Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Street Parked: Mercedes W111 250SE Cabriolet

My daily work commute includes a 12 minute (each way) stroll through Seattle's hip and newly Amazonified neighborhood, South Lake Union. As I dodge SLUTs and try to avoid being squashed crossing Mercer, I sometimes notice interesting cars parked on the streets.

This car, a Mercedes Benz 250SE Cabriolet, was spotted in the parking lot of the Seattle Tesla dealership.
Fintail convertible!

Even for an old an Mercedes our subject is a unique car, being one of 954 250SE cabriolets made from 1965 to 1967. These W111 chassis 220/250/280SE coupes and convertibles were the last hand built Mercedes.

The W111 still had luscious curves between the hood and fender of its Ponton predecessor.

Beneath the curvaceous hood lurked a 150hp inline six backed by a four speed automatic transmission. Although this car is a boulevardier with no pretense of sporting intentions at all, it can cruise the autobahn (or I-90) comfortably at just over 100 mile per hour.
What stories lurk beneath that bonnet?

I've long been a fan of these Heckflosse (that's German for "fintail") Mercedes. I find the little tail fins to be a charming nod to the car style of 1959, when the first W111s appeared.
Shake those tail feathers.

The interiors of this era of Mercedes are wonderful places, with real wood adorning the dash and doors. The thin rim steering wheel is classy with its padded hub and chrome horn ring.

It's just missing a pipe smoking driver in Harris tweed.

While this car looks to have been bumped (the rear bumper is slightly askew) a few times in its life. I have no doubt this car will be motoring luxuriously along in another 40+ years as Mercedes of this era were built to survive a zombie apocalypse.
The best cars in the world.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Street Parked: The first GT350

The conventional wisdom among Seattle folk is that Opening Day of boating season heralds the start of summer, with the apogee of summer in the great northwet being Seafair. In my house, summer doesn't begin until the third weekend of May, when the University District Street Fair crowds "The Ave" with more blindingly white people in shorts and t-shirts than mankind was ever meant to see. My lovely wife and I always visit the Street Fair on Saturday morning in an attempt to beat the crowds. We make a point to devour the best Piroshky in the world and look for our favorite vendors before escaping the crowds.

Typically, we park our Miata and stroll through quiet streets to the freshly pitched easy-ups of the vendors. This year was different. As we were strolling down Roosevelt, approaching Scarecrow Video, I noticed an unusual car parked on the street.

Well, hello there!

My first thought was that this was a vintage race car out for a weekend joy ride. As we walked past, I slowed to check this car out. It quickly became evident this was a unique Mustang.

That signature looks familiar...

While Carroll Shelby has done other things, the 1965 Ford Mustang GT350 stands out in my mind as an icon in his portfolio. The GT350 is a more usable car for the average person to own than was Shelby's other project of the time, the AC Cobra. The GT350 enhances the great looks of the Mustang fastback with suspension tuning by Ken Miles (yes, the Ken Miles of GT40 fame at Daytona, Sebring, and Le Mans), a package of weight reduction and redistribution, and some good old hot rod improvements (big carb with Cobra intake and headers) which gave this pony 35 extra ponies to take dancing on a race track or curvy road near you.

Those oil cooler lines are original and have the original Shelby part numbers stamped on those aluminum bands.

This particular car is the first GT350 street car that was built, number 5S003.
That tag reads '5S003' - no, not '5S001', there's a story about that...
Wait, shouldn't this car be '5S001'? Well, it is, sort of. The first three Mustangs given to Shelby for the GT350 program had their numbers written on their firewalls. The plan was to build two factory racing cars and one street car. The street car was built using the chassis with '5S001' written on its firewall. However, when it came time to apply the number tags to the cars, the firewall markings were long gone. It has only been through the research of the car's current owner, who is a great steward of these cars' history that this story has been unraveled and this car verified as truly the first of its kind. Early photos taken at the Shelby shops show the first GT350 with a unique rear view mirror mounted forward of typical on the driver's door. While 5S003 currently has its mirror in the standard location, there are visible patch marks (awesomely of race car quality) on the inner side of the door that reveal this car's birth story.

Pete Brock photographed, designed, and produced these ads featuring our street parked subject.
This first street car was used to develop marketing material by Pete Brock. In addition to his work producing marketing material for Shelby American, Mr Brock is know for having designed the world's most beautiful racing car. I was not aware of Pete Brock's involvement with the GT350 program. He also has signed 5S003's hood.

Pete Brock's signature.  Next to the iconic stripe pattern and hood scoop he designed.

Another interesting Pete Brock touch on this GT350 is the vented back window. This is an aerodynamic device aimed at venting the cockpit and reducing the negative pressure, and ultimately lift, behind the car at speed. Note how the window dips down beneath the roof of the car.
Hey, that back window has a mail slot at the top!

This car has seen some significant race track experience. At one point it was a racing car and later, in 1985, as a vintage race car, participated in the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca.

A picture of this car at the Monterey Historics.

I was at the 1985 Monterey Historics and saw this car racing on track. I remember it vividly, as I loved the GT350 then as I do now. Small world? The roll bar's collection of event tech inspection stickers reveal a little bit of this car's story.

The roll bar wears many notable event stickers.  This car has some interesting tales to tell.
This car is a piece of history. I feel lucky to have encountered it and gotten a chance to understand what it is. As a bonus, the owner started it up for us to hear its unmuffled, 12:1 compression voice. What a treat! This car idles with a deep cackle and revs with the quickness of a racing engine. The side exit exhaust smells lightly of racing fuel, some streetable fuel mixture clearly used to balance the engine's thirst with this car's occasional jaunts around town. The owner takes it out to give his kids rides, setting off car alarms along the way. He gets it; this car is loved and shared with the world.

The first GT350 Mustang.