Sublime Summer Solstice with a
Mercedes-Benz Ponton

Scott Gordon / 1957 Type 220S cabriolet / June 20, 2003

Scott and Eva Gordon in their 1957 Mercedes-Benz Type 220S Ponton cabriolet

Last weekend, we took a drive in the Ponton. We've done a drive for the past of couple years on Father's Day with my dad. This year, we decided to do a weekend in Calaveras County, of Celebrated Jumping Frog Fame, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It's wine country these days and struggling bravely to make a go of it in these uncertain times, with a business plan based on selling twenty-dollar bottles of wine to tourists. The hotels in the town we stayed in were empty, and the restaurants struggling to fill the dining areas they had open. This sparseness of company makes traveling easier, and somehow seems to open up the locals to talking a spell, even to flatlanders like ourselves.

Of course, "LUE", our 1957 Mercedes-Benz 220S cabriolet opens doors for us everywhere in the first place, and we storm into those open doorways in our own forceful way. The brave souls who live in this sometimes fierce land are amused by this, and we always seem to find something in common. This trip it was a few things, starting with the "Calaveras Makes Wine, Napa Makes Auto Parts" bumper sticker we received at an early stop, moving right through the "Isn't it marvelous weather we're having?" conversations that normalize discussions between strangers, and on into the tastings, comparing the wines served to memory, and to each other.

And then there were the roads. We had made a pact to take a little longer to get there, and to avoid freeways where possible, sticking to state highways, and county roads and I was surprised how quickly this was possible. Just 15 miles from our house we ventured onto the first of these roads, Niles Canyon Road, through a land lost in time, bypassed by the sprawl by virtue of its rugged walls and floor that is subject to flooding, only not on this fine June afternoon, instead, the river was tame, even docile in places, but with a hint of fierceness in its whitewater sections, and in its twisty course, first against one cliff, then against the other, with the road forced each time across a narrow bridge to the other side, away from the strong river, seeking an easy way out of the canyon. There's a railway there, too, and it is built on higher ground, with some trestles to limit its fear from the water, and preserve its own course, truer than the roads. We were guilty of a certain sprightly thrill seeking, taking the turns with speed and running along against the path of the water. There were few other cars on that road, and so it went all Friday afternoon. We had both sneaked out of work early, and so the alacrity we displayed was all for fun. We had plenty of time to spend, but somehow wealth does not lead to waste. And so it went, along various roads from 84 to 580 to J2 to 580 to 132, each with a more intriguing and historical real name, but each marked only with small numbers as we went along, navigating carefully on unknown roads, skirting towns and avoiding freeways.

There's a reason California became so popular, why the natives were healthy here, why the missions were built and why the people who came, stayed. It's so beautiful on a summer evening, especially with the wind in our hair, and a graceful steed to deliver us safely. We found nothing but oak trees, rolling pastures and windy two lane roads in our way. We were equipped to deal with each, and did so.

The car was running perfectly, the new carbs running in just nice, even though I have not taken the time to synchronize them, the ignition perfect, having been set the night before, and the exhaust uncharacteristically loud for such an elegant ride, thrumming along through each valley, beating out a rhythm, no purring like the motor kitty, and warning those we approached that the cat had been belled, but it was hungry for road, and it didn't care who knew it. The old Mercedes is a joy to drive in these conditions, underpowered for sure, but somewhere between a sports car and a real grand touring car. It responds well to the aggressive driving style I favor, with the revs up and the gearbox being stirred hard to keep the revs up. The abundance of stop signs on roads like this mean lots of chance to (nearly) redline the car in each gear. The lack of a tachometer makes this a little more of a frame of mind, but the thoughtful Mercedes engineers placed those ticks on the speedometer 50 years ago for a reason. Downshifting is also a pleasure, and my double clutching technique usually improves after about 20 minutes on the road and 8-10 shifts. Again the lack of a tach. hurts, but the procedure is straightforward, deep breath, clutch lightly if at all and ease the lever into neutral, blip the throttle a bit, sometimes a lot, and clutch while slipping the lever into the next gear down with the heel or the side of the foot continuing to blip the throttle while it also presses the brake, let the clutch out as quickly as you dare, and glance over to the wifey to see if she notices. If she screams, it was a bad shift, if she doesn't notice it was a good shift, and if she compliments, it was sublime.

140 miles to Jamestown Friday evening, arrive 45 minutes before the 9PM sunset. 80 miles to the Columbia air show, and around Angels Camp, and Murphys, California wineries on Saturday. 180 miles around Valley Springs, Mokulemne Hill, San Andreas and back home through Farmington for the best oysters in the whole world. The car was flawless through 400 miles in all.

- Scott

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