June 17-19, 2004 / North Carolina
On June 17-19, 2004, Jeff Miller (1957 Type 190 sedan) visited Len Sokoloff on his turf in sunny North Carolina. The weather was perfect for hunting vintage Mercedes-Benz parts and test driving the fleet of vehicles assembled at the Sokoloff estate.
Getting to North Carolina
My co-pilot / navigator is seen here taking a short break along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The next day, I decided to get a set of new front tires (Michelin MXV4+) and a front end alignment, because the treads were looking a little too worn. I also changed the spark plugs in the "Colonial Williamsburg" motel parking lot. I should have done this a week earlier, but I only managed to do an oil change before we left New York. Besides that, I couldn't resist the $0.99 price of the Bosch copper plugs at the local NAPA parts store.
The Summit and Parts Quest
The Sokoloff's new Mercedes-Benz flag was flying high in the hot North Carolina breeze
Len's 1959 220S cabriolet was the car of choice most of the time. He keeps it in top shape and the six cylinder engine is a real treat. Although, the air conditioning of the newer models was nice to have during the test-drive phase of the summit. For a northern guy like me, who is accustomed to cooler temperatures, it felt like I was walking around inside a terrarium wrapped in a wool blanket all the time.
Here is Len driving to various "top secret locations" with (hopefully) a lot of nice old Mercedes-Benz parts just waiting to be separated from their donors. Since I was photo-documenting the field trip, I was not required to wear a blind-fold, so these locations did eventually become known to me.
The First Salvage Yard on the Itinerary (North Carolina)
A tired, but fairly complete Type W111 220Sb Heckflosse sedan. Unfortunately, this yard did not have much in the way of Mercedes-Benz. There was a W115 sedan, but no Pontons.
Type W111 220Sb "Automatic." Inside each trunk and glove box that I opened, I half-expected to find a lizard or possibly even snakes, but the yards were completely devoid of wildlife. That surprised me because it seemed a perfect place for an animal to live an uninterrupted existence. I also looked for tortoises roaming the grounds, but nothing doing. The sheet metal was not in the best condition on these cars because of the salty Atlantic sea air. These photos do not show how hot and intense the sun was either. I could have fried an egg on the trunk of this car.
The Second Salvage Yard
(Somewhere in South Carolina)
We drove 45 miles south and over the border into South Carolina to get to this salvage yard. When we arrived, it looked like it had gone out of business. There was a sign on the door that read, "Moved 7 miles down the road, call: xxx-xxxx." Just as we were getting kind of disappointed and preparing to leave, a pick-up truck pulled up along side us. The driver got out and was admiring Len's 220S cabriolet. He said, "there is a car just like it, inside." We asked if he knew who might have the key to the garage, and the fenced-in salvage yard. He looked at us kind of strange and said, "the door is open"! I couldn't believe it. He lifted the garage door, stepped inside, and we proceeded to have a short conversation about why the business had closed and a little bit about the 220S cabriolet parked inside. One of the numerous problems with the cabriolet inside was that the interior wood was all missing. He told us to help ourselves to what ever we wanted, and where to find him to "settle up" when we were finished. So that's the story of how we got into this particular salvage yard. There were maybe 50 Mercedes-Benz vehicles here.
This gives you an idea of the general selection in the yard. Everything from an L-series truck to W113 "Pagoda" SL roadsters (not in photo), to gasoline and diesel W114, W115, W116, W201, W123, W124 sedans and wagons. There were also a few W108 sedans. Alas, there was only one Ponton, a Type W105 219 sedan, and it had been picked over fairly well by the look of things. There were mostly circa 1968-1989 models in this particular yard. Engines and transmissions were being stored in the trailer, which can be seen in the background of the photo. I managed to get two hubcaps off of this W114 sedan for use on my W123 240D back home. I only needed to get the proper W123 hubcap clips so they would fit my wheels. No problem. The clips were still available from the dealer. I ended up using the clips from my W123 hubcaps anyway. Len found a NOS bumper section for a W113 series SL and some parts for his W123 240D. All in all, a good haul.
