In our recently published article by my confederate, Ben Everest, we learned the dangers of buying a 20+ year old Mercedes – sight-unseen – through the mounting financial toll of playing catch-up on decades of deferred maintenance. This is a sound lesson from Mr. Everest for anyone in the habit of buying and collecting older European cars, to be sure, and one I’ve invariably learned myself via the thirty-odd vintage MBs I’ve purchased personally over the years.
With that in mind, it must therefore be asked: What kind of self-destructive, foolish masochist…one who is purported to possess any knowledge or savvy whatsoever about buying older MB cars… willfully purchases a nearly 40-year-old Mercedes-Benz… with over 535,000 Km on the clock….plucked from the frozen tundra of the rust-laden, oxidation haven of the great white north also known as the greater Toronto Metropolitan Area? Not me, that’s for sure…
I bought two.
Yes. in the Fall of 2019 I purchased two matching 35+ year old Mercedes-Benz diesels out of Canada at the behest of my partner in automotive crime(s), Rami. Rami had been in Toronto looking at another collection of Canadian barn finds when he happened across an ad for the cars on a site called “Kijiji”: which, roughly translated, is Canadian for “risky click”.
To be fair, the photos in the ad looked extremely promising and the storybook-esque prospect of purchasing this pampered pair from the steadfast, long-term, octogenarian owner named Milton was (albeit a tad cliché) too good to resist. Besides, as Milton touted in the original ad, the cars both “come with service records”. Service records, as we learned from Mr. Everest a few weeks ago, are a critical component to any confident purchase of an aging MB. However, I would later discover that Milton’s simple statement regarding the presence of records was - all hyperbole aside - the understatement of Milton’s then 84+ years on this planet.
Of the pair, the car that primarily piqued our interest was the W123: a beautiful 1983 300TDT Station Wagon finished in Petrol Green Metallic (877) over Mushroom Leather (255) interior. The wagon came equipped with European headlamps and some clever, dealer-optioned goodies such as Bosch Yellow Fog lights, Rial Honeycomb wheels & Zebrano wood horn pad cover. Despite owning this 1983 model year example since 1984, we were surprised to learn that Milton was not, in fact, the original owner. Milton purchased the car in September 1984 in virtually as-new condition from a German citizen who had emigrated earlier that year. As it were, in the early 1980s, European immigrants to Canada were allowed to circumvent certain import taxes and fees by bringing with them one vehicle from their home country to be registered in Canada. In this instance, the original purchaser of the 300TDT had recognized the value prospect in bringing with him a brand-new, duty-free Mercedes station wagon that he could sell for a profit upon settling in Canada and, as the datacard shows , he special ordered the car explicitly for this purpose. Accordingly, Milton purchased this practically brand-new Mercedes clocking barely more than a delivery-mile equivalent from a pre-kijijian newspaper classified ad on September 11, 1984 for $36,500 (or $84,174.89 adjusted for inflation).
As conveniently fantastical as Milton’s original purchase story might sound, the datacard backs it up: This car sports the rare Option Code 820 “Toursiten-Fahrzeuge” or “Tourist Vehicle”. Additionally, the Order Number/ Destination further confirms this as: “#0340202003 (Destination: Tourist (Except for USA))”. One quizzical quirk about this particular example is the presence of European Headlights and a European-style Speedometer (in Km/H) matched with the larger, US-spec bumpers. The bumpers were originally thought to have been an aftermarket change made by Milton but, as the datacard again confirms, this is not the case. The datacard shows that this was actually an Option Code 491 “U.S. Version” car with Option Code 463 “Instrument Km/H For Canada”. Thus, solving the mystery of the seemingly mismatched international combination spec (aka the “NAFTA-Spec”).
The twin to this very special longroof was the W126: an equally beautiful 1985 300SD Sedan also finished in Petrol Green Metallic (877) over white grey leather interior (119). This short wheelbase diesel variant of the Mercedes flagship sedan was purchased by Milton much later than the wagon – approximately 2010 – but the assiduous level of care given to each car remained constant. Clearly, when it came to Petrol Green Metallic Diesels, he couldn’t be satisfied with just one. As he recalls in his interview, after his children had grown, Milton no longer had a need for the extra space and utility that his beloved wagon offered, but he didn’t dare get rid of it. He did the sensible thing that any MB enthusiast would do: just go out and buy the matching S-Class to keep the wagon company.
In truth, this pair simply couldn’t be separated; the universe would not allow it. They are twins through and through: Matching petrol green metallic paint, matching turbocharged 3.0L diesel OM617 powerplants, matching mileages at an astounding 535k km each, matching Mercedes “High-mileage Awards” and badges and, most importantly, matching levels of maintenance and care bordering on the obsessive thanks to the legendarily, uber-fastidious Milton.
After agreeing on a price, Rami and our mechanic Steve languidly drove both diesels the 8+ hours in tandem from Toronto to NYC without a single mechanical hitch; a confidence-inspiring testament to the overall condition of these twin MBs. Upon arrival, we discovered a cardboard box in the back of the 300TDT wagon containing the “Records” that Milton spoke about in his ad. We expected to find some interesting documentation given Milton’s long-term ownership of the cars, but nothing would prepare me for the deluge of ink and carbon paper that was uncovered. In total, following nearly a full week spent sorting, serializing, stacking, sleeving deciphering and photographing the contents of the box, we discovered that Milton had amassed over 1,200 detailed pages of notes and records for these two gems of the glowplug era.
