In The Star magazine’s May-June 2022 article, “There at the Beginning,” we spoke extensively about my father, Alfred Peyton Jenkins, and the car’s early history and how he purchased our 1957 300SL Roadster. The following is the story of our adventures with it during the subsequent 65 years.
The early years
After arriving in New York on September of 1957, aboard the SS Liberté, my father drove his new acquisition home to Richmond, Virginia. After spending the Fall in Virginia, he drove it to his house in Palm Beach, Florida for the winter. During this time, he continued to drive the car on its German Export plates until he had it titled in Virginia on February 24, 1958, registering it to his Palm Beach address.
We know little of the 300SL’s specific adventures over the next couple of years other than it was enjoyed by my father and his wife Katheryn at both their residences. Most likely, it could often be seen parked at either the Everglades Club in Palm Beach or the Country Club of Virginia in Richmond where he was an avid scratch golfer.
Alfred and Katheryn divorced in 1958. Subsequently, my father was introduced to Ann Plymale, my mother, at a Virginia Museum event in Richmond in 1959. They would eventually marry in Florida in early 1960.
I enter the story
As one can imagine, owning a car that has been a part of one’s life since before birth comes with many wonderful memories and experiences. Regrettably, there is space on these pages to chronicle only a few. Through doing so, my wife, Holly-Faye, and I hope to share with you, the reader, some of the car’s history and its life as a member of our family.
To start at the beginning, my mother always told me she discovered she was pregnant with me while attending the 12 Hours of Sebring international sports car race, where she began experiencing morning sickness. Amazingly, I recently discovered a photograph taken of my mother sitting in the passenger seat of our 300SL on that very day. The car has been part of my life ever since.
As a young child, I recall often riding in the car while sitting on the transmission tunnel between my mother and father. One of my most vivid childhood memories occurred when I was six years old. We had been in Palm Beach for the Winter, and in March, my mother and I were to take the 300SL north to Richmond. This was a great adventure for me; however, I recall that it was pouring rain the first day, which made the car very damp inside.
During the mid-1960s, Interstate 95 was lined with cheesy billboards advertising South of the Border, a roadside motel on the North Carolina/South Carolina border. It was famous for two things: 1. All those billboards featuring their mascot, Pedro, counting down the miles to the motel. 2. Distinctive bumper stickers that were plastered to a large percentage of cars traveling the corridor between New York and Florida.
That first day, I kept pestering my mother to stay at the motel for the night. As it was just a cheap roadside attraction, she was not inclined to do so. Nonetheless, just before getting there, she finally acquiesced and agreed to “just stop there for fuel.”
Still raining, my fortunes changed when she saw that the motel had individual bungalows with carports attached. Knowing she could park the car undercover and out of the rain, she agreed to stay the night. What she didn’t know was I had an ulterior motive – that was to acquire one of the aforementioned bumper stickers.
Early the next morning, while my mother was getting ready, I walked to the front desk and asked for a bumper sticker. Once in hand, I quickly ran back and affixed it to the 300SL’s rear bumper. A few minutes later, my mother came out and immediately saw the freshly applied sticker.
Mortified, she turned to me and was met with a sheepish grin only a 6-year-old boy could produce. The only thing she could say was that “as soon as we get home, you are going to remove that before your father sees it!” True to her word, as soon as we got home, she produced a bottle of nail polish remover and had me remove the sticker before I was allowed into the house.
My father’s later years
As my father aged and acquired more and newer Mercedes-Benz cars, the 300SL was driven less and less. He would, however, exercise it from time to time and take it out for special events.
All the while, I continued to love the car and couldn’t wait to be old enough to drive it. That day came in 1976, when I acquired my driver’s license. After having learned to drive a manual in our old 220SE with a “four on the tree” transmission, my father took me out in the 300SL for lessons on “driving a proper stick shift.” I was blown away by how the car drove, accelerated, and shifted. It was like nothing else I had experienced in my short driving career.
Over subsequent years, I became involved with motor racing and moved on to own, drive, and race Porsches and BMWs. But my passion for the old 300SL sitting in our garage never waned.
Passing to the second generation
When my father passed away in 1995 at the age of 95, I was fortunate enough to inherit the beloved 300SL with just 39,000 miles on the odometer.
At that point the car needed a mechanical and cosmetic refresh to bring it back to its former glory and meet our desire to enjoy the car on a regular basis. During 1996 and 1997, this included having Klub Sport in North Palm Beach, Florida go through the car’s mechanical, braking, and electrical systems - replacing all the old hoses and other worn parts necessary to bring the car back to reliable driving standards.
At the same time, the body was re-sprayed in its original Glasurit Light Blue Metallic (DB G353) color using an original factory paint sample. The interior leather and carpeting were replaced using correct materials and Blue (333) leather hides. The bumpers and other brightwork were also replated as necessary. The one concession made was to have the original convertible top’s tan canvas replaced with blue canvas to match the interior.
