Having been a petrol head since I can remember, my parents’ cars play a major role in my childhood memories. I suppose this is more or less the same for all of us car guys. So this is my idea for this article: Let’s unfold a story of typical cars from the 1960‘s to the 1990‘s by retelling my late dad’s automotive life story, and remembering all the cars he ever owned! I view this story as a contribution to contemporary automotive history, just like the story of your dad’s cars may be, too.
Ready to get started?
Let’s jump back to the year 1964. My dad was twenty and has had a driving license for two years, but no car yet. However, my grandpa had just bought a new car: A Mercedes 190, type W 110. It was the entry level Mercedes in the 1960’s and came with the characteristic “fintail” rear end (“Heckflosse” in German). The 190 came with a 1.9-liter 4-cylinder engine and about 80 hp, allowing for a top speed of 150 km/h (about 90 mph). Mind you, it was 1964, and this was considered a pretty decent performance.
The below pictures give an idea of the car’s interior. The speedometer reached until 160 km/h, and the car’s mileage was almost 100,000 km when the pictures were taken (around 1975). I am also including a copy of the vehicle registration: My granddad initially registered the car in May 1964. The registration was last re-newed in 1976, before my granddad passed away in 1977.
In other words, what was my father’s first car to drive was my granddad’s last one.
However, it wasn’t long until my father would have a car of his own. As for many thousands of Germans in the time, the first car of his own was a VW Beetle (“Käfer”), officially named the Volkswagen Type 1. He got it in 1964, and I remember my dad telling me that it was more or less given to him by his parents. Lucky guy!
I also remember my dad telling me that this was a used car but I can’t say how old the car was when he got it. Anyway, he owned this car for 6 years, until 1970. My parents told me how they took this car on several road trips to France, Spain and other destinations; I am sure they had a pretty good time.
The circumstances around this Beetle reveal the attitude my dad kept up towards cars for all his life: Care for them well, maintain them with meticulous attention to detail, and take pride in owning them for many years.
In 1970, my dad got his second car – another VW Beetle, but a more recent model. Note the additional “Hella” headlights fitted to the front bumper – my dad would still feel the joy 30 years later how these self-mounted lights had improved the looks of the car.
Fast forward another 5 years: It was 1975, and dad now had a decently paid job as a medical doctor at the local hospital. Naturally, he wanted more than a VW Beetle. But what car to get?
Dad decided to remain loyal with Volkswagen so he moved up to the top of the line: In July 1975, he got a Volkswagen Passat TS. The Passat was the top of the VW range, and the TS was the top of the Passat range.
This was the first-ever generation of the VW Passat (the “B1” model), and it came with a 1.5-liter 75 hp engine.
I include a copy of the original dealership invoice. It shows that my dad went for quite an extensive list of options, raising the price tag from 11,000 to well over 15,000 Deutsche Mark.
The Passat was the first car my dad had “factory-ordered”, and it was the car he drove when I joined the family as my parents’ first-born child in 1978.
I suppose my birth played a role when dad decided to move from the Passat to a larger Audi sedan in 1979. He went for an Audi 100 CD 5E, the luxurious version of the Audi 100 C2 model. It came with Audi’s now famous 2.3 liter five-cylinder engine with 136hp.
The original dealer invoice from January 1979 reflects the price of 26.000 Deutsche Mark – almost twice as much as the Passat had cost four years earlier.
Unfortunately, the Audi 100 wasn’t supposed to have a long life. In late 1980, my dad was on his daily commute to work when another driver ignored a red light and crashed into the Audi’s right side. The physical impact pushed the Audi against a traffic light pole so that the driver side door was also bent quite significantly. Luckily, my dad was relatively okay – a few scarves (one of them in his left cheek) were all damage that remained long-term.
If you consider the pictures of how the Audi looked after the crash, you can imagine how much passive safety has advanced since 1980. Just look at how the dashboard was bent; today, the chassis would have absorbed much more energy from the impact.
Besides the physical damage, this crash left my dad with the question which new car to go for. He was really happy with the Audi, and now, in 1980, there was a new top model in the Audi range: The Audi 200 was launched in late 1979 and was somewhat better looking and more luxurious than the Audi 100 (on which it was based). My dad went for the Audi 200 5E (so the engine remained the same as in his previous Audi 100).
He ordered the car in January 1981 with a number of options, including air conditioning, cruise control, electric sunroof or an automatic transmission. All of those features were still rather special back in 1981 and rose the sales price to about 37.000 Deutsche Mark. This figure was now fully within Mercedes territory (you could buy a factory-new six cylinder Mercedes 280 E with 185hp for a base price of 34.193 DM in 1981).
