I am a trembling, nervous wreck as I step across that really wide sill and get into the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. I am usually quite prepared, both mentally and physically, to drive old timers. I am ready for brakes that need application in triplicate affixed with notary seals. I can handle steering wheels that require your arms to be like Schwarznegger’s, and despite that, still telegraph your intentions to the front wheels at the speed of an MTNL landline net connection. My insides have been juggled by harsh ‘suspension’ setups so much that my heart can be felt beating somewhere near my bum. So the nervousness was caused not because I was getting into yet another old car, but because it was THE car.
English hardly comes close to our Indian languages when it comes to expression, but finally, there’s one word that comes close to my feelings: trepidation. Other than the fact that driving on old car on today’s roads can be a handful, there were other factors that were causing the irregular heartbeats. Here’s an extraordinary car that’s valuable, historical and the only one in the country. Now this alone would be reason enough for anyone to get a bout of the loosies. But for me, it went even beyond that; would it be anywhere close to how I thought it would be to drive all these years? Those late nights spent staring at my 1:18 300 SL Gullwing and Roadster Bburagos and vicariously driving them, would they remain the fantasies of a hopelessly besotted grown-up? One to whom the truth could either elevate or devastate? I was about to find out.
Himanshu brings me down to Earth. ‘Srini, it may not be like what you expect, so...’ The aforementioned Himanshu’s ancestors were forward-looking, enlightened rulers who changed the lives of their people for the better. His father actually raced this car in Sholavaram and Barrackpore in the Exotics class in those good old days when motorsport in India simply meant competing by riding or driving fast. The 300 SL has taken pole position in every event it has competed in, and wears its racing scars proudly even today. Himanshu, if you have not guessed, is Himanshu Sinhji Jadeja, the Yuvraj of Gondal, who is as passionate about cars as it gets. He knows his machines, is a terrific driver and worships speed. And he very well knows about my complete submission to the 300 SL. Which is why this word of advice. I don’t know how to thank him for allowing me to drive this greatest piece of automotive history.