My relationship with perfection started several years ago. Classic car enthusiasts will know about the perennial effort to refine one’s car to the highest of standards; often, with the way of the world and life’s commitments, this pursuit is unsuccessful. Fortunately, I have had the pleasure of knowing a substantial amount of knowledgeable and talented individuals who have supported me in my pursuits. Most of whom I now call friends.
My concours journey started back in 2004 when my wife Jackie and I acquired a 1303 Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet. This was a car that was completely rotten upon acquisition, leading my wife and I to completely restore the car with the help of family, friends, and local businesses. This car was eventually completed in 2009 and described as ‘’one of the finest looking late-model bugs we’ve seen for some while’’.
This act was hard to follow but the pursuit of a Concours trophy consumed us both. We imported a LHD 1958 Karmann Ghia, converting it to RHD and restoring it to its original standard from 2009 up until 2013. It was this year, that we won the Schonstr Karmann Ghia award at Hessisch Oldendorff and were crowned European Champions. The Karmann gave us heaps of joy and I’m delighted to have been crowned winner of various Concours d’Elegance, including well know Stanford Hall, Stoner Park, BVF and ABOC.
By this point, I had spent nearly ten years with Jackie restoring cars to this level. I thought that we had reached a ceiling. It wasn’t until 2016 when the concours pull resurfaced and we felt the urge to challenge ourselves again – the garage seemed to lack the Sidwell soul without the expanse of tools and parts spread out each weekend. There’s a definite sense of mindfulness with restoring a car – the focus and attention to detail really allow you to escape and retreat from the pressures of everyday life.
The allure of a new project led us to the NEC Classic Motor Show at the end of 2016. It was here that my love affair with the R107 model was realised, specifically because Jackie stated ‘’you’ve always wanted an R107 SL’’ as we passed the inimitable SLSHOP. The car on display was finished in the iconic colourway Signal Red – a colour we all associate with this model and the Mercedes-Benz brand.
Bruce and Barry at the NEC Motor Show 2021 – Six years after they initially met.
It was here that my friendship with Sales Director, Bruce Greetham was ignited, particularly because of his and SLSHOP’s concours winning credentials – a coincidence that would only propel my interest in perfecting an R107 to win awards. I left the NEC that day inspired to take on a car that would be more manageable than the previous two Volkswagens – I had proved that I could carry out a full ‘nut and bolt’ restoration; I was now ready for a bigger challenge. To turn something already quite good into perfectly splendid.
We visited SLSHOP in the Spring of 2017 and I quickly selected ‘the car’ only to find that it had sold to another buyer immediately after we left the building. Such is the movement of convertible roadsters like these in the build-up to summer in the UK. The same incident occurred with a Blue-Black Metallic R107 SL, also selling before I could get behind the wheel.
I left it some months before returning to SLSHOP in June 2017, when I spotted the same 300 SL that was displayed at the NEC Classic Motor Show. Not sure how I missed this in my previous visit, I immediately closed the deal with Bruce, only to be approached by another customer who offered to buy the car straight off me before I had taken it home! Bruce’s response was simply ‘’this is between the two of you.’’ The rest is history.
This is a car that was original, and it would only remain that way in my hands. I purchased the car with the intention of winning the Concours Masterclass, pledging to only use the car in dry weather and primarily on my way to shows. When purchased from SLSHOP, the car only had 24,000 miles on the odometer, a figure that has barely crept up since 2016. There are very few RHD 300SLs finished in this colour with such low mileage. Especially completely original cars.
SO HOW MAY YOU ASK DID WE DO IT?
As a new R107 SL owner, I wasn’t familiar with the level of detail required to climb the ranks – Bruce had given me an insight into this realm – but I needed to immerse myself in the concours world to understand what would be required of Jackie and me. We started by visiting the Milton Keynes R107 SL meet organised by the Mercedes-Benz Owners Club in 2017. We entered the car as it was when we collected it from SLSHOP – with all its original parts fitted and nothing but a wax and polish to assess the status of the car. As we expected, we didn’t come first, nor second or third. But this was just the beginning of the journey. I was starting to grasp what would be required of us to win.
Evenings and weekends were allocated to the car, with Jackie and I mapping out the work we would need to do to win. Bruce was always on hand with further lists of things that SLSHOP consider crucial to achieving perfection. The interior was immaculate and so we focused specifically on the engine bay to begin with. I removed things like the washer bottle, brake fluid reservoir and ensured that they were revived without having to replace them. The attention to detail requires painting the steering box black and ensuring the different factory markings on the hoses are visible and clear.
With this focus on the engine bay, we achieved 2nd place in 2018 at National Concours Milton Keynes. I was not happy as you can imagine. At this point, Bruce delivered an extensive list of more things to do to ‘’clean up.’’ This included things like the rubber sill strips, refurbishing the black mirror surrounds, as well as a multitude of cosmetic changes. 12 months of meticulous methodical effort yielded 1st place for the car at the 2019 Concours d’elegance.
To take the car one step further, I would need further assistance from Bruce and SLSHOP. I visited their premises one Saturday afternoon only to be handed two more sides of A4 paper, with a broad list of things required to perfect the car.
Jackie and I returned home, starting the following week by removing the subframes and rear axle, stripping them down and powder coating before replacing the bushes. This was followed by weeks cleaning the black wax oil off the bottom of the car using brake fluid cleaner – not a glamourous job. The car was starting to look immaculate underneath, but it was now time for the more intricate elements to be dealt with. Brake calipers were sent to Big Red Gloucester to be painted in their original gold finish. Each bolt, tie rod, fuel line, and spring had to have the correct factory sign off markings before being re-fitted one by one. It was relentless.
With the Pandemic putting a hold on award ceremonies, my pursuit of perfection was slowed down, but by 2021, the car was finally ready. Of course, getting it to the show was going to be the next challenge as you are not allowed to trailer the car. Jackie and I built a custom grille to sit in front of the radiator, preventing flies from getting trapped on the way to shows or during test drives. Such is the level of investment required.
These are details that aren’t readily available through normal channels, and it was Bruce’s willingness to share his knowledge with me that enabled us to win the Gaydon Masterclass Concours in 2021. This car is a teleporter, transporting you back to the factory line in 1988. I’m genuinely proud to have refined this car to such a high standard. As these cars get older and the younger generations move further away from this era of motoring, it becomes more important to preserve quality, original vehicles like these. I hope now that someone will invest in preserving or enjoying this 300 SL.