 20 minutes to look at cars and make a decision,” said Faris.
What Milewski saw was a group of cars covered in dust, but with no rust, and with interiors in very good condition. But he did not get to drive them, taking only the apparent condition and stated mileage as clues to roadworthiness. The decision to buy became a partnership between Milewski and Faris, who agreed that they’d probably keep one each and sell the other three.
“We got them home on trailers over a couple of days,” said Faris. “We cleaned them up and were astounded by the beautiful condition. There were no dents in the bodies, and the interiors were very nice. One car had a couple of rips on front seats, but that was it.”
The two men have examined, started and run all but one of the cars so far. So far, it appears that replacing a few of the air springs might be the biggest expense needed. “Other repairs have been minor things – switches not working, things like that,” said Faris.”
Two of the 6.3’s are 1969 models, a red car and a black one with just 27,000 original miles. Faris plans to keep the red one, which needed just a muffler and tie rod ends for a repair bill of $853. “The air suspension was fine on that one,” he said. “We have documentation showing the black car was detailed by its first owner every month.”
Another of the cars has 53,000 miles and the others have mileage in the 70s. Milewski has his eye on a 1971 gold car. “The interior wood looks brand new on that one,” Faris said.
The other cars include two 1971 models in blue and green. The color selection of the five 6.3’s is a pleasing contrast to the 10 shades of gray that seem to define today’s luxury car paint palettes.
The 1968-1972 Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3 holds a unique place in auto history. Some consider it the first super sedan, a luxury machine with muscle car acceleration and impeccable road manners, all in a stealthy package that looked identical to the six-cylinder versions of the W109 body style. You might get an argument from Maserati fans, who point to the 1962-1969 Quattroporte. But Mercedes built about 6,500 of the car called simply “six-point-three” by aficionados, compared to fewer than 750 Maserati Series 1 Quattroportes. (The more obscure 1961-1964 Aston Martin-built Lagonda Rapide was scarcer still, with about 50 made.)
The heart of the 6.3 was the M100 SOHC V-8 that was first used in the unrivaled Mercedes 600 ultra-luxury sedan introduced in 1963. That car weighed nearly three tons, so putting its 300-horsepower engine into a 4,000-pound package resulted in stunning performance for the time: zero to 60 in seven seconds and a top speed of about 135 mph.
“One drive and you see why people love them,” said Faris. “It’s very quick.”
The man who started this 6.3 trove bought his first one, the blue 1971 model, brand new in December 1970. As his widow relayed to Faris, he liked it so much he bought four more used models over the next few years. She explained that the couple would fly into San Francisco or southern California, come out of the airport, and see someone waiting in a 6.3. The driver would hand over the keys, and they’d drive the car back home to Colorado.
It’s certainly good news to see more of these landmark Mercedes models back on the road, and in such excellent original condition as a bonus. There may be more big German super-sedans coming from the seller, too.
“I peeked through a garage window and saw a BMW 750 iL,” Faris said. “His granddaughter told me there’s a whole bunch more of those.”