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Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Goodnight Pano, And Other Stories

TLDR: I sold the pano roof last week, drove various places with the top down, and also found time to go drive things in the Nevada desert with Toyota.

Now let's look at some pictures!

The pano saga resumes with mercedesmark's latest acquisition, a one-owner 1991 500SL (the nomenclature changed in '94) with about 55,000 miles that he picked up for a sum too paltry to print. I was already missing the convertible experience after a couple weeks of #panolife, whereas m.m.'s more of a coupe kind of guy, so I told him to try it out for a while—he could buy it at cost if he liked it. But for an imperfect seal at the windshield on his pre-pano R129, causing unacceptable wind noise at speed, the top would probably be receiving a white paint job right about now. So it goes. Anyway, I was still in a mood to get rid of the thing. Next stop: eBay.

I put up this photo plus a few glamour shots of the pano'd 500 Benz and set the Buy It Now price at $3250. This was inspired by a terrible red pano listed for $3495 with peeling paint and other wrong aspects. After about a week, a fellow Angeleno contacted me via email and offered $2500 cash, which would circumvent eBay's customary 10 percent take. Also, I wouldn't have to bother with shipping it, and hey, I only paid $1800 in the first place. So I said cool, let's do it. Shoot, I even threw in that aftermarket white storage cart for free because THAT'S the kind of guy I am.

Having just gotten married and all, I made sure my first top-down drive with mrs500benz after the pano sale was to a maximally romantic destination—Geoffrey's Malibu, in this case. And we saw that it was good.

We also saw what is believed by me to be a repurposed International Harvester Metro Van with Utah plates.

How about that.

The next top-down trip wasn't so good in that it involved an aborted hike through some Antelope Valley poppy fields on a 58-degree day with literally gale-force winds. I took the above photo at Hollywood and Highland as we were getting started.

As one of our hiking companions put it, "It's like one big Windows desktop." Except it was so cold and windy that most of the poppies were curled up. They do that to protect themselves, to the extent that flowers have selves; how about that!

And then there was Vegas, because Toyota wanted to introduce some journalists to the new "TRD Pro" off-road trio (Tundra, Tacoma, 4Runner).

I have discovered the iPhone 5's panoramic photo function, and I like it.

Our base camp for the off-road driving exercises was the Pioneer Saloon. As the website explains, "This is the saloon that Clark Gable drank in after he received word of the death of his beautiful wife, Carole Lombard."

Basically the whole place is dedicated to Gable and Lombard. She gets the gate out back. It's what you might call a slice of Americana.

This is the sort of terrain we had to negotiate for the Tundra and 4Runner drives. It's nastier than it looks.

Hark! A gaggle of Tacoma TRD Pros. This was my first time doing anything off-road other than rock-crawling, so I didn't have any reference points, but I can report that I didn't get stuck and had no fear that I would.

Back on a road of sorts, I discovered that dust can be more of a limiting factor than terrain. Fact of life for off-road racers. I'd never thought about that.

Bring on the 4Runners. I couldn't detect a difference between the Tacoma and the 4Runner in terms of capability out here. The 4.0-liter V6 common to both was kind of a bummer—you'd expect a boatload of low-end torque, since it's a dedicated truck engine, but I found it to be kind of soft, especially when I wanted a quick burst of power for some silly reason.

Tell you what's not a bummer, though, is the 5.7-liter V8 in the Tundra TRD Pro. It's the same V8 that's available in the regular Tundra (just as the Tacoma/4Runner V6 is unchanged for TRD Pro duty), but man, it's perfect in the desert. You just punch it and rawwwrrr, it lays down the law. Plus, the Tundra's suspension seemed more compliant, especially at higher speeds. I hit 55 mph at one point and the thing felt invincible. I now understand that off-road driving can be pretty fun.

BAM! Tundra in your eye. But for the record, I still prefer the roundier previous Tundra, which was deemed insufficiently manly by the Toyota brass. It's the same truck underneath. I've harbored a low-grade desire for one since it came out in 2007.

Then it was time to attend a supercross race. If there's one thing I know less about than off-roading, it's supercross.

Which didn't stop me from being pretty damn important.

I noted from my front-row seat that scantily clad women are central to the supercross marketing machine. The whole pregame show was like a cars-and-babes calendar with a pulse.

There were also fireworks, which are highly legal in Nevada.

I didn't bring my real camera on this trip, and the iPhone doesn't like action shots in low light, but here are some dirtbikes flying around.

Right, so then I flew home, and there was still light in the sky when I got back, so a sunset cruise to Malibu ensued. Despite the limited rainfall this winter, the canyons are blooming. I had a bunch of those "This is the most beautiful place in the world" moments that are endemic to LA residents. In this first photo I'm on Mulholland Highway approaching Las Virgenes Road (a.k.a. Malibu Canyon Road).

Look canyon flowers!

Here's the intersection with Las Virgenes. If you keep going straight for a few miles, you end up on the twistiest section of Mulholland, a short uphill stretch that attracts all manner of fast cars and bikes on weekend mornings. I turned left toward Malibu this time, but have I ever gone straight in the 500 Benz?

You bet I have! Multiple times, in fact. I suppose now you'd like to know how it fared. Well, there's an unthinkable amount of body roll by modern standards, and the ordinarily confidence-inspiring brakes begin to fade after a number of corners in quick succession. Plus, the steering wheel's enormous and disdains human contact aside from a thumb and forefinger at six o'clock. And yet: the car's got balance. I can't find official weight-distribution numbers, but the seat of my pants says it's close to 50/50. The steering itself is surprisingly responsive, especially given that it's a recirculating-ball setup, which typically elicits gasps of dismay from the cognoscenti. As for the engine, stick the shifter in "2" (which locks out speeds 3-5) and you've got all the instant-on power you need. Sounds lovely, too. With stiffer springs, stickier tires and performance brakes, I think this car would actually do some respectable things. It would be like a slower, better-balanced Audi S5 V8 with a noodly chassis and a handy steer-by-throttle option.

As usual, I digress. Back to the tour. Almost done!

There's Malibu Creek State Park...

...and Malibu Canyon itself...

...and boom, a pit stop in Malibu proper. What a drive! The status quo ante (plus $700) has been restored, and I couldn't be more pleased. Moral of the story: the Great Pano Experiment was fun for a few days, but to inscrutably paraphrase A Clockwork Orange, the 500 Benz only ever seems really real when you viddy it without a roof.

posted in: 500Benzlife  Driving Impressions  

1 comment

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December 4th, 2015 | 6:23pm hollywood time | #1

ihmetro says:

Just saw the pic of my Metro on images. It's always good to see other's appreciating my "hot rod":) yes I drove it from Salt Lake City. Hit 103mph on that trip:)

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