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A Mercedes Love Affair – Alan Bell (29th)

In 2002, having lived in France for just a year, I was helping an English neighbour to instal his broadband internet. His daughter and her boyfriend (a hippie type name by the name of Conrad) were staying with them at the time and he (the boyfriend), was running about in a 1980 Mercedes 200D. This left hand French registered car had been owned from new by the owner of a local garage in our nearby town of Barbezieux. The original owner had died and his son had sold the car to Conrad. For its age the car was in reasonable condition but had clearly not been looked after all that well and Conrad was more into his Harley Davidson than worrying too much about spending any dosh on his Mercedes runabout.

Shortly afterwards, Conrad and his girlfriend split up and he decided to drive the Mercedes back to his home in Morcombe towing his beloved Harley Davidson chopper and assorted belongings on his bike trailer.

I had already set my sights on buying this car and he agreed to sell it to me for the princely some of 500 Euros (approx £420 at the time), provided I accompanied him to Morcombe. As it happened I needed to go to the UK on family business at the time so that arrangements suited me fine. I duly booked a morning ferry trip from St-Malo to Portsmouth.

We departed early on a bright summer day and had a pretty uneventful trip to St-Malo, arriving in the early afternoon. We had to spend the night in St-Malo and decided to doss down in the car rather than search for a hotel. As it happens I had previously travelled to and from the UK and France several times during our move in 2001, towing a box trailer we were using to bring our belongings over. I was no stranger to sleeping overnight in our pickup truck parked in a lorry park but had always been on  my own.

After eating dinner in a local restaurant we passed the time walking around the port until it got dark before returning to the car to kip down for the night. It was not long before I found that Conrad had a particularly disturbing problem. He had taken off his shoes and bloody hell did his feet stink! They smelt worse than the latrines we used on a detachment to Alor Star while I was stationed in Singapore.

So, here was Conrad shoeless, smelling like a ripe sewer sleeping peacefully in the driver’s seat with me in the back. Not for long he didn’!After being aware of the pong for several minutes, I woke him up to insist he went and washed his feet and changed his socks.  It turned  out he was travelling extremely light in terms of spare clothing (he had none). I dug out a spare pair of socks from my bag and off he trotted of to the ferry port buliding toilets to wash his feet before I would allow him back in the car.

That is how I acquired my beloved old Mercedes 200 D and have driven her ever since on a regular basis. She has reliably taken us all over France on numerous holidays and to the UK many times. She now has some 450,000 kms on the clock running on the original engine! The only major engine part that has ever needed replacing was a cylinder head some 14 years ago. During the years I have never contemplated selling despite people telling me I must be mad keeping her running in favour of a more modern car. Extensive bodywork renovation work has recently been completed to keep her roadworthy and I look forward to meeting up with other classic car nuts at various meets around the SW of France as soon as Covid restrictions are properly lifted. My original investment of £420 has proved to be a good decision as she is now probably now worth between seven to eight thousand Euros.