I think it happened on the first switchback or two, when I was following a motorcycle and a Corvette in my Mercedes 560SL at perhaps beyond the posted speed limit, when the drive became more aggressive than the one I had intended. For starters, I was keeping up with the somewhat aggressively driven vehicles ahead of me. What’s more, I was a little irritated because I might have passed them if given the chance. This is not at all what today was supposed to be like.
The 560SL is a smooth car. A comfortable car. Since the day I bought it I’ve said the car just slooooooows everything down. Evenings unfold lazily. Time stretches out. The 560SL has been my chariot of relaxation, a floaty cloud upon which my cares just fall away behind. An hour behind the wheel is plenty for me to re-center and chill out. For that reason I’ve never hurried the car along. In fact, I’ve always taken things easy on the old thing, out of fear that demanding a task so far removed from its core competency that it might upset the car too much, or worse, break it. from a standstill the car always starts in second gear; I’ve clicked it down to first gear maybe three times. Never seemed right, you know?
So today I’ve got the tires squealing on a tight right-hander and I’m wishing the seats had a little more lateral bolstering. Obviously I’ve gone completely insane. Little things start to occur to me, like how the very considerable body roll stops rolling and firms up just as it should, or how shocked I am that this beast has no understeer and stays deliciously neutral through the corners. You know, wonderful things. German things.
Now I don’t mean to suggest that the R107 Benzes are in fact sports cars posing as wallowing grand tourers. These are decidedly not sports cars. Here we have a decidedly overweight car — a 30 year old car — riding on minivan tires, with a massive 5.6 liter V8 sitting way out front making very little noise and not much power, being asked to corner aggressively and carry speed from one bend to the next. Traction is unimpressive. The lazy four speed gearbox is geared stupidly high and doesn’t want to downshift. The steering is good enough but doesn’t really approach “communicative,” not to mention very lazy reactions of the chassis. But again, this is not a sports car.
Still, try to tell that to the guy in the Corvette up ahead. Again he hammers it but this old car with the star on the grille just won’t fall back. I did the same thing to a sport biker who flew by with pipes wailing. Sure buddy, you’re fast in the straights but when the road tightens up this damn red car comes right back. It was great fun.
I probably won’t do this ever again. It was rather perverse to begin with, hustling this car on a mountain road. I’ll go back to the lazy and relaxing side of the 560SL, the job that the car was built for and the one it does better than any car I’ve ever driven, new or old. Still, it’s fun to know that there’s more than a little German sportiness to the old car hiding beneath that floaty ride and elegant bodywork. It’ll give me just a little extra to love when I look back after parking it.