Behind the White Wheel

Behind the White Wheel

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sundry Feelings Throughout an Event…and More

Merry Christmas! I am back after this long absence…Yes, I was kind of busy, maybe lazy, but mostly busy…I enjoyed the endless summer activities, drove my car a lot…really a lot, participated in the Deir El Qamar Classical Cars Show, gave my car a long time needed engine overhauling (full of adventures) and found back my serenity almost three weeks ago…

As a start, driving my car during the extremely hot summer of 2010 wasn’t as agreeable as it used to be. As a classic cars lover, or freak, I found the “ultimate” solution for that problem: Drive my car only to go to the beach, or up to the mountains, or at night when there’s no traffic and no sun…thus the heat problem was kind of neutralized pragmatically…hoping for a cooler 2011 summer season!

September came along with the Deir El Qamar Classical Cars Show. I participated in this show along with around 30 other cars owners. The muscle cars raced in the Hill Climb while our cars; sedans, coupes, convertibles…etc. were parked on Dany Chamoun’s Square. Thanks to my long time friend David Baz, I was able to take some interesting pictures from the top of his house overlooking the square.

There is a special thing about driving my Mercedes-Benz to Deir El Qamar at 7:00 AM on a Sunday morning. A part from the beautiful fresh weather, the striking scenery in the Chouf Mountains, and the fact that the journey usually counts more than the destination itself, passing through some streets of Beirut, particularly Gemayzeh, Mar Mikhael, Tabaris, Abdel Wahab, Hamra…etc makes me feel a bit of remorse and bitterness. This mind-set comes when I see construction sharks demolishing some of the most beautiful old buildings of Beirut. These buildings reflect the whole history of the Beirutis. Every street’s inimitable life, unmatched stories, unique people…etc. are erased with each demolished building. While owning my Mercedes-Benz attach me in a way or another to the pre war Beirut, a city I only knew through yellowish old pictures and aged stories, these buildings and streets facets connect me to my childhood and teenage years! Losing them is equivalent to losing my past, my character, my “who I am”…

Once in Deir El Qamar and the parking spots assigned, I found my car between a Mercedes-Benz 220S ponton and a green 1960 Dodge. The group of cars among which my car was parked comprised other than the 220S, and the Dodge a red cute Simca Aronde, the late President Camille Chamoun’s Bentley and two Cadillac sedans. Again, this same dolce vita era that the cars reflected popped out in my face, now in a happier way. All the participants shared my passion and talked excitingly about their cars and their respective histories! I knew I wasn’t the only one to keep a wonderful piece of a sweet past in my everyday life.

On the left side of the square, facing the main road, the muscle cars sat proudly. My friend and IPOG (International Pontons Owners’ Group) member Farouk El Khalil white Pontiac Trans Am figured among them. Farouk participated in the race and arrived 6th despite the car’s relatively bad tires.

The right side of the Square, facing the Mary Baz Museum featured Camille Chamoun Jr. Ford Cobra, a 1960 black Chevrolet Corvette, a sky blue late 60s or early 70s BMW Coupe, a 1948 Cadillac Coupe, a 1966 black Ford Mustang, a black 1960 Mercedes-Benz 190sl and the car I liked most in the show, a red with off-white stylish interior 1965 Ford Thunderbird (I will write about it in details at a later stage).

This diversified gathering shouldn’t be the only yearly event pertaining to classic cars in Lebanon. Classic cars as I believe are a primordial aspect of our cultural heritage. Movements to preserve Beirut’s heritage should place such events on their calendars, to help the younger generations connect physically with the past and feel attached to it without being caught in it.

That was mainly the Deir el Qamar Classical Cars Show! The pictures speak of themselves, my mind already did. It was a beautiful experience; I’ll do my best to make it happen more often!

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Special Tribute to Assi Al-Rahbani

On the 21st of June 1986, Lebanon and the world lost the great Assi Al-Rahbani. I was 6 years old then and I admit I do not remember anything of value related to that day.

