Jun 3, 2018

A New Yorker’s Pagoda: Christian and his Mercedes Benz 280SL

While I was in New York, I had the great opportunity to meet Christian and his 1971 Mercedes-Benz  280SL Pagoda. It was my very first time in the city, and during my free time, I scouted locations and found one of the greatest concrete backgrounds for this photo shoot, matching perfectly with the color of the Pagoda. During our photo shoot, Christian drove me around New York, showing me his favorite spots, and also driving me by some of my favorites buildings in the city.

As far as I’m concerned, the Pagoda is one of the loveliest Benzes ever made. Is a timeless piece of design. Having a W113 is like owning two cars in one, depending on the weather, of course. This time around, the weather was perfect for its roadster mode.

I asked Christian some questions about the story of his Pagoda. I hope you enjoy our exchange!

Tell me about yourself.

I’m just your average guy living in New York City. Nothing special.

What was your first car?

A Mercedes Benz 280 TE station wagon. Bought it while I was in university. The 280 SL was the second. They are the only two cars I’ve ever owned. That’s probably pretty unusual for the USA.

How did you first become interested in cars, and why especially in Mercedes Benz?

I really love driving. Started off with a Benz, and I loved it. So why change? There are many other cars that I find beautiful, but I don’t think I have the time for others…

How and when did you come across the Pagoda?

I don’t remember exactly when, but I must’ve been in my 20s when I noticed it. It seemed to be the most beautiful car I’d ever seen. I still feel the same way.

Do you know about your Pagoda’s history and previous owners and do you have any particular story to tell?

Well, I bought it from a well-respected shop in San Diego. It was actually the shop owner’s personal car. What was most important was that it was a rust-free California car. I had test driven a few prior, but I knew I had to fly out west to see this one. I test drove it, fell in love immediately, paid for it and drove it off the lot.

What is your favorite memory with your Pagoda?

They’re all great. It really is such a pleasure to drive. There was this one time when I drove with a fellow car fanatic all over town with this guy who took tons of pictures of the car in different settings. We spoke about lots of things: architecture, cars, etc…that was fun![Hah! I think he was talking about yours truly! Christian was so kind as to show me his Pagoda for the first time back in the summer of 2017]

This was a coincidence…

Did you restore it or was it already restored when you got the car?

I had to restore it. It was in really decent condition when I bought it, but I decided to restore it after having it for a year or so, because I really wanted it to be as close to perfect as possible. Took it to SL-Tech in Arundel, Maine, which is one of the best shops on the east coast, if not the best for W113s. What can I say? As the shop owner likes to say, “There’s nothing wrong with that car…”

What’s your favorite detail or what do you love most about your car?

It’s the complete package. Amazing chrome trim, sick grille. Every detail is awesome, inside and out. I’ve got pretty much every available option for a 71. Mine even has an original, sideways-facing kinder (child) seat. The Becker Grand Prix radio is in stereo and even has a mechanical ‘seek’ function built in. Way ahead of its time, I think, with seriously understated elegance. And, oh boy, WHAT A DASH… It looks fantastic from every angle. Paul Bracq really outdid himself with this one. Really timeless.

How does it feel to drive a classic car in a city with a lot of traffic like New York? You use it every day?

I just drive it like I would any other car. That being said, I think you can get into trouble if you start to stray from your normal driving habits. It’s such an easy car to drive and I don’t mind the manual transmission in the city. It’s a real car.

I saw your Pagoda doing honor to the logo of the brand in videos, movies, and photo shoots. Do you often rent it out?

As much as I can. Really enjoy having it in shoots. I’ve had it in a few fashion shoots and a couple of TV shows.

In your Instagram account, I saw many journeys’ photos with the Pagoda. Which was the longest trip you ever took with it? Any troubles?

Pre-restoration, I drove it from Manhattan to New Brunswick, Canada, for a salmon fishing trip. Top down all the way. 12hr drive. Driving through Maine took forever. But I had zero problems, and it was a great trip.

I remember last year when I shot the Pagoda in Soho, you told me that you know the place before it became so trendy. How was the neighborhood back then, from your perspective?

It was much more of a diverse neighborhood back then. Lots of artist lofts and art galleries. There were also quite a few great established restaurants and bars/cafes. All the real galleries are now long gone and most of the bars, restaurants, and cafes got priced out of the neighborhood. There still are a few left, though, so I’m not leaving anytime soon. It’s pretty much all finance people living here now in multi-million dollar lofts, and the galleries have given way to high-end luxury fashion brands and larger scale department stores.
Also – and this applies to most of Manhattan at this point – it’s almost impossible to find gas (petrol). Most of the stations have been priced out of the neighborhoods, even. The land they sit on is far too valuable. It’s a real problem!

Are there any other classic cars you would like to have?

Good question, lemme think. Uh, maybe a 70s Porsche 911 or a Ferrari Dino 206/246 GT/S or maybe a 60s Mustang fastback or a GT40, even a new one. Or maybe a Lusso or even a Gullwing. I think I prefer the 300SL as a roadster though. Much easier to get in and out of. If I ever hit the lotto I’ll figure it out.

What’s a-behind me doesn’t a-matta,” from Gumball Rally (1976). Look it up. It’s hilarious.

Follow Christian and his pagoda on Instagram: @w113w123

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