As part of the team at CAR magazine I get to drive plenty of modern exotic vehicles, but it is not every day that we get a chance to drive a classic like the W120. Experiencing a classic vehicle gives me immense appreciation of the accomplishments of the engineers at the time, with the limited resources and technology at their disposal. Therefore, I jumped at the opportunity when it presented itself at a farm in Robertson.
The particular vehicle is owned by the son of farmer Karl Pretorius of Goedereede guest farm and stored in the barn. It is restored to almost original state and in very good condition. From the outside it has the classic rounded Mercedes shape of the era and is beautifully finished in gloss black – giving it a stately presence. White sidewall tyres complete the look.
Climbing in you are greeted with a spacious interior and plush bench seats front and rear – why can modern seats not be this comfortable? The stylish dash has a minimalistic and clean design and the white, double-ring steering wheel falls easily to hand. No point looking for seatbelts as this car precedes seatbelt regulation!
Starting the 1,8-litre, mechanical pump-injection (Bosch) diesel engine (delivering 30 kW) is a bit of a process. Turn on the glow plugs and wait for the tell-tale wire indicator to glow red hot. This takes about a minute. Turn the starter knob and the engine fires into life with the finesse of a tractor. The vibrations though are of the “good” kind and give the car character.
Select first gear via the column shift (four-speed manual transmission) and release the clutch and the vehicle pulls away – almost as easy as in a modern car then. Indicating your turning intentions are easily done by turning the smaller rim inside the steering wheel in the appropriate direction. Another funky design feature is the switch on the floor that is responsible for dimming the main headlight beam and activated by your left foot.
The ride is comfortable at 60 km/h and the views of the Robertson vineyards spectacular in their autumn colours. Yes, the engine is noisy to the extent that you have to raise your voice to have a conversation. Yes, the steering is vague. Yes, the brakes are woeful by modern standards and, yes, the car slows at the sight of an incline. But, and this is a big BUT, the feeling of ecstasy piloting this vehicle is unrivaled by modern machinery. The sun glistens off the three-pointed star on the bonnet and for a moment the world makes sense…
Thanks to the owner of Goedereede for the opportunity. For an amazing weekend getaway, visit his guest farm located only 8 km from Robertson. For more information, see the website: http://www.goedereede.co.za/