It started with a text from a good college friend.
“My dad has a couple of Mercedes-Benzes,” she wrote. “You should come check them out.”
So I did.
For some people, “a couple” of cars usually includes a garage project or a beater. Read on to see why that’s not the case with her father Jack’s collection:
For as long as Jack has owned these Mercedes-Benzes, the cars have spent most of their time between New York City and his home in New Jersey. From left to right, in the order that Jack added them to his collection, the 1956 300SC, 1961 190SL, 1961 300SL roadster, and 1957 300SL Gullwing fit right in at the Ocean Beach Club. “All my cars are drivers,” Jack said. “I drive them all the time. They all have current inspection.”
This restored 1956 300SC is one of only 53 estimated built between 1956 and 1958. “I actually bought it for myself for my 50th birthday, because I didn’t think anyone was going to buy it for me.” Jack said. It sold as new in 1956 for $13,200.
According to Jack, the 300SC has a checkered past. “This car was bought by somebody in Switzerland, and that guy turned out to be a crook,” he said. “He was a banker [with Rothschild Bank] and bought it with stolen money from the Italians. Finally, he was caught, and his stuff was auctioned: a couple of cars, some artwork and other things.”
The 300SC eventually went up for auction and was purchased by a well-known collector in the Midwest. “When he was turning 80, I was turning 50,” Jack said. “I heard about this car and went to see it. I said, ‘I’d like to buy it,’ and he said it’s not for sale. I asked him why he thought I was there, and he said, ‘I thought you just wanted to see it.’ After about six months of negotiating and corresponding, the collector acquiesced. “It was almost like he wanted to make sure it had a good home,” Jack said.
The 300SC looks showroom-fresh, thanks to a full restoration before it ever left for Switzerland. “It’s incredible: the welding between the panels, the quality of the finish,” Jack said. Among his vehicles in his collection, the 300SC ranks as the most ornate and exquisitely finished.
Jack’s enthusiasm for classic Mercedes-Benz models is rooted in none other than enthusiasm for cars. “My father would never let me have a sports car in college, because he thought they were dangerous—so I had Pontiac GTOs,” Jack said.” I went to University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, and they were all stolen. I had three different ones.” He eventually purchased a Sunbeam Tiger, which he sold after getting married. “I regretted selling it,” he said. “A couple of years later, when I had some money from the financial business, I bought a TR6. I had that for quite a while. Unfortunately, I got in an accident—the only accident I’ve ever had with any of my cars, and it was totaled.”
Jack’s entrée to the world of collectible Benzes was the lovely, robin’s egg blue 190SL seen here on the left. “My business partner who ran the Geneva office was a Mercedes car collector,” Jack said. “He said, ‘you have to get [a] Mercedes.’ I went out and found locally a robin’s egg blue, repainted 190SL. I called my partner and said, ‘I got a Mercedes—the 190SL!’ He said, ‘you got the wrong one!’” Jack estimates that the original color of the 190SL was the same hue, but in a lighter shade.
The “right” Mercedes-Benz was the highly valued 300SL, which Jack soon discovered. “A few years later, I was able to put some more money together and was able to get the 300SL roadster, which is probably the car I drive the most,” Jack said. All but Jack’s 300SC are unrestored and drivable.
Being unrestored doesn’t mean that Jack’s cars are any less valuable. He’s installed a modern radio to make the 300SL roadster more enjoyable, but that’s about the only cosmetic improvement to it.
His purchase of a 300SL Gullwing came about almost by accident, as a result of a conversation with Jack’s then father-in-law, who knew someone who was motivated to sell his. At the time, Jack’s two-car garage was full. “Why would I ever want one?” he said.
“Well, the years went by, and I had some extra money, and it seemed like a good idea [to buy a 300SL Gullwing],” Jack said. “I looked all around at the only place that I thought had a very good original Gullwing, which I wanted, because I didn’t want a brand-new, perfect one. I was planning to drive it. I thought it best to get an original, low-mileage [example]. So, I got it at Gullwing Service. When the guy gave me the papers to sign, guess what? It was the same car that my father-in-law’s friend had owned. I probably ended up paying about 50 percent more for it, but by today’s standards, it was still quite a bargain.”
No classic car is truly complete without vestiges of modernity.
A glance from some distance away reveals that the unrestored 300SL Gullwing still makes on-lookers weak at the knees. “For mechanical stuff, I have a guy,” Jack said. “For really serious stuff, I send them to what used to be Gullwing Service, now called Paul Russell Service in Essex, Mass., probably the best Mercedes restorer in the country.”
The not so obvious link connecting the iconic SL line with Mercedes-Benzes of today is the Mercedes-AMG GT S, the 503-hp powerhouse that’s drivable and enviable at once. Unlike the departed SLS AMG, it lacks gullwing-style doors, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less of eye can-dy. There are clear links between the GT S and its progenitor.
What did Jack think of the modern-day successor to the 300SL, the Mercedes-AMG GT S? He liked the styling, but ultimately prefers luxury and collectability over the performance credentials that the AMG GT S carries. A loyal Mercedes-Benz customer, his currently preferred ride is an obsidian S550.
“They all have stories,” Jack said, of the cars that comprise his collection. We’re happy to share them.