1981 also was the year my brother was born. Thus, the Audi 200 was the car that took the four of us on many vacations throughout Europe, e.g. to the UK.
It was always important for dad to have a priest bless the car when it was still new. This way, he would invoke God’s special care for the car and its passengers at all times.
Unfortunately, the car developed a couple of problems very soon: Among other things, both the automatic transmission and the power steering experienced a total breakdown in 1983 and after a mileage of about 30,000 kilometers (or 18,000 miles). Something my father was quite upset about. When the dealership tried to make him pay for the repairs, my dad turned to the board of Volkswagen/Audi in Wolfsburg. They did answer his letter, but still made him pay 50% of the bill. This was the point when dad decided to never again buy a Volkswagen or Audi, as he would repeatedly mention in the years to come.
In late 1984, dad went looking for a replacement of the Audi. In early 1985, he traded the Audi 200 for a Mercedes 280 SE which had been a demonstration car at the local Mercedes dealership. It was fully loaded with options such as Airbag, ABS, leather, electric seats with memory, air conditioning, power sunroof etc. (pretty sophisticated for the mid-eighties). A truly beautiful W126 type S-Class in “blauschwarz metallic” (color code 199) with grey leather interior. The price tag was pretty sophisticated, too: 70.000 Deutsche Mark, almost twice a brand new Audi 200 5E (mind you, this was 1985).
My dad loved this car a lot and drove it for almost ten years, until 1994. The below picture of the car was taken by me in 1994 after my dad traded it in for its successor at the Mercedes dealership.
Back in the days, I would spend a significant portion of my leisure time cycling to local dealerships together with a close friend from school. Of course, we would also visit the Mercedes dealership frequently. And I can still remember clearly what happened on an afternoon in January 1994: We came across a beautiful W126 Mercedes 560 SEL, barely used (35,000 km) and at a (relative) bargain price of 59,9000 Deutsche Mark. The new W140 S-Class had just been launched in 1991, causing W126 prices to drop. However, my dad had always been very clear that he didn’t like the W140 at all, it was just too massive and lacked elegance in his view.
To make a long story short, I spent two evenings convincing my dad of a test drive (he initially was put off by the idea of driving a 560 SEL, due to fuel consumption and taxation), and after the test drive he was hooked. In February 1994, dad bought a beautiful 1990 Mercedes 560 SEL in as-new condition.
I was in heaven.
In many years to come, we did numerous road trips in this car. My dad really loved it just as much as his previous 280 SE, maybe even more.
Believe it or not – after more than eight years of owning it and at a mileage of 150,000 km, the 560 SEL still hadn’t experienced any repairs other than regular “wear and tear”. This car was by far the most reliable one throughout all of my dad’s automotive life.
This 560 SEL was living proof that late W126 models were truly solid as a rock.
My dad sold the 560 SEL in 2002. It was 12 years of age at that point so my dad expected its reliability to deteriorate soon. Also, my brother and I had moved out from home awhile ago, so my dad reasoned he should go for a more somewhat smaller, more economic car. We all hated to see the car go but back then, it seemed like a sensible decision.
Just before handing the car over to the buyer, my dad filmed the car with his S-VHS camcorder. I digitized the VHS video and uploaded on YouTube:
After the 560 SEL, my dad was looking for a more economic car. It needed to be a comfy sedan, but a “small six cylinder” would be fully fit for purpose, as my dad stated back then.
2002 happened to be the year in which the W210 Mercedes E-class was succeeded by the W211. Thus, my dad was able to negotiate a fairly good deal on the outgoing W210 with our local Mercedes dealer. (He really didn’t care about driving the latest model.)
Dad ended up buying a silver Mercedes E 280 (W210). It was a 2002 model year demonstration car and had a mileage of 7,400 km when he bought it.
As usual with my dad, the car had a decent list of options, all of them listed in the car’s below order confirmation. He ended up paying a price of 39,235 Euro (the first car he paid for in Euro) which would have translated to roughly 77,000 Deutsche Mark. Yes, this was “only” an E-class, but it was still more expensive than the 280 SE he bought 17 years ago. Inflation says hello.
Personally, I never grew to love the car all that much. It was good, comfortable and served my parents well. Yet, in my view it lacked the character that I found in all of dad’s previous cars. Also, I had grown out of joining my parents for road trips which may have been another part of the reason I wasn’t all that connected to this car emotionally.
As things turned out, the E 280 was going to be the last car my dad ever owned. Shortly after he sold his medical practice in 2011, his health started to deteriorate more significantly than before, and he experienced increasing symptoms of heart failure.
My dad eventually passed away on December 13th of 2013.
Dad, thank you for an incredible amount of wonderful childhood memories. The list of life-long lessons I connect to you is endless, and goes well beyond cars.