Today, as I was going through the local newspaper “Al-Akhbar” I read few articles about Assi; His life, his work, the Lebanon he created, the village he imagined, his relationship with the nature, with human beings…etc. It’s correct, as one of the articles described, Assi Al-Rahbani along with his brother Mansour and with the legend Fairuz pushed everyone, through their work, to create a special personal image of the Lebanon or the life (as personally I can’t separate one from the other) he/she wants or desires.

I stopped for a while, and went through the many memories I have…Indeed; Assi Al-Rahbani and Fairuz had an important role in shaping my imagination and in making me create an image of an environment I would have loved to live in. It’s no other than a normal evolution of Lebanon, where nothing was ever destroyed, nor rebuilt…where I can walk on the same roads where my grandmother has walked in Souk Al Tawile, Souk Ayass, Al-Ajamy Square, the famous “Place des Canons”…where I can mingle with people in the old souks, away from the standardized and boring shopping malls…before heading to the village. There everything is serene, people are still attached to their land, not willing to leave it at any cost! This is the perfect harmony I imagine between the city and the village a harmony best reflected by the most archaic link between the two: The taxi driver and his car!

In the modern post independence Lebanon during the 1950s, 60s and beginning of the 70s, the taxi driver is always accompanied by his immortal Mercedes-Benz ponton or fintail. This duo has been best reflected in one of the Al-Rahbani’s movies “Bint Al-Haris” filmed in the 1960s. In this movie, Fairuz plays the role of the daughter of a local security guard in a peaceful village in Mount Lebanon, who for some reason is obliged to leave and work in the city. Several scenes show the daily life in Beirut as well as in the village where the taxi plays his designed role in the most loyal way. What I love about it is that in the whole movie the driver of the car has no role and no personality whatsoever! We just see the car; the Mercedes-Benz ponton which transports people from and to the city.

I would have loved to live in that era. My friends would tell me it’s because the cars are “old” by today’s standards! It’s a veiled reason maybe but I admit I am in love with the overall lifestyle back then. It’s a unique cohabitation of old Lebanese values I grew up on and a great deal of modernization by the 60s standards. This modernization is mostly shown when Fairuz works as a teacher in the movie, when people throw parties and dance; real parties, not those cliché parties where people are eating kebbe and dancing the dabke! In all these scenes, the immortal Mercedes-Benz ponton is around. It’s part of the folklore, it’s an irrelevant detail for many but it’s a crucial one for me who perceives eras through objects, especially cars.

The Ponton was represented in Assi’s work. I am hundred percent sure he only intended to reflect faithfully all the details of the daily life back then, but he enriched my imagination in a way that aged pictures and old stories can never achieve.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Red Empty Bench Seat

I jump into my car, turn on the ignition and press the starter button…

As the tired 49 years old engine starts, and I glimpse on the rear view mirror the small puff of white smoke,

As I engage the 1st gear, and start hearing the different noises that come from the many still ongoing mechanisms,

As I turn on the old Becker Mexico, and push the wonder bar looking for a nice song,

As I shift gears, climb hills, avoid water puddles, and drive on small empty roads…

I can’t but think of you…

I miss you sitting next to me on the red bench seat, making fun of the car, calling it “tombor”, laughing, complaining, and talking, talking, talking…

I miss enjoying these crazy little things with you!

I miss living with you…

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Revival Story…Episode 1

Elie Kallab, a good friend of mine and a classic cars lover, approached me to help him complete the restoration of his 1962 180c. Elie bought the car dismantled few years ago and completed the major part of the body work before abandoning the project.
Currently the body work needs to be “freshened” up before painting and assembling. The restoration of the upholstery, chrome, electrical system and all the never ending miscellaneous things will be part of the whole process. Mechanically, the car is in good condition, the engine is running but needs some fine tuning, however, the breaking system needs to be restored.
Elie already bought all the weather strips from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in the USA. Many of the missing parts will come from a complete but heavily rusted 1961 180b.
The end result should be a nice black with red interior Mercedes-Benz 180c.
Here are some pictures of the car. The restoration process should start in few days.

This blog will witness the revival of this ponton…Stay connected…

Friday, April 30, 2010

A No Man's Car

Hit by the female-appeal craze in 1955, Chrysler introduced the Dodge “La Femme”, the first and only American car marketed solely for women. “By Appointment to her Majesty…The American Woman” exclaimed the brochure. Though short lived, the 1955 -56 "La Femme" can’t but be considered a unique car reflecting a prosperous and beautiful era.