As this photo illustrates, some of the vehicles had been picked over by previous "parts vultures." Here are the sorry remains of a once handsome W123 240D sedan. I checked almost every trunk and glove box, but found not one single MB tool or tool kit. I did manage to find a nice canvas tool pouch in the trunk of a W124 300E, but no tools. There were a few jacks and wheel lug wrenches, but nothing in the way of open end wrenches or special tools.
Finally, a Type 219 Ponton sedan in the South Carolina yard
Type 219 sedan. Sadly, the rear view was not much better than the front
After a long day of rummaging through junk yards, we stopped off to see a local Type 190 Ponton sedan in somebody's driveway. That is when I took this shot of Len's cabriolet. Note the International Ponton Owners Group (IPOG) badge on the grille. The 190 sedan was nothing special. It had thick yellow paint and there were a few spots of surface rust showing. I did not take a photo of it. I may have been thinking about getting back to "base camp" for dinner.
Len showing off his 1983 240D, which he has owned since new. He recently fitted a manual transmission when the original automatic box gave up at 275,000 miles. The car currently has over 340,000 miles. Len recalls that when the W123 series was introduced, there was a lot of talk about them not being built to the same standards as the earlier models. One reason for this was that the front end parts did not include grease fittings. Well, it looks like the cars were durable after all. As of this writing, the venerable W123 series is only just beginning to be appreciated as a true Mercedes-Benz classic. Note the two high mileage badges on the grille – awarded by the factory.
A Ponton era OEM auxiliary light, which is part of Len's personal collection
Detail of the auxiliary light
Let's just say that we were not "slumming it" during the trip. Len and his wife rolled out the red carpet for us, and we had our choice of fine vehicles. Sometimes it was just too hot to drive without the air conditioning of the modern models. Here is Len getting his 1999 W210 Type E300 (Turbo Diesel) into position for the group photo. After driving my own W123 240D for so long (with only 65 bhp, it is a real toad) I was amazed at how quick this E300 Turbo Diesel was. It seemed quicker than my 170 bhp W124 260E.
June 19, 2004: Len Sokoloff (left) and Jeff Miller at Len's house in North Carolina. All cars are Len's with the exception of the "signal red" 260E, which Jeff drove from western New York state. Left to right: 1959 W180 220S, 1983 W123 240D, 1989 W124 260E, 1999 W210 E300D.
After leaving Len's and on the road back home, I found this 1959 220S Ponton in Clinton, North Carolina. Maybe I was leaving NC too soon? I managed to wiggle the right side fog lamp loose. The glass lens is in good condition but the internals are rusty. As I said earlier, it was surprising that there were no snakes or other wildlife in these vehicles.
A lot of spare parts were in the trunk and the cabin
Here are just some of the parts that I found at the parts dismantlers in North and South Carolina. I also got a nice Bilstein jack from the 1959 220S sedan shown above. It will need some grease but it should clean up real well.
This VDO clock was still in the dash of the 1959 Type 220S sedan shown above. The glass and chrome are in nice shape but it looks like it will need some careful restoration work before it counts the time for a new owner. When I pried it out of the dash, the dash wood just disintegrated.
Last Photo Opportunity while Heading North
This was someone's side yard, near Clinton, NC. There were several older Mercedes-Benz in various stages of decomposition on the property. I knocked on the door, but nobody answered. It looked like he was driving two W123 sedans from the 1977-1985 period. At least, there were license plates on them. I didn't take photos of those cars. These Heckflosse models were sitting by themselves away from everything else.
A Type W111 220SEb (fuel injected) Heckflosse sedan
The W111 220SEb again with an unusual W123 model in the background
Type W110 Heckflosse (fintail) model
This Type W123 sedan is a model 250. The M123 2.5 liter engine was not offered for sale in the USA market. Production of the W123 Type 250 with M123 engine began in 12/1975 with only five units rolling off the assembly line, and continued until 1985, with a grand total of 122,864 units produced.
Maybe the car was imported from Canada or Europe
This would have been a real sharp looking car at one time. The "signal red" (DB 568) paint looks good on the W123 body style. It seems strange to see W123 models sitting around as junk because I can still remember when they were introduced in 1977. The W123 series was produced from 1977 until 1985. I really wanted to talk to this guy to see how he came to own so many Mercedes-Benzes. Was he a mechanic, or was he from Europe? I guess I will have to wait until I go back to get the answers.
Created June 25, 2004 / Jeff Miller