With the refresh completed, the 300SL’s first outing came at the 1998 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance. This event was made even more special by reuniting with my father’s 1953 300S Coupe, now owned and entered by the Brumos organization. Immediately after the event my wife and I took the 300SL back home to Virginia.
Over the next couple of years we enjoyed taking the car on weekend drives around the Virginia countryside and to Sunday brunches in Williamsburg. However, the engine was not running as it should. It was down on power and periodically overheated. We took it to Bjorn Nordemo at Sports Leicht Restorations, Inc. in North Carolina where it was diagnosed as suffering from bore scoring and therefore required a rebuild.
After removal, my wife transported the engine to Dave Twitchell at DTM Motorsports in New Hampshire to have it brought back to its former glory. To resolve the overheating issue, Bjorn had the radiator recored.
Before reinstalling the engine, Bjorn asked if we wanted to have a new clutch installed? After inquiring about its condition, I replied “no.” At that, my wife reminded me of the stories I had told her about learning to drive a stick in the car. Upon reflection, I changed my response to “yes.”
Other than those major services, the 300SL has continued to receive regular maintenance and has had items replaced as needed to keep it in top condition. It is numbers-matching and retains 98% of its original parts including all original glass, headlights, and floor mats.
The body has never been removed from the chassis, the wheel wells show their original factory paint, and the factory chrome wheels have never been restored. After 65 years the car is as reliable as the day my father took delivery.
After the engine was reinstalled and tested, Holly-Faye and I picked up the car and headed to our first Gullwing Group Convention at the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina where we had a wonderful time and met some great people.
Special and unique historical artifacts
Shortly after our return from the convention, my wife walked into our home office carrying a box of papers from the attic. She mischievously said, “I found these and thought they might be important,” knowing full-well she had struck gold. Much to my amazement, the box was full of letters and documents related to the 300SL, some of which were chronicled in Part 1 of this article.
Along with the pre-purchase documentation and correspondence discovered by Holly-Faye, we still have most of the items from the car’s delivery and early years. Not only do we have the first picture taken of my father with the car; we have the negatives and camera with which it was taken, the coat and hat he was wearing in the picture, as well as his passport, travel documents, and maps from that day.
The car also retains its original Export plates, tools, spare consumables, owner’s manuals, service books, and many other items. We even have the car’s original title, keys, key ring, and the rare Jaeger Chronoflite rally clock that was specially installed for him by Mercedes-Benz.
More wonderful memories
Over the years, we have attended many fantastic Concours and other events with the 300SL. We have made great friends and taken home some wonderful awards. These have included Best in Class and Best of Show awards from many regional and national shows – 15 in all.
We have also been honored with the Best in 300SL Class at the Concours of America, the Ross Award at the Pinehurst Concours, the Spirit of Preservation award at the Trump Charlotte Concours, and the Princess Grace award at the Greenbrier Concours.
One particularly memorable event occurred during the Iron Mike Rally as part of the 2016 Pinehurst Concours. The rally took us along the roads around Pinehurst and ended in the middle of the Fort Bragg army base at their Parade Grounds. After a picnic honoring military personnel, we were freed to head back to Pinehurst. Followed by another 300SL, we got separated from the group and found ourselves lost in the heart of Fort Bragg.
Upon making a turn onto an unfamiliar street, I looked in my rear view mirror and, much to my horror, noticed two MP vehicles fast approaching with their lights on. Thinking the worst, I was greatly relieved when they pulled up alongside and an MP leaned out the window of the first car and asked if we would like an escort. My heart now out of my throat, I responded, “sure.” With that, they turned on their sirens and led both 300SLs on a high-speed trip for the next 30 miles to the base’s outer gates. This included escorting us through red lights and stopping all traffic in our way. As we enjoyed the experience, all we could think was “this must be how dignitaries feel.”
At another event, a gentleman kept inquiring about the value of our car. As car owners, we have all experienced this uncomfortable question and tried to deflect it with a vague answer. On this occasion, the person would not accept my ambiguous response and continued to press for a number.
My wife, in earshot of the exchange, turned to the gentleman and very sincerely, responded “It’s not worth a darn penny! He’s never going to sell it and it only costs us money!” Realizing he wasn’t going to get his desired answer, he just shook his head and walked away.
When not residing in its place of honor in our garage among our other German collector cars, we continue to enjoy our 300SL on weekend drives. We still attend larger events where we like sharing the car and its history with other enthusiasts.
65 years and more
We celebrated the 65th anniversary of taking delivery of our 300SL on July 22 of this year. As part of its birthday celebration, we are attending the Gull Wing Group Convention at the Greenbrier event in West Virginia this September. Also, in November, we will be part of the MBCA “History of the Roadster” display at the Legends of the Autobahn–East event during the Hilton Head Concours.
We look forward to continuing to make new memories with the car and seeing fellow enthusiasts and MBCA members in the future.