(Source Wikipedia)

In the 1950’s GM (Chrysler’s main competitor) introduced many models of cars having a certain feminine appeal. The Cadillac Eldorado Seville Baroness, Pontiac Pink Parisienne and the Chevrolet Impala Martinique were some of these cars.
Hit by the virus in the spring of 1955, Chrysler introduced the “La Femme” a two doors Dodge Custom Royal Lancer with some additional trim and accessories costing 143.30$ by the 1950s standards. The price of the Custom Royal Lancer was $2,543 back then.

“La Femme’s” exterior color scheme was Sapphire White and Heather Rose. Gold colored “La Femme” scripts replaced the standard “Custom Royal Lancer” scripts on the front fender.

(Source: Wikipedia)

The ultimate touches which personalize “La Femme” are its special feminine accessories. Two compartments located on the backs of the front seats are upholstered in Heather Rose Cord grain. The compartment on the driver's side contains a stylish rain cape, a fisherman's style rain hat and an umbrella which carry out the Jacquard motif. The other compartment holds a stunning shoulder bag in soft rose leather. It is fitted with a lighter, a lipstick and a cigarettes case.

(Source: Wikipedia)

"La Femme" was dropped for the 1957 model year, mostly because of a fairly high price for the options it had and maybe a lack of good promotion by Chrysler.

I tried to browse the internet looking for one for sale but in vain. These cars have become extremely rare. Though the “Custom Royal Lancer” might still be found on eBay (for example), its “La Femme” version has completely disappeared. Some estimates state that only twenty cars survived (one of them is in the displayed pictures).

These cars reflect the role women had in the 1950’s in the US: Back then, most of them had already joined the workforce. "La Femme", with its colors, options and shape, in addition to trying to add a certain feminine aspect to the extremely mannish cars’ environment, came as a scream for women to distinguish themselves from men on this particular side. The Europeans, in my opinion, did not tackle this issue in the same manner. They either introduced extremely small cars (such as the Citroen 2CV, or the Renault Dauphine) and marketed them as cars that would be “preferred” by women or simply pictured a woman driving a Mercedes-Benz 220S with the semi automatic Hydrak Clutch, for instance, implying that this car was easy to drive.

I strongly believe that the cultural and social differences between the US and Europe reflected extremely well on the automobile industry. The designs and the size reflected it most. In this posting a new dimension is observed: The Americans (Chrysler is this case) tried to completely differentiate between cars for women and cars for men. A certain marketing strategy I would say; bad in terms of sales results apparently, but extremely successful in terms of cultural heritage and originality.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fifteen Years…

« J'ai rencontré quelques peines, j'ai rencontré beaucoup de joie. C'est parfois une question de chance, souvent une histoire de choix. Je suis pas au bout de mes surprises la dessus y'a aucun doute. Et tous les jours je continue à apprendre les codes de ma route. » Grand Corps Malade

On the 23rd of April 1995, I took the first two pictures of my then newly acquired Mercedes-Benz 180. It was Easter day and my birthday! I had just turned fifteen!

Today, it’s the 23rd of April 2010. I’m turning thirty. As you can see, those are the latest two pictures of my car.

Fifteen years have gone by since the 23rd of April 1995 and I still own this car. As I wrote in the first post on this blog, “I have restored it, I have learned how to maintain it, and I know every single detail in it, every single wire, every single bolt...” well, I will say more this time…For fifteen years this car has been accompanying me…I used it whenever I could…Now that I think of incidents, funny stories etc… I imagine a movie running on the fast forward in my head. I see a lot of pictures, I hear engine, wind and all types of noises, and I smile when I glimpse the faces of my friends and loved ones sitting next to me in the car… It’s simply the movie of my life where this car has been, as I always wanted, a major part of it.
I admit I haven’t thought in 1995 where I will be on the 23rd of April 2010, nor in what condition the car will be. Today, I know I have made and was sometimes obliged to make many choices in my life. I do question some, not to the extent of feeling regret, but I am glad I made all the others. I’m pleased I kept the car in a very good shape and crossed many important milestones in its never ending amelioration process.
On the other hand, I’m gratified I kept my friends around me, met new ones and did my best to create harmony between them all. I’m thankful I belong to a family and to a village I go to whenever the pressure of the daily life becomes unbearable and I see myself as a unique reflection of the crazy society I live in. Those fifteen years shaped my personality; they made out of me the person I am now. The coming years hide surprises, bad ones and good ones, they will shape me again without being able to change everything in me…especially my love for classic cars…
I’ll stop here. You will feel that I deviated from the original objectives of this blog, but I assure you, dear readers, I haven’t; I simply never dissociated myself, and my friends have never dissociated me either, from my car. It simply comes with me… a freaky approach? Don’t push your thinking too far…take me as I am or read the "Behind the Freak: lifestyle and perceptions" blog…

