My son Bradley and I have just returned from the successful SCM 1000 Tour. On it, he co-drove with SCM contributor Philip Richter, who joined us from Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
They shared the 1971 Jaguar V12 E-type S3 coupe and the 1972 Mercedes 250C. Including the traverse from Portland to Spokane, WA, and back home, each car covered 1,700 miles in a week.
Bradley is learning from each car he drives, focusing on the language that each of the different cars speaks.
Aside from the modern Hyundai Elantra he got his basic training on, he has spent hundreds of miles driving the 250C and E-Type, plus our 1991 Alfa Spider S4 and 2004 Mercedes SL55 AMG.
By comparison, when I was his age I had access to my grandmother’s brand-new 6-cylinder automatic 1965 Mustang and the clapped out 1960 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite I bought for $30 on my 16th birthday.
For Father’s Day, we decided to take a 100-mile round trip to the Elderberry Inn on the way to the Oregon Coast. The “lumberjack” breakfast at this iconic restaurant includes thick pancakes are as large as a dinner plate, hand-carved bacon slices and marionberry milkshakes made the old-fashioned way in aluminum canisters, with almost another complete shake included as a bonus.
At first, we decided to take the Alfa Spider. It’s been a couple of months since we have driven it. Using 50 feet of extension cord, I have finally figured out how to get a trickle charger attached to it in my condo basement parking garage.
It’s a car of modest performance. Perhaps most memorable to Bradley is the way that rain drips from the top right corner of the windshield onto his right knee. I have explained that every Alfa soft top I have owned for 50 years has dripped in exactly the same way, in the same place.
When we drove the car on an Alfa club tour, he was surprised by the feeling of top-down driving through the green countryside. That’s part of the magic of an open car, the connection with the countryside as you travel through it.
However, Sunday started drizzly and soon became more wet and soggy. Bradley suggested we take the SL55 AMG; he hadn’t driven that car in a while either.
Going from one of our vintage cars to the AMG was like shifting from the Wright Brothers’ Flyer to the Concorde. The car was impossibly modern and capable in every way.
Bradley noted how precise the steering felt and the firm but not uncomfortable ride. With the HVAC system, you simply dialed in the temperature you wanted and the car did the rest. With the 250C and the Alfa, you have to slide sliders and switch switches to get the cabin cockpit temperature you want.
Also, with the AMG’s 493 horsepower and 0-60 time of 4.9 seconds, merging and passing was done with aplomb. That’s a far cry from the 128 hp and 12.8 seconds of the 250C.
In short, the SL55 AMG is a modern car.
We have put over 6,000 miles on this car including trips to Yellowstone National Park in Montana. Although 18 years old, it is a purpose-bred high-speed GT cruiser. With its current market value in the low $20k range, it is also one of the great performance car bargains.
After a satisfying, artery-clogging Father’s Day breakfast, we drove home on Highway 26 across the Coast Range.
We discussed each of the cars he has driven, their attributes and drawbacks, and how they compared to the AMG.
I can’t think of a better way to spend the day with my 16-year-old son.