Low-Riding In Łódź With A 1966 Mercedes-Benz 250 SE
Photography by Robb Pritchard
A perfect meld of luxurious but frill-less functionality and teutonic beauty, an immaculate Mercedes-Benz W108/109 chassis has only seen its head-turning ability increase with age. Especially if it’s lowered practically to the pavement. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but with the ability to raise and lower it with a few button pushes, its detractors are left crying sacrilege over the removal of half-century old suspension components from a heavy, half-century-old sedan…
Danial Mandat, the owner of this beautiful slab of German engineering is from Łódź, a small town a little south of Warsaw. He’s loved classic cars since he was only a few years old, and back in the dark days when Poland was in the midst of communism, his father saved up enough money to go to Germany to buy his dream car: a Fiat Panda 4×4. Thankfully, what he actually came home with was an Audi 80. It was cheaper than a Panda, and so to spend the extra foreign currency leftover from choosing the Audi instead, Danial’s father filled the boot with chocolates and other gifts. It was a happy memory that stuck with both of them, and many years later Dan bought a vintage Audi of his own.
“I love everything about nice classics,” he tells me, “Apart from one thing. They have to go low.” The car looked so good with an air ride kit on it that it was featured in several magazines. It was a similar story with the sun-bleached, pavement-sanding rat rod VW Bug he rescued from the Texas desert a little while later.
And now he has this Mercedes. Dan’s soon-to-be father-in-law also loves vintage cars, and asked Dan to help him look for a nice W108 together. Dan agreed of course, but finding a nice one turned into a bit of a challenge. After having quickly ascertained that there was nothing suitable locally, he had to extend his search as far and wide as the UK and Scandinavia… until he found this car advertised in Switzerland.
With the condition it was in, the asking price was almost unbelievable. So much so that it was with a healthy amount of skepticism that they drove south to take a look at it. But what they found was much better than they could have imagined, as it presented itself in almost pristine condition. The 1966 model year car only had 136,000km on the clock, and seeing as it was owned by a wealthy Swiss family since new, it had only ever been driven on nice days in the summer. Sadly, the man who had cherished it for half a century passed away, and it had gone to one of his sons. But the upkeep of two classics was a bit too much for him, so he decided to let the Mercedes go and keep his precious MG Roadster… which evidently surprised his neighbor, who, when Dan was looking the car over, came to say, “I thought he’d sell his wife before he sold the Mercedes,” which is always good thing to hear as prospective buyer in regards to the car’s quality of life.
Once in its new home in central Poland, the big M-B needed a fluids service and general checking over as it hadn’t been run for a couple of years, but while it sat in the workshop Dan began to develop a plan beyond its road-ready refresh. “I’m a bit twisted like that… I like my cars to be low,” he tells me with a little laugh. And so he decided to make a few slight altitude adjustments.
A car from the 1960s with its original paintwork intact is obviously far too nice to take an angle grinder to, so the compressor and tank for the suspension kit are mounted to a base that fits snugly into the spare tire well’s stock dimensions. For the air bags themselves, custom mounts were made to fit into the original spring brackets, while the control wires and air lines were fed through existing holes and gaps—in other words, no surgery.
The upsized but aesthetically cohesive wheels are a nice touch as well, and were done locally by Dan’s friend who owns Gedeichselt, a custom wheel manufacturer. These were made by cutting out the original Mercedes-Benz centers and welding them back into a larger outer rim. They are clearly larger and more pronounced than anything from the period, but the fact that the original items have been augmented rather than replaced is a nice touch.
“I don’t think you can compare the W108 to anything else, and this one is a sweet example. The straight-six gives such a perfect sound—not the most powerful motor, but it is music to my ears. Plus the way she handles is incredible. I drove it for a little while on the fifty-year-old standard springs, but now, with the air ride, it is on another level of comfort, but with more stability as well. From any perspective besides a diehard purist, it is simply improved. The height adjustability can be seen as just a bonus feature, even though it was my primary reason for the choice.
“Behind that gorgeous Mercedes steering wheel, the delicate gear stick is mounted in the column, and although it might seem a small detail, these unique pieces of engineering and design all come together to make it feel like floating along these Polish streets is a really special experience, and not just a way to get somewhere.”
I had to agree with that sentiment. Sitting down on the old seats—which have held up over the years in the way that only Mercedes seats can—I noted the familiar smell of the interior, the mix of aged textiles and glues an instant link to the luxury cars of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Add in the dozens of gleaming reflections from all of the chrome trim and it made it feel as though we were driving around in some kind of high-end disco ball. The air-ride also makes a huge difference in terms of comfort. I love W108s, and their longer wheelbase W109 twins, as they are, but this felt closer to the comfort of a 600.
Making such changes to a car that’s been a high watermark of its genre since its release might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but although Dan’s father-in-law-to-be might not be too impressed to find out that his elegant old Mercedes can scrape its underside along the road at the touch of a button, Dan just shrugs, unconcerned. “That’s the beauty of an air ride. He can set it at whatever height he likes, and leave it there.”
But as you can tell, it seems that Dan will end up being the car’s main driver and caretaker. As well as making itself known in the thriving local car community, his W108 has been well and truly accepted as part of his family, too. Dan recently proposed to his fiancé in it, and you better believe it will be at the wedding with the rest of the family before ferrying Dan and his bride to their next chapter.