See you again in a similar post in 2025…till then I’ll be discovering the coming chapters of “les codes de ma route”…

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

To Travel is Better Than to Arrive (Jeff Miller)

Nothing is better than a weekend escapade to the mountains away from the stress of the daily life. I chose to spend this weekend alone in Kafarhata Al Koura to relax and enjoy the beautiful spring weather.

Taking my classic Mercedes-Benz 180 is a must for such trips. I left home early in the morning, had breakfast with Nathalie and drove straight to Koura. The trip was amazing with very little traffic on the highway and the car cruising smoothly at around 90km/h. I enjoyed the amazingly calm sea, the clear weather and the blue sky along with beautiful Brel, Brassens, Piaf and Sinatra songs diffused by the old Becker Mexico tube radio. I crossed the Chekka tunnel, took the first exit and started climbing the different hills leading to my village. On my way, I was continuously sharing the small countryside roads surrounded by burgeoning olive trees and wild yellow flowers with several “young classics” most of them W114/115 and W123 Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot 504, Renault 12 etc...

The weekend was amazingly calm and serene. I read a lot, and enjoyed walking on the small roads of my village.

The greatest particularity of this weekend was that in addition to relaxing and detaching myself from the routine, I enjoyed every aspect of my car. Going out of the city for a weekend in a classic car is extremely special and enjoyable to an extent I believe that it’s the journey, not the destination that is most enjoyable!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Parked and Forsaken...

When I completed the restoration of my 180b in 1995 I was left with some small unfinished details. Among them was the missing outside mirror that was considered an extremely rare item!

One day in 1999 I detected by chance in Achrafieh a gray 190b still being used as a cab. The first thing I noticed was the original mirror on the front left fender. I parked next to it, looked at the driver and asked him if he would sell me the mirror of his car. The old man, surprised by my freaky question said he would give me the mirror only if I could get him any other one. Without hesitation, I went to a used car parts store and got him a Peugeot 504 mirror. I helped him install it, took my newly acquired mirror straight to the re-chroming shop and “hop” within a week the mirror was installed in my car.

Later on, in 2004, I saw the same car and driver waiting for a “client” at the same place…This time I decided to use his taxi services…I jumped out of my (now ex) girlfriend's car (I paid the price for leaving her alone) and asked him to take me to ABC Achrafieh. The ride was pleasant, the driver funny – a typical old service driver – and the car was running smoothly though it was relatively “tired”; something normal for a 40+ years old car…

Years passed by, and I started seeing this same car parked in Karm El Zeitoun next to my friend’s house. I wondered what happened to the driver since the car seemed to be disintegrating under the sun and the rain…I asked Youssef (since he knows the neighborhood) to check if the car is for sale…I had, and continue to have, a strong desire to acquire it and restore it!

