Old-fashioned Summer Vacation: The night the lights went out in Georgia

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Road trip Photo by

When we last left the Suddard clan, Classic Motorsports magazine Publisher Tim Suddard and his family were getting ready to take a 3,500-mile trip in their 47-year-old Mercedes to visit us at Hagerty headquarters.

They ran into trouble literally as soon as they left their driveway. Right off the bat, they realized that although they had ride-tested the car with what should have been enough weight to simulate luggage, they had miscalculated. The car was so low in the rear, the exhaust was actually dragging over bumps. So the first leg of the trip was a three-block journey before they returned home to jettison all nonessential items and redistribute the weight of the luggage.

Of course, the tools and spares were the first to go, as they were the heaviest.

After that, these Hagerty customers headed out into the Okefenokee Swamp. Tim Suddard, the car’s owner, says he figured it like this: “What could possibly go wrong? This is a Mercedes and we sorted out everything before we left. We won’t need tools and spares.”

Wrong. As darkness fell, the Mercedes cranked along with the driving lights on, the air conditioning blowing cold and the stereo cranking out some sweet tunes. The trip through the swamp seemed to be going great… until the lights started to dim. The newly rebuilt stock alternator was either not keeping up with the demands of all the equipment that had been added to the car—or it was failing.

Alternating between steadily dimming low beams and a very bright SureFire flashlight (with the lights off to allow the battery to recharge), our intrepid travelers made it to their first stop of the night very late, stressed and tired. Driving through the wilds of southern Georgia on a moonless night lit only with parking lights and a flashlight will do that to you.

A quick check of the ignition switch at that stop confirmed their worst fears: The car would not restart. So the weary family trudged into the hotel hoping that after a good, if short, night’s sleep, things would look better in the morning.

Things looked the same in the morning. The car would not restart, so a short walk brought them to a K-Mart, where they purchased a battery and some tools. In short order, the fresh battery got the Suddards back on the road. Although nothing was really fixed, they knew that during daylight hours, an old car uses very little electricity with all the accessories off, and the family hoped to limp to a friend’s Mercedes restoration shop a few hours away to address the underlying problems.

That friend, an old racing buddy of the senior Suddard, is Pieter van Rossum, owner of Silver Star Restorations (http://www.silverstarrestorations.com/) in western North Carolina. He and fellow “fintail” Mercedes enthusiast Drew Thibken tried to locate the problem, but were forced to settle for giving the Suddards some piece of mind in the form of a spare alternator and voltage regulator. With daylight burning, the family clambered back in their Merc and headed north through the smoky Mountains, eager for less adventure.

Hagerty customers can get more details on the Classic Motorsports project Mercedes by clicking on www.classicmotorsports.net/try to receive the next issue at no charge.

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Old-fashioned Summer Vacation: The night the lights went out in Georgia

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’66 Mercedes 230S Photo by

Tim Suddard, a longtime Hagerty customer and owner of Classic Motorsports magazine, is leaving today on a somewhat strange family trip.

What’s unusual about this vacation is its throwback nature: Instead of flying or taking a modern SUV, Suddard is planning a 3,400-mile roundtrip in a 1966 Mercedes 230S. And he’s taking his wife and two teenaged kids along in the old sedan. Can’t you just hear the strains of “Holiday Road” ramping up in the background?

This three-week odyssey, which is part vacation and part business trip, will hopefully see the Suddard clan making the trek all the way from their home in Florida to visit us here at Hagerty Insurance headquarters in Traverse City, Mich.

“Everyone thinks we are crazy to drive a car this old on such a long trip,” Tim tells us. “People ask, ‘What if it breaks?’ But my answer is that old cars are simple and reliable—and if it does break, it will be part of the adventure. Sometimes through adversity, you meet the nicest people.”

He’s not throwing himself completely on the mercy of the old-car gods, however. “If nothing else, we are well insured and have Hagerty’s roadside assistance, so we will be in good hands,” Tim says.

The whole idea started when Suddard found the forlorn Mercedes on the daily email list from Bring A Trailer and bought it, sight unseen, for $1,600. “It was so ugly and in such bad shape, we nearly turned around when we first saw it in the seller’s driveway,” he admits, “but a deal is a deal, so we ended up picking up the car and taking it home.”

The family soon fell in love with the old warhorse, however, especially after Dad got the classic Mercedes running again and kicked off its most recent incarnation by further abusing it at an off-road SCCA rallycross event. “Despite the rough condition and the mistreatment it had suffered, it drove so well and looked so cool, we just had to save it,” he says.

Suddard plans to chronicle his adventure in a series of articles for Classic Motorsports magazine that will outline all the fun things you can do with your collector car—including a family vacation. (You can read the magazine’s blog on the project here.) We’ll also be following along as this adventure progresses, so stay tuned; we’re sure there’s more to come.

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