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Car Tales: Find the Barn, A Red 1960 Mercedes 190 SL Roadster

‘People love what we have come to know as ‘barn finds.’ I think it’s connected to that perpetual hope of somewhere finding a buried stash of pirate gold in a chest deep within the ground.
‘It sounds romantic and exciting, and the idea never fails to turn me on.
‘But what if in order to find the ‘barn find’ car, you first had to find the barn?
‘That happened to me the other week.
‘It was in Murray in Kentucky, deep in rustic woodland with thick carpets of fallen leaves everywhere. Many years ago a barn on a property had collapsed, almost surrendering over the ensuing years to the encroaching vegetation. But there was something inside that barn.
‘I was told it was a red Mercedes 190 SL Roadster, one of my favorite models of the marque, a truly lovely and elegant car in its design and engineering, with stunningly handsome lines, oozing class and refinement.
‘This one dated from 1960 and was therefore from the late middle period of production. Mercedes-Benz manufactured the 190SL Roadsters between May 1955 and February 1963: it produced a total of 25,881 versions of the model. The firm unveiled the prototype of the 190 SL at the International Motor Sports Show in New York in February 1954.
‘The sleek aerodynamic and comparatively light 190SL boasted a top speed of 115mph and a respectable 0-60 time of 13.0 seconds. Celebrities including Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Ringo Starr all drove one, which only added to the legend of the 190 SL.
‘But, buried as it was beneath that collapsed barn, I couldn’t even see this car. Clearly from what had happened to it, I knew the car was certainly what we in the trade describe as a ‘restoration project.’ But from its physical situation I couldn’t even assess what needed restoring. The roof of the barn was caved in, literally on top of the car, surrounding the vehicle with wooden splinters and shards of crumpled building.
‘I had been sent the details by the owner. The new owner, in fact, because originally the Mercedes 190 SL Roadster had belonged to her father, who had now passed on: in fact, a couple of years ago, when he was still alive, he had contacted me about this 190 SL – though he wasn’t certain then that he was ready to sell it.
‘The site made me learn more about the seller’s father. Clearly he had been a serious collector of vintage automobiles, a true car enthusiast. The wreckage of the barn was surrounded by other cars: a 1950s Packard was stuck at the backside of the building. Tucked into the surrounding woodland was a Lincoln Continental, and grey and black Mercedes models.
‘Then, suddenly, I could glimpse the red 190 SL. Right under the part of the barn that was totally down, I could just catch a glimmer of its red rear. I was excited.
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‘Yet I could see it wouldn’t be that easy to remove the car from the site, let alone from its coffin-like surroundings. The terrain was really steep, a hilly driveway, with trees growing out of it: covered in leaves, it was littered with fallen tree limbs. Also it was muddy, and much of the leaf cover was wet, so there could be a degree of wheel-spin and sliding involved for any tow-truck.
‘But after I had agreed to buy this car, almost sight unseen, my team went to work.
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‘How could we get the 190 SL out of there? Well, my team, my guys, are like the Navy Seals of classic cars: I knew they could do it.
‘After a serious recce they found that ruts in the gravel, past the old chicken coop, led after some distance to the street below – you had to avoid a tricky bend that would take you up to the neighbour’s house. Now we had finally located this quite lengthy track we moved a good part of the rotted tree-limbs to the side, even having to uproot small saplings growing out of the centre of the dirt-road.
‘Then we really got to business.
‘If you love the sound of roaring, rattling chainsaws, you should have been there. Especially as we took off the roof of all that we could find of the barn.
And then the red 1960 Mercedes 190 SL Roadster emerged, like the jackpot it was, gradually pulled backwards by our tow-truck.
‘It was as though it had been sitting there for over forty years, waiting to be restored, like a time capsule. It was all there, just a bit weathered-looking, with its factory color of fire engine red perfectly visible. The engine was all complete: the air cleaner, the Solex carburetors. It was all there: part of the problem of restoring a car is finding all the parts, but this had everything. Yes, there was a cracked windshield. But when you saw the utter disarray all around it, that was pretty much a fantastic result. All you could want in a candidate for restoration.
‘I love ‘barn finds’! But this might have been the best so far…’
-Alex Manos, Owner
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