As I expected, the owner of the car had passed away…Normally the ownership would have been shifted to his heirs – his wife in this case, since he had no children – unfortunately this did not happen because of some legal and financial disputes the owner had with the previous mayor of the region who also passed away…!!!
A bit out of reality story…but until now, the car is sitting at the corner of the street…waiting to be junked or to find a new owner…I’ll do my best to find the new owner or to be the new owner myself…my desire to restore it is getting stronger every day…

Follow me; the journey has just started…

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Le Temps de Vivre"

As every month, I bought my favorite magazine “Auto Retro”. What attracted me most in this issue was the editorial written by Xavier Audiau. He described in a beautiful way a major reason why classic cars owners love their cars and took me back to my childhood years as I saw myself in my father’s 1983 Honda Accord going from Beirut to Rabieh (yes that was one hell of a trip back then) or from Rabieh to Koura or even from Montreal to Toronto or to NYC in the 1989 dark blue Ford Taurus!
Does anyone remember those endless trips? What did you use to do? Sing? Look at the odometer’s reading from behind your dad’s shoulders? Fight with your brothers or sisters?
I used to do all these things, while my father was driving and my mum either giving us biscuits or pushing us to sing maybe one of the famous Sound of Music’s songs…
Dear readers, here’s Audiau’s editorial as he wrote it, in French. I decided not to translate it since his way of writing contributed in my opinion to its beauty.

“C’était il y a longtemps…A une époque où l’on voyageait encore en automobile. L’orsqu’on arrivait à destination, chez des amis ou bien dans la famille, on observait un rituel obligatoire: on refaisait verbalement le voyage en arrière avec moult details. Tout y passait, le nom des villages traversés, les détours, la lente caravane impossible à doubler, les bonbons à la menthe en attendant l’heure du déjeuner, les points cadeau offerts à la station-service, le poste radio diffusant les chansons de Brel et les concertos de Paganini, l’épouse qui ne saura jamais lire une carte…Il existait alors une loi naturelle de la puissance: Il était normal de se ranger quand une DS ou une Mercedes mettait son clignotant. Point d’orgue du récit, on avouait avec fierté sa “moyenne” et l’on attendait le verdict comme une note de bonne conduite devant une bière ou une limonade. Mon père roulait vite. Comme tous les papas. C’était écrit blanc sur noir sur le (très optimiste) compteur: 160 maxi! Il fut un temps où la vitesse était un signe de maîtrise du volant et du sens des responsabilités.
Aujourd’hui, on se déplace. A peine parti, on connait déjà son heure d’arrivée. On règle la clim’ au degrée près, le GPS indique la route et les conditions de circulation en temps réel. Avec ce sentiment d’être constamment traqué par une paire de jumelles…Alors, on tue le temps avec les écouteurs d’un lecteur MP3, les enfants regardent une vidéo ou ne décrochent plus de leur console de jeux. On ne roule plus ensembles mais seuls, côte à côte. Au terme d’un voyage au bout de l’enfer, personne n’oserait plus claironner une “moyenne” sans risquer un regard réprobateur ou le doigt pointé. C’était il y a longtemps…Je pensais à tout ça l’autre matin dans un bouchon. Voilà pourquoi aussi je serai toujours un farouche défenseur de l’automobile ancienne. Car paradoxalement, meme si l’on roulait “vite”, on avait encore le sens de l’essentiel: On prenait le temps de vivre…”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Young Classics Around Us

One of the most common scenes in Beirut is streets packed with cars, mini vans, and trucks of all sorts…new cars and “more mature” ones share the large and tight roads of Beirut honking, smoldering, and trying to get to their destination in the everlasting traffic jam!
As years pass by, new cars replace older ones! Just like human beings when a generation comes after the other!! When I walk across Beirut streets, I mainly notice old fleets of cars, young classics, a term Mercedes-Benz created to describe its cars made after 1960.
For Mercedes-Benz, young classics are cars that “one doesn’t have to be an expert to recognize. They are cars that were part of daily life, and became a landmark of our culture, cars that enlivened the streets and inspired generations. These cars are a part of history that can still be found on the roads today”.
For me, these cars are not just Mercedes-Benz! They are Peugeot, Renault, Ford Taunus, Chevrolet, Honda Accord and Civic, BMW, Opel, VW Beetle, Mini Cooper, Saab, etc… They are cars I grew up seeing around and cars I still spot today. They are moving “landmarks” and indeed “part of our culture” or at least my culture. Would you imagine a cab - “a service” in our Lebanese dialect - that is of a brand other than a Mercedes-Benz W114/115 or W123, for instance? Would you imagine a nun driving a car other than a Peugeot 504 or 505?

