A Beauty of a Benz
German car enthusiast Ed Owen found and rebuilt his idea of a true touring car—a Mercedes-Benz 450SL.
A RARE FIND: Ed Owen’s 1979 Mercedes 450SL sports a European chassis that’s hard to come by in the U.S. Photo courtesy Ed Owen
The first car Ed Owen ever owned was a ’57 Chevy. His high school weekends were dedicated to it—tearing down the motor, putting in a new transmission, anything he could do to spend time working on it.
“I was a big-time ‘American car guy’ as a kid,” Owen, 44, says now. “That’s until I worked on my first Mercedes.”
Lending a hand to a buddy’s car in college, Owen was floored by the engineering Mercedes-Benz put into its vehicles. He was a quick convert to German design, but it wasn’t until nearly 25 years later that Owens finally owned one of Mercedes’ most iconic vehicles: a 450SL.
“We must have 68 or 69 of them that we work on as regular customers, but I’ve never owned one,” says Owen, a partner at European Auto Solutions, a Mercedes-Benz specialty shop in Waltham, Mass. “It really gave me the bug to find one.”
Last January, he did. Although, it isn’t the typical 1979 450SL most would find in the U.S. Owen’s SL—an R107 chassis, as Mercedes-Benz insiders refer to it—has a distinctly different look to it, with a smaller bumper that didn’t meet safety regulations in the U.S. when the car was first manufactured.
“They designed (the SL) in the early ’70s with these really pretty, little bumpers,” Owen explains. “Then in 1974, when they changed the DOT laws for safety here, they were forced to go with these really gaudy bumpers, which really changed the look of the car. So the only way you could get the (R107) chassis from that year on was a European delivery car.”
It wasn’t easy to find, but Owen eventually stumbled upon one for sale in Staten Island, N.Y. It had only about 79,000 miles on it, and its light-blue exterior and dark-blue interior were in solid shape, Owen says.
“I did a whole bunch of mechanical work on it, though,” Owen says, “all sorts of bushings and mounts, engine mounts.”
The engine mounts in that chassis are somewhat unique, Owen says, making it a little trickier to replace. The R107 chassis is a sub-frame structure, and to get to the engine mounts, the sub-frame needs to be dropped down.
“You have to do those jobs together,” Owen says. “And it really makes a difference in how that car feels and drives.”
Owen says that replacing those made a “night-and-day difference” in the way the car drove. And, really, that’s the key to this type of car, he says, as it’s really a “cruising car,” despite its intention to replace the company’s roadster lines of the 1960s.
“It’s not a throw-it-around-the-corner-as-fast-as-you-can car, like a Porsche,” Owen says. “It’s what I think of as a luxury roadster that you can put all your stuff in the trunk, put the top down and get in and drive. The seats were contoured and really comfy to drive.”
Owen didn’t make many modifications to the original engine; he just attempted to get everything back to its intended working order. He fixed a leak in the transmission, replaced a blower motor and set all the engine specs.
Now, the car’s 4.5-liter, fuel-injected V8 makes 225 horsepower, which is actually 40 horses higher than the U.S. standard when the car was first released.
“The car really drives its best at about 60 to 80 miles an hour,” Owen says.
In all, Owen estimates he’s put 160 hours and roughly $4,000 into fixing the car up, including some minimal body work and replacing the car’s soft top.
He isn’t done with it, though. There are some minor adjustments to make, (fixing up the power windows, which someone custom installed a number of years back, is one) but mostly, Owen admits, it’s more out of enjoyment. Since that first Chevy as a teenager, Owen has always had some sort of “project” to work on.
“I love cars, and I love working on cars; it’s something I’ve always done either as a hobby or as my job,” Owen says. “Now, running the business, I never seem to get my hands on cars anymore. It’s more customer service, marketing and running the business, much more white collar. It’s good, but I like to go back and find a project to work on. It’s very therapeutic.”
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