Motoring | Reader's Drives

Ashok Sardana's 1960 Mercedes-Benz 190SL and 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300D

Mercedes fanatic Ashok loves classic cars and owns two of the best out there; a 1960 190SL and a 1957 300D. He shares his story with Imran Malik

  • By Imran Malik, wheels
  • Published: 14:23 February 7, 2013
  • Wheels

1960 Mercedes-Benz 190SL
  • Image Credit: Dennis B. Mallari/ANM
  • “I have since bought many other classics from the US but this one was my first and so I guess it holds a special place in my heart.”
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My oh my, these two are a sight for sore eyes. You’ve got quite a passion for classics; tell us how it all began…

I was always interested in classic cars, right from when I was at school. While growing up in Delhi, I used to visit the Statesman Car Rally, which showcased vintage cars, and spend hours admiring the classic designs. However, I wouldn’t say I am a petrolhead per se. Cars are more of an aesthetic pleasure for me. Of course I enjoy driving cars, but my primary interest lies in the design and the shape, rather than the power and speed it can generate.

Which explains the two stunners on your drive. Before we get to them, tell us a bit about your very first set of wheels…

It was an Ambassador, which I got when I turned 18. I remember an incident when I was coming out on the main road and forgot to check that the way was clear. I nearly had a terrible accident and promised myself that I would get better training. My uncle was in the auto business and a car enthusiast. He taught me how to be a safe and confident driver. Since I’ve been in Dubai, I have owned all sorts of cars, ranging from Fiats and Volvos to BMWs and Audis. But my dream has always been to own a 1985 Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible, and I am proud to say that I have finally bought one now. It should arrive within the next six months.
 
We’d love to take a closer look at that when it’s here. But coming back to your 190SL — arguably the prettiest car Mercedes ever built. How did you come across such a pristine example?

Well, as a kid, I had some pictures of it and I always found it to be a magnificent design. There was no specific reason; it was a beautiful car and I wanted to own it. This one came from the US back in the Eighties, when we didn’t have the internet. I remember sitting up late at night making phone calls and ordering parts.

When the car made it to the port here, it was classified as scrap. I was shocked by its condition — it was full of rust and parts were scattered all around the interior and the boot. It was clear this was going to be a massive project. At that time, we didn’t have many workshops specialising in restoring classics. It took almost five years to restore and get it back on road. It has taken a lot of work and money to get this beauty into this condition, and it’s an ongoing process.

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These SLs gained a reputation for running a little rough — the 1.9-litre straight-four wasn’t the strongest motor.

No, the 300SLs had better performance, but were more expensive too. I don’t really push this car harder than 100kph. During the winter months I often take it out in the evenings to some of my favourite places such as Mina A’Salam and the One and Only on the Palm. I get to park the car in prime places along with Bentleys, Bugattis and Lamborghinis. I have often seen people taking photos of this car and ignoring the newer ones. I also get a lot of thumbs up when driving and it tends to make people smile.

It sure makes the Palm an even prettier place. And we guess the usual ‘for sale?’ cards are left on the windshield too. But would you ever part with this car?

I get asked quite often if I would like to sell, but I don’t think I would like to part with it now. The amount of effort put into this restoration makes it very clear how much I love this car. In the years since buying it, I have bought many other classics from the US, but this one was my first and so I guess it holds a special place in my heart.

Tell us about your 1957 300D, or ‘Ponton’ as they were known. Where did this one come from?

The internet! I was bidding for a 300D saloon on eBay, of which only about 1,200 were built, and with an hour left, and being ahead of the other bidders, I went to bed. It was around 2am and I assumed my bid would be the strongest. I woke up very excited and wanted to share the good news with my family, but then found out that I had lost the car by $100 (Dh367). Soon, another one was advertised for sale, but rather than go through the whole, painful, process again, I immediately called the seller and agreed on a ‘buy it now’ price and finalised the deal.

It’s not every day you see these; this one must be for special occasions only…

I drive them both regularly during the cooler months because I believe these cars are meant to be driven and not just kept for show. My son is fond of both of the cars and I would like to pass them on to him.

New cars just don’t compare to those of yesteryear. Why do you think that is?

With time, technology and style will definitely change and we can’t complain about that. However, one should not part with the core elements of a brand. A good example would be BMW. The identity of a BMW is that kidney grille and the carmaker has not taken that away in its new designs. Even Range Rover, for that matter, has stayed loyal to the boxy shape. It has remained relatively the same and this is the appeal.

Profile

Name: Ashok Sardana

Job: Founder and managing director, Continental Group

From: India

Wheels: 1960 Mercedes-Benz 190SL and 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300D

In the UAE: 36 years

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