Are these cars worth saving? As a classic-car lover and restorer, I would at least buy and restore one of each model (models I like naturally). I would definitely restore a Mercedes-Benz 190 fintail, a Mercedes-Benz 200 or 230.4 (W114/115), a Mercedes-Benz W123, a Peugeot 404 and 504, a Renault 5 early models, a BMW 2002, a 1960 VW Beetle or Karmann Ghia and an Opel Rekord of 1980 (since my father used to own one back in the 80s)
Buying and restoring these cars is relatively easy and cheap since the parts are still widely available. Also, once restored, these cars can be easily used during weekends and even on a daily basis.

Dear reader which car would you think of buying? The answer depends on what you’re looking for… are you looking for the car your father used to own when you were a kid? Are you looking for a car that you dreamt of owning when you were at school? Or are you looking for a car that would reflect your style?

The sky is the limit!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The truth about Bakelite…

Many might find this article out of context but I’ve been “harassing” my friends with bakelite for at least the past 7 years! So I decided to give bakelite a tribute in this post! A final one…therefore dear friends, bare to read one last article about bakelite…

I first discovered bakelite when I bought my car in 1995. The dashboard consists of many pieces all made of bakelite. Visually bakelite looks like hard brown plastic…however; if we touch it we can easily know that it’s not usual plastic!
What is bakelite then?
Bakelite is a type of plastic material that was invented by the Belgian Leo Beakeland (1863 - 1944) in 1907, in his laboratory in the US. It was the first synthetic plastic. Bakelite became a very popular trade name, just as popular as Hoover or Kleenex. It was used in thousands of products like cars, radios, electricity products, and so on.

In 1927, the patent on the bakelite production ended; hence the world witnessed the spread of the use of bakelite as it was cheaper than wood and steel! Bakelite took many forms, shapes, rendering various different designs. For example, Art Deco influenced many Bakelite products. Besides, the great depression in the 1930s, spread further the use of bakelite as it was cheaper than other products (wood and steel, as mentioned earlier) - Bakelite seems to have been specially "conceived for” the depression.
Many people thought that the design of products would make them more attractive in addition, of course, to their affordable price.
Bakelite was highly used in cars especially popular ones; my 1961 Mercedes-Benz 180, for instance, contains a significant amount of bakelite!! Actually, the entire dashboard, windows surrounds, and the fuse box are made of bakelite.

With time, bakelite becomes dull thus less shiny… My car faced this problem, I was however able to restore its original semi-glossy brown appearance by following Jeff Miller’s method. In fact, Miller suggested that dull bakelite should be cleaned with water then with clean cotton; one should apply a very thin layer of petroleum jelly before polishing the whole thing with another clean dry tissue. The results I got were amazing. This process should be repeated every 9 months (or less) depending on the location of the part made of bakelite.

Now I’m done with bakelite, I promise not to mention it again in this blog!
I want to thank my friends, especially Kamal, Georges and Ziad for storing with care the bakelite windows surrounds before shipping them to Beirut. Thanks to you these parts are “happily” mounted in their designated place in my 1961 Mercedes-Benz 180 now!! I would also like to thank Zina for still storing (hope so) a big bakelite piece in her home in Montreal…

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nuts and Bolts of Owning a Classic Car

This post contains the essentials for owning a classic car. I was inspired by an article Jeff Miller, the webmaster of, wrote few years ago. I highly encourage every classic car’s owner to read it before taking his/her car out on a sunny day and every potential owner to use it as a guide for acquiring his/her first classic.

Owning a classic car is totally different from owning a modern vehicle! The owner must keep in mind that:

All classic cars need maintenance and care. One must get familiar with the car in order to be able to complete routine maintenance work, and to resolve minor fine-tuning issues. The task is simple, just pay close attention to maintenance works so as to limit the probability of a sudden failure.

Make your car shine as if it were new; the more often a classic car owner maintains his / her car, the more attractive the classic car will look once it is on the road…continuous efforts to maintain your car in shape do pay!! What’s more striking than a deep shining black paint or an immaculate chrome grill?
Allocate an hour every week to clean your car and three hours every 3 months to wax it using the finest accessible products. Remember, the more you allocate time and effort, the more rewarding the results will be!

