I’ve met some interesting people along the way, and Maria is no exception. She is in my car club, and 87 years young. When we connected a few days ago, she remembered that 20 years ago, with her husband recently passed, I took her on a club drive.
I have trouble remembering something from 2 hours ago.
Anyway a club member across the country called me and asked me to look at her 1979 Mercedes-Benz 300D. He was interested in buying it. To Mercedes fans, this model, chassis known as the W123, is near legendary.
Some years ago, a CEO of Daimler-Benz was asked what his favorite Mercedes of all time was. One could expect as a reply any number of famous models. Was it the iconic 300SL known to people far and wide? Or maybe the car that so dominated sports car racing in the 50s, having won virtually every race entered? Incidentally the coupe version of that car, built for a 1956 season that never came, recently sold for over $140 million.
Well, I could go on and on, but the CEO’s answer surprised the journalist.
His favorite car was the humble W123 240D. Simple and near indestructible, many of these 67 hp diesels with proper maintenance have gone over 1,000,000 miles. And even though the last one was made in 1982, countless examples are still earning their keep as taxis around the world.
Well anyway, I saw her 300D (the 5 cylinder version of the 240D and a bit more luxury and performance), and it was near pristine, having had all its proscribed maintenance for 43 years. It was loaded onto a transport and is on its way across the country to my friend as I type.
Anyway I found Maria had a fascinating background. One could say as we live our lives, we are writing our own books, and her first 10 years were interesting.
She knew nothing but war, and remembers her walks to school. Only there were no roads, all bombed and covered with rubble. Her walks to school involved dodging all of the rubble.
When she was 9, she remembers a “big plane with a gun hanging down from the nose” strafing her as she ran to her house. She said that even the house had bullet holes.
I mentioned to her that surely among the allied air forces they had rules against strafing civilians, much less children. But then I believe wars bring out both the best and worst in people.
I mentioned to her that right after the War, the facilities of Daimler-Benz in Sindelfingen (a Stuttgart suburb) were so devastated that it was assumed that as a company, Daimler-Benz had ceased to exist.
I remember reading in a Club national magazine that an American Lieutenant was almost solely responsible for saving Daimler-Benz. I don’t remember exactly what he did, but I do know that immediately after the war the only thing that kept them going was servicing and fixing US Army vehicles. I would surmise that the LT got them the contract.
They did cobble together a few prewar 170s with leftover parts, but in the immediate aftermath those cars were few and far between.
Maria remembered that as the company slowly got back on its feet, they had a special train for employees to take them to work as it went through the outlying areas called, appropriately enough, the Daimler ** Train.
She loves to swim to this day, and uses the pool at the retirement complex.
In 1945 in the war’s immediate aftermath, only American GIs were allowed into the city public swimming pool. I was wondering why that was, and suspect it was to prevent fights with the resentful civilians. She did say that towards the end of 1945, German civilians were allowed back in.
However, right after the war, despite her mother telling her not to go to the swimming pool, this 10 year old girl would stand at the pool entrance looking forlorn, until a sympathetic GI let her in.
From what she said, she was then apparently “adopted” by all the GIs, who probably missed their own children back home.
Those were tough times.
She emigrated to San Francisco in 1961…
** Maria From Stuttgart
*** Daimler, named for co-founder Gottlieb Daimler, is pronounced in German “Dime-Ler”