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Barbara's Life Story--According to Barbara

Cars I've Known and Loved.....and Hated

 

The 190 SL Mercedes Sports Car

In the summer of 1963, I faced a new challenge--after almost 13 years of marriage and two young children, I suddenly had a serious rival for Glennís affections. If this creature had been flesh and blood, it would have been easier to deal with the situation. But no, she was made of steel and chrome and her deep, glossy red color was irresistible--even to me. She came with the finest of pedigrees--lovingly crafted by those meticulous German auto workers at the Mercedes Benz factory. True, with her style number being 190 SL, she was the smallest of the Mercedes sports car line but oh my, she was a beauty!

We werenít the first to lay loving hands on her steering wheel--Glenn bought her from a private party two years after she had been imported to southern California. Her first owner/admirer had taken excellent care of her--there were no scratches or dents to mar that shiny red exterior and mmmm, those black leather seats still gave off that wonderful scent that is far more alluring than Chanel No. 5 and Shalimar combined.

A convertible with removable hardtop, she was the epitome of life in sunny L.A. in the Sixties. How was her gas mileage? Who knew? Who cared? With that hallmark wide stance and low profile this was a sports car--every inch of her chassis almost shouted out that fact.

This car did not go to the local auto shop for lube jobs, tune ups and other necessary care. No sir! The former owner had carefully explained that she should only be taken back to the Mercedes dealer in North Hollywood, where they had her complete dossier on file. On my first trip to the dealerís showroom, I was delighted to see large blown-up photos of movie stars beside their Mercedes--all purchased from this dealer. There on the wall was Zsa Zsa Gabor--in her 190 SL. Ah, what company I was now keeping! So what if Glenn liked this car better than me, and had more pictures of it than of our kids that year? I was as much under the spell of this red sports car as he was.

Well, if you were driving the sports car the movie stars drove, where would you go? To Las Vegas, of course! And, to a suburban housewife and mother, probably the most attractive feature of the car was that--it only had room for two people! There was a gray mohair-lined luggage compartment right behind those supple leather seats, but that was it. No room for children! Leaving Mark and Karen with their babysitter off we rolled, down the freeway, out of the city and across the desert, with the breeze blowing our hair and the Mercedesí deep-throated engine purring. That, folks, is about as good as it gets.

Glenn and his new love, September, 1963, Van Nuys, Calif.

Of course, back home in L.A., it was Glenn who saw the most of the Mercedes, as he commuted 40 miles from the San Fernando Valley to El Segundo where he was assigned to a computer installation at Computer Sciences Corp. But, on the weekends we both delighted in taking it out for a drive, maybe down to Malibu so that Glenn could get the tires squealing on that stretch through the tunnel that has been seen in dozens of Hollywood car chase movies. One night we drove out toward the Mohave Desert. On a long, deserted stretch of highway, Glenn said "Letís see if the car can really roll," and he kept increasing the pressure on the accelerator as the speedometer needle climbed past 70, then 80, 90....and finally 100! Yes, it certainly could do 100 mph but we didnít have to prove that fact to ourselves again.

On the rare occasions when I had the car, and was waiting at a stoplight, it was delicious fun to watch the men pedestrians crossing the street in front of me and the Mercedes. As they craned their necks to look at this bewitching creature--the car, not me, unfortunately, they often stumbled over their own feet! Like most love affairs, this one finally cooled down. First off, there were some times when our two children had to ride in the car with us and where did they go? Back in that mohair luggage compartment. It was a bit of a squeeze, but they didn’t mind that too much. What they did mind was that mohair is very scratchy and they were soon complaining, "Mom! I’m itchy! I don’t wanna sit back here anymore!"

Barbara at the wheel
Mark and Karen in the itchy mohair luggage compartment
Van Nuys, California Sept. 1963

And, there was the matter of what was under that shiny red hood. Not two carburetors, but four. As time went on, those carburetors got out of whack--in fact, they had to be completely replaced, one by one. I began to dread the phone calls from the Mercedes service department in North Hollywood. The voice on the other end of the line would snap out in a heavy, Germanic accent: "MISSus HAWLIDAY! You MUST haf zis carburetor replaced. At once! Ach tung!" I donít know what the dollar cost of those carburetors would be today, but it was a most significant sum and made an equally significant dent in our budget. Still, we obediently followed the orders of this likely former Nazi and forked over the money.

Another disenchantment was to realize that while this little sports car could get out and roll along at high speed on the open road, it barely got out of its own way when the stoplight changed from red to green. There was usually some teenager pulled up alongside me at the light, just waiting to "drag" with this Mercedes and giving me challenging looks. I knew I could never beat that kid across the intersection, so instead of risking shame and ridicule, I just tried to look superior and pull out slowly, with dignity, if not acceleration.

It took us about a year and those four new carburetors to acknowledge that a young couple with two small children really shouldnít try to keep up with Zsa Zsa. When we traded the 190 SL in for another car, I really became aware of its true cost: we made an even trade with the Oldsmobile dealer for a brand new, air-conditioned, four-door sedan with no additional payment. Yes, it was the sensible thing to do, but no other car would ever match the little red Mercedes sports car in our hearts.

Barbara Halliday May 21, 2001

 

Unless otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of Glenn and Barbara Halliday, © 2003