Acquire and read the owner’s manual, this document contains valuable information that is often overlooked. Also, some cars have a factory workshop manual; this manual highlights the maintenance / repairs procedures needed to perform any work in the most efficient way. Of course, many owners won’t be able to perform complex mechanical, electrical, and body work by themselves, but reading the workshop manual will familiarize them with the reparation procedures and help them get an idea about the real costs.
Build your network of other classic cars enthusiasts and resources: join local and international groups and forums, establish contacts with experts in parts and reparations…etc.

Keep in mind that technology used in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s (for instance) is not quite complex when compared to today’s standards. This is a double-edged fact, on one side you will be able to understand easily how things work, but on the other you should not expect performance, road handling, and sometimes efficiency to be comparable to that of new cars! In other words, you should without any doubts know for example that a 1970 car might develop starting problems when the weather is cold, problems that are seldom encountered in new cars!

Learn about unique features and options specific to your vehicle’s model! Learn about the recirculating ball steering in a Mercedes-Benz Ponton, about the air suspension in a Citroen DS, about the different colors available on a 1975 Peugeot 504 etc... Try to enjoy these unique features and understand their importance in the well-being of the driver and passengers back then.

Discover the meaning of the various plate numbers in your car such as the chassis number, the engine number, the color code etc... This will help you determine where your vehicle stands vis-à-vis its model - is it an early model or a late one with some amendments?

Become familiar with the full range of your car’s model including the sedans, breaks, coupés, cabriolets, roadsters, as well as some special models that were manufactured for special markets and learn how every range differs from the other.

Finally, take a moment to imagine yourself back in the 1950’s, 1960’s or 1970’s! Life was uncomplicated back then! Your car reflects this in several ways.
Find a small mountain road on a sunny day, roll down the window and drive…Enjoy your car, enjoy every aspect of it, every reaction, every noise…and be proud of yourself for being able to drive an antique car that you’ve learned how to maintain…

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How everything started...

My first encounter ever with a classic vehicle was during the summer of 1987; I was seven years old and was heading home with my father after spending the day at Broumana, a summer destination in Mount Lebanon. I remember pretty well seeing a dark red Mercedes 180 ponton driving ahead of us, out of which a strange noise was coming. When I asked my father about this noise, I remember him explaining that the noise sometimes comes out of the muffler when driving such cars downhill on the third gear. I was instantly fascinated by this car (which I have only seen from behind) and started searching for a "matchbox" car that might look similar to it. My passion for old Mercedes-Benz cars started to develop further when my aunt got me a 1/18 Mercedes-Benz SSK made by "Burago". I started collecting model cars while constantly searching for a 1/18 Mercedes-Benz ponton.

Years passed by, and one day in 1995 on my way back from school, I saw a white Mercedes-Benz ponton, a 190b freshly painted but "deprived" of many parts. The owner offered to sell the car at USD 12,000, which was very expensive for me (I was only fifteen back then and could not afford such a price). So I decided to pursue my search for a real ponton, a 180 that would need restoration but which would be fairly complete and affordable.

In April 1995, I found my ponton, a 1961 180b whose owner had passed away several years ago. The car had not been utilized for many years and needed lots of reparation works.
The restoration project started in May 1995 with the goal of bringing the car back on the road by the summer of that year!

The car was thus repainted, the interior (with original front bench seat) and the chrome redone, the engine and the suspension overhauled, and most of the sundry never-ending meticulous details.

I've owned my 180 ponton ever since 1995; that is for almost 15 years! I drive it often especially during the summer and the winter when it is not raining.

People often wonder, how could a Mercedes-Benz 180 ponton attract a 7 years old boy? Frankly I don't know, sometimes I think though that the secret lies in the ponton's design - simple and popular yet very classy...For many, the Mercedes-Benz 180 ponton reflects the golden years of Beirut, the dolce vita years before the civil war erupted in 1975. People look at these cars with a feeling of nostalgia. I cherish this car that has been part of my life for almost 15 years; I have restored it, I have learned how to maintain it, I know every single detail in it, every single wire, every single is maybe my way of getting a glimpse at Lebanon's golden years, years I never got the chance to experience!