To understand these cars and their record-setting volume of records, you have to understand the man behind them: Milton Rusonik, a dapper, eccentric 84-year-old Canadian attorney who, if nothing else, seemed to wake up every morning with a packet of Sanka only to diligently hand scribe a new list entitled: “What can I spend money on to replace or repair for these cars today?” Not that I’m complaining, of course, because without Milton’s peculiar attention to detail, including annual underbody rustproofing by “Krown Inc. of greater Toronto”, these two metallic Mercedes would have rotted into oblivion before Alanis Morrissette wrapped her last season of “You Can’t Do That on Television”. As a result of this diligent, annual, nether-regional chore, each car is protected by an inch-thick coat of godknowswhat™ that will leave their underbodies standing long after our robot overlords have laid waste to the surrounding landscape following the apocalypse. In the video interview with Milton linked here, Milton ultimately reveals that the secret to his special undercoating mixture is “used engine oil from a car with a good engine….You spray it on there and the car will go as long as you want it to go”.
Eccentricities aside, Milton is also an extremely gentle and sentimental man, and this comes across as spiritedly in the interview as it does in his decades of affection for his beloved Mercedes’. His recollection of loading nearly all of his ten grandchildren into the wagon for family trips brings the flash of a wistful smile to the handsome weathering of his face. Fond remembrances visibly dance across his brow as he realizes he’s passing his old friends and memory-makers down the road; either that, or he’s tallying up the well-documented $100,000+ he’s spent caring for them over the past three-and-a-half decades.
The contents of these varied vehicular volumes are hard to describe succinctly because they run the entire gamut for everything associated with these cars throughout Milton’s tenure. Hundreds of pages of notes detailing every squeaky joint, loose bolt, odd sound or other “concern” that Milton had about them; always dated in the top right corner and scrawled in the manic, scripted cursive of a frazzled physician on bathtub speed. The handwritten notes, thriftily written on the backs of scrap pages of old legal documents or real estate and development proposals from Milton’s various business interests perfectly represent the intersection of his inherent frugality and his exorbitant expenditure on preventative maintenance items for his beloved Benzes. He scribbled notes both vertically and horizontally across each scrap page - never wasting a blank space or leaving an ounce of fat to be trimmed.
Together with these handwritten notes are hundreds upon hundreds of visits to all of the Mercedes dealerships that now or formerly existed in and around Toronto, hundreds of visits to independent mechanics, sample sheets of OEM Mercedes Leather, MB-Tex vinyl and hook and loop carpeting from an interior restoration undertaken a few decades ago. Receipts for multiple full and partial transmission rebuilds, two engine rebuilds and a detailed inquiry for a new longblock in the mid 1990s when he mysteriously blew the engine. In Milton’s own words, from the interview, he claims its never run as well as it does now following the last rebuild.
There are 30+ years of annual registrations and inspections, 30+ years of insurance cards, 30+ years of brakes, tires, oil changes, alignments, suspension components and other consumables by the hundreds. There are even copies of Christmas cards to his favorite mechanics (with Xerox copies of the Christmas bonus/thank-you checks assiduously stapled to each one). There are dictated letters diligently drafted by his secretary, Rose, documenting his frustration with being overcharged less than a few dollars on a four-figure repair bill from a Mercedes dealer in the 1980s. Attached thereto, the dealer invoice for the one-figure refund is proudly displayed and annotated by hand. There are notes about where to get certain, hard to find parts for the complicated W123 vacuum system at the best prices, copies of newspaper and other automotive circular advertisements for similar W123s or W126s throughout the years; an exercise apparently undertaken to keep track of the current market for his babied benzes as he spent lavishly on their good mechanical and cosmetic health.
There are both annual and quarterly hand-scribed calculations on what he’d spent on each car that quarter, or that year, followed by the receipts and service orders to back up his back of the envelope mathematics. There is also, quite incredibly, the original Toronto newspaper ad from September 11, 1984 that advertised the “blue-green” Mercedes station wagon with “aluminum wheels” that would become his apparent obsession over the next 38 years. In all, it is a beautiful, overwhelming and somewhat terrifying tome of what a vintage MB can potentially cost, in exchange for the satisfaction and fulfillment it can clearly give; sufficient to lovingly spend it, and document it, with a sense exuding both joy and religion in the task.
Standing alone, these are two wonderful, incredibly well-kept examples of the best, most efficient and most durable cars that Mercedes had to offer in the 1980s; arguably a peak performance and production era for the hallowed brand. They drive tremendously and perform as intended 100% of the time; a terrific testament to what obsessive ownership can gift you in the form of a classic Benz (or two). Even after sitting idle more than a few of months this past winter in our warehouse, both cars fired up forcefully, immediately and authoritatively; ready and waiting to be driven and enjoyed again, as before.
Yes, alone they are great cars. But combined with the 1,200 pages of detailed and specific history that accompany them, these cars become something much more: They become familiar.
I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying these twins for a little over seven months at this point and, after toiling through the history of their prior ownership, in excruciating detail, I truly feel like I’ve known them forever. By example, I now know that, thanks to a handwritten note I found from Milton circa 2002, the “parking brake engaged” light in the gauge cluster sometimes doesn’t turn off even though the brake has been fully released. But thanks to his note, I know that all I have to do is push up on the pedal from underneath with my toe and the connection is made, so the light goes away. So too, with these records, these histories, a connection is made. And indeed, that, to me, is the entire point of hunting for, obsessing over, collecting, cleaning and restoring these oddball older Mercedes: it’s about making a connection. A connection between man and machine, between owner and car, and between the enthusiasts comprising a community that shares similar predilections for their inherent, incredibly German curiosities.
So to Milton and all the similar-such owners gripped in the throes of a torrid love affair with their old, oft-broken Mercedes – regardless of value, collectability, credence or condition – we salute you and encourage continuance of the tradition of care and curation that we all know they, and we, deserve.
Just be sure to get a receipt.
- Ryan G. Hemphill, Esq., The MB Market
Photography by Faris Fetyani