John Prentice is a photographer for our television show and has a passion for cars! He noticed a substantial lack of "car geek content" on our site and decided to do something about it. So every now and then he will share his Diaries of a Car Geek...share with the auto-nerds in your life!
“It pulls to the right when it’s cold,” said Siegfried Linke as I drove his 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing out of the driveway and onto a windy backroad. The steering was crisp and light, and aside from the finicky turn signal stalk, driving this priceless antique felt astonishingly driving like a modern car. Saying this Mercedes was “ahead of its time” is an understatement.
“Ok, it’s warm, give it some gas!” With my foot to the floor, the three-liter straight-six snarled to the top of second gear. A quick change to third and soon we were going fast enough to evoke images of Sterling Moss rocketing through an Italian village in the ’55 Mille Miglia. With a cheer from the crowd (in my head), we entered a series of S-bends. Under load, the Gullwing’s sixty-year-old suspension feels like a mixture of cotton balls and granite, comfortable yet solid. We exited the corner and the smile on my face widened from ear to ear.
This car is a living legend.
Siegfried laughed with me. This Gullwing is one of about two dozen 300SLs he has owned over the years, and he isn’t an oil baron or hedge fund manager. He’s a blue-collar guy who, through years of blood, sweat and lots of elbow grease, has become one of the most notable Mercedes-Benz gurus in the world. His colorful story starts in post-war Germany, when he was a young man who needed a job.
“In 1954/55 in Germany in order to get a job, you had to apply as an apprentice… I thought Mercedes had the broadest apprenticeship program… and this is where I wanted to start” said Linke.
“Then, I decided to come to America. My sister was living in Gig Harbor, and I sent a letter to her saying ‘why don’t you see if there is a Mercedes-Benz franchise, maybe I can get a job,’ because I did not have any money.”
Soon after, the young Mercedes mechanic had a job in Seattle. Now, he just needed to get there.
“I was racing bicycles all over Europe at the time, won the German championship, state championship, and I decided I’d take a bicycle from New York to Seattle.”
When the S.S. America docked in New York with Siegfried and his bicycle onboard, the newspaper photographers were waiting. They followed him about 3,000 miles across the great plains, through snow storms and over mountains to his sister’s home in Gig Harbor. Siegfried says the whole journey took about two weeks because he “wasn’t going for speed” he wanted to enjoy the scenery along the way.
In 1956, after a few years of wrenching as a Mercedes mechanic at the dealer and later at his own shop European Motors at 5th and Broad Street in Seattle, Linke says he was given an opportunity he couldn’t refuse. A customer if his had grown tired of his Mercedes Gullwing, and decided to sell it. Asking price? $4,000.
“I went to my bank and I asked my banker, ‘I want to borrow $4000,” Said Linke. “He says to me what you want to do with it, I said I want to buy a 300SL Gullwing. He says if I give you the money, how you plan on paying it back. I said I don’t know.”
But, somehow, it worked. The young mechanic convinced his banker to give him the $4000 (about $35,000 today) to buy a used Mercedes sports car with no plan for paying it back. Pure. Magic.
Since then, he’s always had a 300SL in his driveway.
Today, Siegfried is not only a legendary Seattle mechanic but a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, on a “first name basis” with the foremost Mercedes experts on Earth. He sold his shop about 20 years ago and claims to be retired but his wife says he still spends most of his time in the garage, tinkering with rare Mercedes, just as he’s done for the past 60 years.
“I started at Mercedes-Benz and that has been my life.”