Nearly 20 years ago, we heard about a 1958 Mercedes Benz 300SL with 35,000 original miles that was sitting in a garage in Ohio. Our partner Oliver thought this car could be the perfect project, so we decided to buy it and restore it. One problem: we were just a bunch of kids who loved working on cars, but we didn’t actually have a body shop to work in.
Michael Whiteman and Rob Luscomb, who headed up the restoration, had a crazy idea: we would set up shop in the garage of Michael ‘s La Jolla home. I told them they were insane! There was no way the neighbors, all in million-dollar homes, would stand for a bunch of kids working on a car all day. Michael’s response was “Once we make this a million-dollar car, they’ll be okay.” And so, the project began.
First, we pulled the car into the driveway to strip off the paint. Once the car was stripped to bare metal, we realized what a great car Oliver had found for us. Everything was original and the frame was straight. We removed the interior and sent it to Famous Fidel, a true upholstery craftsman. The seats and panels came back looking like they were straight off the showroom floor. But, we noticed a leather door handle that needed to be redone. At first it looked like a simple weave of leather strips, a project we could do ourselves with leftover scraps. Boy, were we wrong! It turned out to be an eight-strand woven and skived piece of leather. It was the most difficult task of the interior. Thankfully, Fidel came to the rescue once again. He created a perfect duplicate of the original strap.
We spent six months restoring the car, taking care of every detail. Soon after we completed it, man from Germany with a discerning taste for Mercedes flew out to see the 300. While we were confident in our workmanship, we knew he would scrutinize every detail of the car. He did. But, he was so pleased with the car he paid us $350,000 and took it home to Germany. In fact the German was so excited he showcased the car inside his office building.
That car marked the beginning of our careers restoring 300’s. We finished 7 more Mercedes 300 SL’s, winning awards along the way including the Newport Beach Concours de Elegance.
Today that first 300 SL that we restored would be worth about $800,000. We almost made our million-dollar car.