Mercedes-Benz Mechanic Preserves History in Arizona
Photography by Otis Blank for Petrolicious
If you’ve ever run across a vintage Mercedes-Benz in Tucson, odds are decent that Keith Brooks’ skilled hands have helped keep it running. The owner of European Service has been working on German, English, and Swedish vehicles from his shop near the University of Arizona since 1987 and has attracted a loyal clientele of Mercedes enthusiasts for his attention to detail and fair business practices. But perhaps what makes him most capable is his passion for the cars he works on.
Keith owns both of the vehicles pictured here, a 1967 250SL “Pagoda” and 1972 280SEL 4.5, as well as a few other Mercedeses and about 20 parts cars. He can’t remember how many Benzes he’s owned throughout his life, but estimates it to be at least two hundred.
“My first car was a 1967 [Cadillac] Coupe de Ville convertible,” Keith recalls, “and my first foreign car was an Austin Healey 100-4. I started out working mostly on British cars, but as cool as they are, they just don’t stay fixed, so eventually I switched over to German cars.”
While in college, Keith was bitten by the Benz bug after riding around in a friend’s Ponton Mercedes. “I just dug everything about it,” he explained, “and after awhile, his dad found me a 220S. After that, I owned several roundbodies, peaking with a 1958 220S Cabriolet that I later sold to my friend George.”
George later wound up selling the SL to Keith, and they’ve done just about everything to keep it on the road. According to Keith, it’s a great road-trip car, and it’s taken them to New York, New Orleans and Dallas, among other places. Keith says that with the four-speed manual transmission, the engine winds out nicely at 75 mph. The W113 generation of the SL is known for its excellent over-the-road manners, and the 2.5-liter inline-six in this one is in perfect, buttery-smooth running condition.
While the SL exudes class and grace, it’s the W108 S-Class in Keith’s collection that’s a truly special beast. Twenty years ago, Keith restored the car for a friend, who’d bought it from a wealthy Tucson philanthropist. “We redid absolutely everything. We stripped and repainted it, redid the upholstery, sent the wood trim away for refinishing, replated the chrome, had the suspension redone and upgraded, and sent the engine away for a balance, blueprint and polish.”
The restoration receipts totaled $50,000 (twenty years ago!) and the hard work and care show through even today. The champagne-colored paint still gleams showroom-fresh and the upholstery and interior fittings have held up beautifully, along with the special iron under the hood.
This S-Class is the more desirable 4.5L model, carrying Mercedes’ legendary M117 V8 with 220 horsepower. The engine makes silky power and even though the 6.3-liter variants may be more valuable, the 4.5 makes for a better daily drive, carrying less weight and requiring less fuel. Keith bought the car from his friend just a few years ago and has enjoyed it since.
As you can see, both the vehicles look wonderful, casting the delicate shadow that Mercedes was known for in the 1960s. The W113 SL eschewed the flowing fenders of its predecessor, favoring long, unadorned lines and tasteful use of chrome to project an image of quiet, competent luxury. And the W108 S-Class is no different, striking the perfect balance between its ancestors’ fintailed, gaudy luxury and its successor’s boxy, staid solidity.
They would both look perfectly at home anywhere in the world and we can’t imagine a better daily driver for just about anyone. Your mother would love the spare, tasteful design, your Uncle Marvin has always wanted that badge up front and your car-guy cousin appreciates the engineering and performance.
Features did not define luxury when these two were built, as neither vehicle is equipped with a DVD player, traction management, or radar-based cruise control. Rather, this era of Mercedes-Benz’ history was known for trim, understated designs, fantastic engineering, and superior on-road manners. While many less-expensive cars had the same amenities as a Benz, none felt so confident or looked so right at speed on the open road.
Keith has owned just about everything from Daihatsus to Messerschmitts, Peugeots to Porsches, and while he currently has his attention turned to a couple 911s, Petrolisti everywhere are grateful for the care he’s given these two Benzes (and countless other cars), as they are the epitome of Drive Tastefully.