£500 Chal­lenge

Mercedes S280

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - MIKE LE CAPLIN

THE STORY SO FAR Miles driven 59 To­tal mileage 81,147 What’s gone wrong Those warn­ing lights are on again CCW’s res­i­dent bar­gain Benz has been sub­jected to all man­ner of de­mand­ing chal­lenges over the past 12 months, but no one’s ever put it to what is ar­guably the most gru­elling task of them all – the fam­ily week­end. And that seems odd, given its huge in­te­rior and mas­sive boot.

De­ter­mined to ad­dress this over­sight, I swiped LSR’s keys one Fri­day af­ter­noon while no one was look­ing, strapped my son’s child seat in the back and headed off home, look­ing for­ward to hav­ing my usual week­end com­mit­ments trans­formed by the Merc’s waft-o-matic splen­dour.

I didn’t get off to the best of starts on the drive home – a sud­den rain­storm on what was al­ready a sticky, hu­mid af­ter­noon soon high­lighted the non-func­tion­ing air con­di­tion­ing when the wind­screen fogged over. Switch­ing the blower to screen-only sub­se­quently re­vealed that only half of the screen vents ap­peared to be work­ing; al­though, rather strangely, full demist­ing was re­stored the fol­low­ing day.

Then the clouds parted and the sun broke through. I opened the sun­roof and win­dows, set­tled back in the huge driver’s leather arm­chair and re­laxed, lux­u­ri­at­ing in the straight­six en­gine’s distant purr, the four­speed au­to­matic gear­box’s lazy slurs and the glo­ri­ously smooth ride.

Job num­ber one the fol­low­ing morn­ing was a fam­ily shop­ping spree. My wife’s a dab hand at this sort of thing in her own right, but with my vis­it­ing sis­ter com­ing along too, I feared that even the Merc’s colos­sal boot wouldn’t be able to cope with the in­evitable glut of bags that we’d be bring­ing home.

How­ever, I spot­ted a more press­ing is­sue be­fore we’d even left home – the Merc’s vast rear set­tee might be big enough to ac­com­mo­date three peo­ple with room to spare, but there are only two seat­belts. My thor­oughly dis­ap­pointed sis­ter, there­fore, had to fol­low us in her Ford Fi­esta, rather than join­ing the rest of us in the Merc. I be­lieve the word she used was ‘gut­ted’. I con­tented my­self with a mut­tered ‘un­be­liev­able’.

The S280 later re­deemed it­self by swal­low­ing the fruits of sev­eral hours’ worth of semi-pro­fes­sional shop­ping, with – amaz­ingly – enough room left over to ac­com­mo­date the dreaded Week­end Big Su­per­mar­ket Shop and even a cou­ple of bits from the lo­cal gar­den cen­tre. Mrs Le C – who hith­erto hadn’t ex­actly been over-ef­fu­sive about our tem­po­rary new wheels – was be­gin­ning to look at the Merc in a whole new light, no doubt vi­su­al­is­ing it in soft fo­cus, parked up out­side posh coun­try ho­tels on long week­ends away.

I, mean­while, had set­tled nicely into the Merc’s lan­guid gait and Lock, Stock & Two Smok­ing Bar­rels ‘di­a­mond geezer’ at­ti­tude. It might be a wal­lowy old thing com­pared to my scalpel-sharp daily driver, but it’s way cooler. Then re­al­ity came crash­ing back on my drive in to work on the Mon­day morn­ing. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the sun­roof was open and I was cruis­ing con­tent­edly along with my el­bow propped on the win­dow ledge. At which point, the ABS and ETS warn­ing lights suddenly blinked on, ac­com­pa­nied by a no­tice­able in­crease in heft from the pre­vi­ously feath­erlight power-as­sisted steer­ing. Old cars, eh?

Even Mrs Le C’s leg­endary credit-card­wield­ing skills couldn’t fill the Merc’s boot. Am­ber warn­ing – elec­tri­cal grem­lins strike the Merc again. Week­end food shop? Not a prob­lem for the Merc’s mas­sive boot.

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