This story takes us from Ohio to Florida and it spans over 30 years. It is the story of a faithful car and her loving owner, Bernadine.
Bernadine was a distinguished health professional, well known and respected within the State’s top ranked health institutions.
One day in 1985, Bernadine realized that she needed a reliable car to take her back and forth to work, a full three mile round trip every day. Her husband, a renowned physician himself, knew of Mercedes-Benz’s reliability and suggested his wife to shop for one of the three pointed star examples.
It was early 1985 when Bernadine and her husband pulled up to the local Mercedes-Benz dealership and almost immediately, she fell in love with the Navy Blue 190E-2.3 sitting on the showroom floor. Shortly afterwards, she drove her shiny new Mercedes home and for fifteen years, the Baby Benz took Bernadine back and forth to work along with the occasional trip, from Gates Mills, Ohio to their summer home in Naples, FL.
By the year 2000, the car had reached only 37K miles and it was decided that, rather than keep putting miles on her precious Benz, the couple would leave it at their Naples home. Shortly after, the 190E changed its Ohio’s plates for the green and orange Florida ones.
The fact that the 190E was now a “snowbird” car did not mean that maintenance would be put aside, so it continued to be religiously serviced at Mercedes-Benz of Naples. Looking at service invoices, one can see that sometimes the cost of service performed exceeded the car’s market value but nothing was too much to keep Bernadine’s baby in top notch condition.
For the next decade, Bernadine enjoyed joyful cruising with her Mercedes-Benz along the Florida coast, until she was diagnosed with a terminal illness. It was around 2012 when she enjoyed her faithful 190E for the last time, shortly before she passed away. The Mercedes-Benz had reached 44K miles by then.
After Bernadine’s death, the 190E remained motionless in the property’s garage, as her husband and the rest of the family mourned the irreplaceable loss. The sight of the Navy Blue Benz brought Bernadine’s husband memories of a lifetime together and he could not bring himself to let the car go.
Approximately two years after Bernadine’s passing, her husband decided that it was time to find a new home for the Baby Benz but he felt that he needed to repay the Mercedes’ loyalty by finding a good home for her. He contacted a service technician of Mercedes-Benz of Naples, hoping that he would lead him in the right direction … and sure he did!
The technician referred Bernadine’s husband to Jack Meyer, a good friend of mine and fellow member of the MBCA, SWFL Section. Jack contacted me by phone text indicating that this “little 190E” had “fell” on his hands and he asked me to help him find a buyer. Honestly, I am currently the caregiver of a car (or two) and “the last thing I need is another old car” I thought…
It must have been 2 in the morning when a sudden thought woke me (and my wife) up, “…I need to save this car!!” … I could not go back to sleep, instead I replied to Jack’s text, asking, begging him no to show it to ANYONE because that car was mine.
Five hours later I was driving as fast as I could to Naples, along I-75. It took me 28 minutes to get from Fort Myers to Mercedes-Benz of Naples. Jack had the 190E already on the lift and was leading a passionate debate as to what did the car need to bring her back to her glory days.
The diagnosis: Two years of being parked and the natural aging process of certain parts were passing their bills to the car. Aesthetics were not looking much better but Jack and I saw the potential and decided that this, otherwise 100% original Mercedes-Benz had to be saved.
That same day, Jack and I met Bernadine’s husband at a local restaurant and negotiated the purchasing price over a couple of beers. Jack was arguably there as my reinforcement, to help me outnumber the opposite “team” (Bernadine’s husband). As it turned out, Jack is a very wise man and pretended to be more focused in his beer, letting me fight it all out by myself. Forty five exhausting minutes later, the deal was sealed with a handshake.
Immediately after taking possession of the car, we proceeded to address any mechanical items that needed attention in order to make the Benz as reliable as possible. The 190E was in remarkable good shape thanks to Bernadine’s care but we went ahead and changed engine and transmission mounts, replaced fuel and brake lines, changed all the fluids and filters, replaced a seal or two, a couple of switches, a thermostat, went over the A/C system, replaced a window regulator and installed a brand new hood star.
As I picked up the car from the shop, I could not believe how smooth it drove. This 190E was so gentle, so well mannered and yet so solid! It felt like I could drive her to Alaska if I had to.
After the mechanic part was taken care of, it was time for the cosmetics and I took it to a friend of mine who helped me to shampoo the carpets and clean the MB-Tex seats. It took us an entire Saturday but the results were amazing. The carpets looked new and the seats looked like nobody had ever sat on them!
Time had started to take its toll on the car’s paint and more than one person suggested that the car needed a new paint job. Stubbornly enough, I had made up my mind that I wanted the car to be 100% original and contacted another friend of mine, who is a genius when it comes to restoring paintwork. He proceeded to wet sand and buff the entire car on his only day off from work. The results were short of breath taking. Once we finished and stepped back, it felt as if we were looking at a “brand new” 190E; a true time capsule.
The sun was starting to set among an orange arrange of colored clouds above the Gulf of Mexico as I drove the car to its new home. Exhausted after two weeks of hard work. I pushed the button that opened the moon roof and rolled the windows down, resting my left elbow on the window sill while cruising in this “brand new” 190E. I never had the opportunity to meet Bernadine in person but sure as heck I felt she was there. Sitting on the passenger seat, her hair flowing with the warm Florida breeze, smiling, enjoying her Baby Benz one more time. She was there, and I felt in Heaven.