One Young Enthusiast Explores A Range Of Modern Classic Mercedes-Benz’s
Story and photography by Maxence Benoist
Can you have a diverse collection of cars if they all wear the same badge? Of course you can. It’s not going to be as juxtaposed as a Fiat 500 parked next to a Toyota Land Cruiser, but I believe that in relative terms it’s possible to experience a big mix of driving temperaments, styling, and emotion connections within a single marque. For me, that marque is Mercedes-Benz. I currently own six.
I’ve been interested in cars in general for a long while now, so long in fact that I cannot stretch my memory far enough back to the “spark,” and though I live in France, I’ve had a penchant for Teutonic mobility for quite a while. If pressed to guess, I suppose I can at least trace my loyalty to Mercedes-Benz to my father. A young car nut with a dad to thank for it—what a concept! He had a W201 Turbo Diesel when I was growing up, and I recall doing a lot of research into the history of the “Baby Benz.” I fell in love with the car’s looks, its racing history (including that famous one-make race of champions when a young Senna schooled everyone in the Cosworth version on a damp track, as he was wont to do so often!), and the model’s extensive range within the 190 moniker.
I found my own Cosworth in the form of a 2.3-liter version of the 16-valve inline-four motor bearing the name, and even in the same color as Senna’s. The car has been a dream to own, and it has treated me very well, as I have to it. Though I am no Formula 1 champion, I still enjoy the occasional drift brought on by the wet roads in the countryside, where I find fulfillment driving the car along the sweeping curves and the mild undulations of the land.
I like the chassis so much in fact that I’ve purchased two more W201s; one is this black example that I’ve since swapped in a 3.0-liter straight-six in place of the 2.6-liter it came with from the factory. I’ve also added a body kit from the Cosworth 190E, equipped it with Bilstein B6s, and went all in on the hard-edged ‘80s styling with a set of Brabus Monoblock II wheels. I dedicate this car to track days, and have done a number of them with it, including a trip this past spring to the Nordschleife. That was a terrific day, until my generator failed and forced me to make a very stressful 300-kilometer drive home on just the battery. The most recent acquisition, a Turbo Diesel like my father’s, is not pictured here, though I intend to use this car often.
Before all the W201/190Es though, came the W123 280. My first Mercedes. The story of this car begins with a new neighbor; a few months after he arrived in my town, we got to talking cars somehow, and we (of course) landed on the subject of Mercedes-Benz. He told me of his low-mileage 280 sedan, and of his inability to keep storing it back in Belgium given his limited garage space and his son’s (ridiculous!) lack of interest in the car. Seeing my innate attraction to it, he wanted me to be its next owner on the condition that I “Restore it, but don’t sell it.” That’s how I came to acquire a rusty but drivable W123 for free!
I kept up my end of the bargain, and set about restoring the car and turning it into an AMG replica. The rusted areas were fixed the right way, with new metal welded in, and then it was time for paint. It was then that I decided to make an homage to one of my favorite ‘80s cars, the big V8-powered AMG W123s. Though mine does not have the power—speed-wise, mine falls closer to the Moroccan taxicab end of the W123’s spectrum—I the carbureted motor is still very pleasant to drive, is very smooth, and offers more than enough torque. Beyond the paint job, I’ve added the rear window louvers, 16” Rial wheels, and a BBS front spoiler.
Another hobby of mine is riding vintage bicycles, and this is where my S124 wagon really comes in handy. This is my 1991 300 TE 4-Matic, and atop it you will almost always see one of my bicycles. I am also interested in film photography, and with its competent four-wheel drive system (which I think is really much more advanced than the Quattros of the period, given the three modes the Mercedes can operate in—30/70 torque split, 50/50, and a third with a locking differential setting), my S124 can bring me just about wherever I need to be to get the shots I want. It is a car with gobs of utility, and I try my best to make use of it whenever possible. It has served me, and heaps of things carried behind me, very well.
Now we come to the newest in the collection, my 1995 R129 280 SL Mille Miglia edition. Only 630 of this special model were produced, and owning an SL of any vintage, let alone a rarity like this one, has long been a desire of mine. Now realized, I am still enjoying the car as much as I dreamt of it, and I love thinking back on the long line of SLs that led up to this car. The design penned by Bruno Sacco is timeless in my eyes, but looks aside it is an extremely nice car in driving characteristic alone. It’s not a go-kart obviously, but it is a blissful tourer, and has already proven as much to me following a recent 800-kilometer drive I took it on to the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart.
My name is Maxence Benoist, I am 26 years old, and I can already attribute so many of the good things in my life to a single brand of automobile; from jobs to friends to memorable journeys, the three-pointed star has always led the way.