The little champion of mighty Motorclassica

Good-looking cars? They're a dollar a dozen at Motorclassica, the Melbourne car show that is rapidly becoming the must-do event on every car aficionado's calendar.

Extreme scarcity? Well, that's something else again.

It's easy to overlook a low-slung silver open-top sports car that's parked next to a brand-new, quarter-of-a-million dollar roadster that is its direct successor, and just across from a swoopy luxury coupe worth close to half a million dollars that has just been unveiled for the first time in this country.

The Mercedes-Benz 220SL is the metaphoric white whale of cars. One of only a handful of prototypes ever fitted by Mercedes with the 2.2-litre six-cylinder engine, it's the sole right-hand-drive example made, and the only one of the bunch known to still be intact.

It's not the only car at Motorclassica with a fabulous past. The halls of Melbourne's Exhibition Building this weekend are jam-packed with precious metal and memories, from a 1956 Maserati 250s that is currently owned by the Honorary Consul to Monaco, to a 1974 Lancia Stratos Stradale described as "the world's best" of its type and a 1936 Daimler limousine used as official transport by both King Edward VIII and King George VI.

In between are around 500 cars including a host of Ferraris, Porsches, Aston Martins, and cars of every description from dedicated racers to luxurious limos.

Both Maserati – which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary – and event sponsor Mercedes-Benz have special displays, with the latter choosing the event to reveal its stunning new S-Class Coupe for the first time in Australia.

A giant among greats

The smaller, lighter and significantly older 220SL parked opposite might get lost in the hype surrounding a car that is the last word in luxury motoring, but it's the real giant as far as car aficionados are concerned.

Not that its owner, retired Adelaide car dealer Ray Eastwood, had any inkling he was purchasing a slice of history when he paid "very little" for it in 1984, thinking it to be the far more common four-cylinder version, the 190SL.

It was only when Eastwood – who  was the dealer principal for almost 30 years at an Adelaide Mercedes-Benz dealership – came to dismantle it for an overdue restoration that he realised he had something special.

Experimental prototype

Investigations including a trip to the company's German headquarters in Stuttgart confirmed the 1957 220SL had been an "experimental" prototype that was shelved before it could be put into production.

Eastwood's car was originally sent to the Asian city of Macau in the late 1950s where it was intended to be raced in the famous Macau grand prix, although no record exists of it running. It was shipped to Adelaide in 1960 and bought by a schoolteacher, and passed into Eastwood's hands in 1974 in a poor state of repair.

"I didn't pay a great deal of money at all, for (what everyone thought was) a 190SL that didn't go and had an engine full of water," he says.


Now fully restored, it's reckoned to be "priceless" or near enough to it – which is fortunate, because its 67-year-old owner isn't selling, even though it's only one of about 10 cars in his garage (most of which are Mercedes).

"The (Mercedes) factory has said to me if I ever dispose of the car they would like it. I'd be happy to go with that," Eastwood says.

Motorclassica runs from Friday, October 24 to Sunday, October 26 at Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building. Visit the website for opening hours and ticket prices.

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