The best restored pre-war car we’ve driven to date, this oldest-on-the-road Mercedes-Benz in South Africa just gets better with age. Meet the Mercedes 10/50 hp Type Stuttgart 260...
This 90-year old Mercedes-Benz is absolutely immaculate. From afar, or poring over the details alongside its owner, it’s clear all the stops were pulled during its restoration. It’s no wonder chassis number U86450 has won several Mercedes-Benz Club of South Africa awards.
Its history is a chequered one and it is a car that has both worked hard and languished. This is the only Stuttgart 260 example imported to Southern Africa and it arrived in 1928, where it did duty as a taxi in Windhoek. The vehicle is also an early example of a Daimler-Benz; although Benz’s history begins in 1886, it was only in 1926 that Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie merged to form Daimler-Benz AG.
It is unclear when the vehicle arrived in South Africa from Windhoek, but much later – and for nearly two decades – it spent time on loan to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in East London. In 2003, it was bought from a deceased estate and, in 2010, the owner embarked on the long road of a complete restoration. “Obviously, it was not all down to me; several other enthusiasts made this project possible,” he recalls.
Under the bonnet of the 260 beats a 2,6-litre, inline six-cylinder petrol engine, which was also carefully stripped and rebuilt. As you can imagine, it wasn’t a cheap undertaking, either, and the owner scratches his head when he reveals how much he had to pay for a new ring gear on the flywheel and a starter motor. “It was all worth it!”
At the rear, there are two full-size spare wheels, as well as a red metal jerry can to hold additional petrol (back in the day, you could buy petrol only by multiples of gallons so, when the tank was full, the additional petrol was pumped into this can).
You open the driver’s door by turning a metal handle remade by an expert in Australia. For some parts, moulds and templates first had to be manufactured before the actual part could be made. Step inside and the door shuts with a solid double click.
This may be an interior of one of the 1920s’ more premium cars, but it still takes you a while to get used to how spartan it is. The windscreen is bolt upright and so are the windows, all of which have varnished wood surrounds. Elsewhere, the roof lining and pillars are covered in soft velvet.
The seats are soft and cushion your body, while the placement of the steering wheel and general driving position are better than I expected. Passengers in the rear have a surfeit of legroom and a distinctive view to the outside world. Every detail is perfect and you will struggle to find a single thing that is out of place or that needs attention.
First gear is left and down and gently releasing the clutch sees the Stuttgart 260 gingerly rolling forward. As there is no synchromesh in the gearbox, you have to match the revs every time you want to engage another gear. It also requires a sensitivity to the manner in which the gears turn inside the ‘box before you select the next cog; you don’t want to force the lever into the next gear, but instead gently guide it as the teeth of the gears find reciprocal openings.
Once you master this routine, the car is almost as easy to drive as a modern manual car. With just three gears, you don’t have to change often and, as the car picks up speed, the 260 comfortably settles at 60 km/h.
From the driver’s seat, you look along a louvered bonnet ending in large headlamps sited above the rounded fenders. The four instruments include a pressure meter, clock, speedometer and fuel gauge.
There is obviously no power steering but the wooden wheel’s large circumference helps with leverage. Should you wish for a slight breeze through the cabin, you can either roll down the windows or use the solid metal gutters (the windscreen is fixed to the car at the top) to open the windscreen outward.
Unlike modern vehicles, you do not simply get in, turn the ignition or press a button and drive the Stuttgart 260 ... piloting this special car is an event and a welcome reminder of a time when people were in less of a rush and care was needed when tackling any automotive journey.