1959 Mercedes-Benz Type W180 220S cabriolet

owner (1996 - 2018): Len Sokoloff / len@sokoloff.com / North Carolina, USA

This car was sold to a new owner on Malta (February 2018)

Note the amber running lights and OEM Hella fog lamps (April 1999)

An Unexpected Find

Len writes, "I had been looking for a Mercedes-Benz 560SL for about two years, traveling up and down the east coast of the US looking for just the right one. In my travels, I located a stolen 560SL that the former owner was quite happy to hear about. I was questioned and photographed by the FBI as I drove into a used car lot in the middle of a sting operation, and I made offers on at least four other SL models that for one reason or another fell through. I was really getting frustrated and was ready to give up. Then one day in August 1996 in western Pennsylvania, my wife noticed a car parked behind some bushes and thought that the model number on the trunk looked like a Mercedes number. 

The 220S before Len bought it in 1996.  Note the Euro spec. tail lights (amber / red / white / reflector)

We could not see enough of the car to even be able to tell if it was a Mercedes, so of course I had to have a closer look. It turned out to be a 1959 Mercedes-Benz 220S cabriolet in reasonable condition. Since I had not been looking for such a model, I had no idea what it was, what it was worth, or if it was at all desirable. So, I spent quite a bit of time gathering as much information about it as I could. Most of that information came from Ray Ilich and Ron van Seventer, and I can not thank them enough for all of their time and knowledge. So, it appeared that I might have found something worthwhile. Armed with a four page checklist of what to look for, I went back and tried to find a reason not to buy it. Well, it passed my inspection with flying colors and I drove it home with a huge smile on my face.

Note the Lucas fog lamps and headlights, the raggedy top, the grill badges and clear fender lights


From the previous owner and from Mercedes-Benz, I was able to reconstruct some of the car's history. It left the factory on April 21, 1959 and was delivered to a Mr. Willmart in Stuttgart. The car was built to US specifications, so I assume that Mr. Willmart was either a serviceman or a diplomat and planned to return to the US with the car. I think the current owner's father was the second owner and he had the car for over 20 years. Apparently it was his winter car and used only two or three months a year when he left the cold northern winters of Pennsylvania for a more balmy Florida. The son inherited the car when his father passed away. He drove the car a couple of times a year just to keep things lubricated, and other than that, the car rarely left the garage. On the day I saw the car, he had just moved it out of the garage to get something that the car had blocked in. The car had 10 year old Florida tags on it. The owner was not around and there was no for sale sign on the car. So I left a note for the owner telling him that if he was interested in selling, I might be interested in buying. At the time I had no idea who the owner was. So, the owner did call me and the rest, as they say, is history.

Low Original Mileage

The odometer read 44,648 miles when I got the car and the owner swears that was the correct original miles. Since I have owned the car (1996) there has been nothing that I have found to prove or disprove that statement. Considering the fact that the car was used only a few months a year for the past 20 years and the fact that it had not been titled in 10 years makes that a possibility. A maintenance record that came with the car shows that the 2,500 mile service was done in 1962.  

May, 1997: It still had the Lucas fog lamps and head lights

There was an oil change sticker on the car when I got it that showed it had 38,405 miles on it in 1980. So the evidence seems to make the low mileage appear legitimate. In the years that I have owned the car since 1996 I have done nearly all of the maintenance on it. I must say that when I bought the car, I was not mechanically minded. With the help of the factory manuals, the Mercedes-Benz Ponton website, the International Ponton Owners Group (IPOG) and other Mercedes owners who were willing to share their knowledge, I found that there were very few jobs that I could not tackle myself. Parts are readily available from Mercedes-Benz, and the prices are usually reasonable considering the fact that you are ordering parts for a 50+ year old car.

Restoration Work

I did send the car out for some big ticket items that I could not do myself.  

The Type 220S cabriolets have an abundance of woodwork

Detail of the instrument cluster.  The wood was restored by Heritage Woodworks.

I had Drew Tibcken at Heritage Woodworks redo all of the wood. The veneer that I chose for the wood is East Indian rosewood.  Drew restored the wood for me in 1997 and it still looks wonderful. I had a new top put on by B&J Enterprises in Rockville, Maryland.  He also lined the boot with leather. I had about half of the chrome done by Martins in Philadelphia.

Update: June 22, 2002 / Floor, Carpeting, Seatbelts

Preparation and repair of floor (left front) before installing new carpeting

Right front (passenger foot well). Len used a rust inhibitor called POR-15 to seal the floor prior to installing sound deadening under the new carpets.

The rear section of the floor — not too bad for 43 years of use

This shows the application of the POR-15 rust inhibitor

The silver stuff is POR-15 too. It is similar to the black except it has a lot more metal filler in it. It is recommended for the most pitted metals. Still applied the same way, it can be top-coated the same as the black. I think the price is the same too. I order my POR-15 directly from the www.por15.com website. I recommend the small six pack of cans. Even though it is a little more expensive that way, it is much easier to prepare and clean up.

This is the material Len used under the carpets.  It is called Dynamat (www.dynamat.com).

These are the individual carpet pieces for the 220S cabriolet.  The carpets came from Klaus Hermann Mayer.

Klaus Hermann Mayer
KFZ-Technik GmbH
Berkheimer Str. 10 - 12
73734 Esslingen
Telephone: 0711-35 79 000
FAX: 0711-35 79 0014
website: http://www.cabrio.de
e-mail: khm@cabrio.de

The trunk carpeting pieces

Trunk carpet installed

June 22, 2002: New carpeting and seatbelts installed. The seatbelts came from Andover Automotive in Columbia, Maryland.

Have Ponton, Will Travel

Since I have had the car, my wife and I have had a wonderful time with it. You can never go anywhere without someone stopping you and asking you about it. I bought the car to use and I have driven it all over the east coast. It has been to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Charlottesville and Myrtle Beach just to mention a few places. I hope to take it to the Mercedes-Benz Starfest event in Indianapolis in the summer of 2002.

My daughter in the 220S at her wedding. Note the small, "Ulonite 105" reflectors inboard of the tail lights. The car has been used in two weddings so far. My daughter got married in August 1999 and a friend of the family used it in her wedding in July 2001.

Film Appearances

Len's cabriolet (on right of TV screen) appeared in the movie Liberty Heights

The car has been used in two movies and one television series. It appeared in Barry Levinson's film Liberty Heights shot in the Baltimore area in 1998.  The Showtime series Going to California used the car for one episode in July 2001. It was also used in the filming of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood shot in Wilmington, NC in 2001. The film features Ashley Judd, Sandra Bullock, James Garner, and Ellen Burstyn, and was released in the summer of 2002. Unfortunately, they opted to use a light yellow 1974 Rolls Royce Corniche convertible instead. Scenes with the 220S cabriolet were left on the cutting room floor.

Len and his wife in 1998.  Her car is a 1964 Volkswagen Type 1 "Beetle."

Update: December 6, 2005

We had a mini ECCG (east coast cabriolet gathering) today. Could not compete with Scott Gordon's west coast event, but I was happy to have twice as many cabriolets as I usually see in the area.

The Medium Red (DB516) cabrio belongs to Chauncey Cooke who lives a few miles down the road from me. He has a great looking car. I think he will be joining the International Ponton Owners Group (IPOG) shortly. He can tell you more about his car then. Anyway it was great to meet him in person and find another Ponton in the area. That makes three in about a ten mile area.

Update: January 15, 2014

Crossing the finsh line at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (circa 2011)

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