By Vern Parker
More than 25 years ago Barbara Frank found herself in West Germany -- Munich
to be specific. At the time she was teaching an extension program of the
University of Maryland.
One of her more mature students mentioned to her that he knew of a recently
widowed German woman who had an automobile that she was unable to drive. The
student encouraged Frank to go inspect the car.
Frank eventually went to investigate the car and discovered a pristine, always
garaged, 1958 Mercedes-Benz 180D, a small diesel-powered four-door sedan, the
sort of vehicle usually found parked at taxi cab stands in many German cities.
The black sedan had obviously received excellent care and the widow wasn't up
to the task of learning to drive a four-speed manual transmission.
"It looked so sweet,” Frank says. She bought the car on the spot. She adds that
at the time in 1986 the U.S. Dollar/West German Mark exchange rate was very
good at about four marks to the dollar.
Frank drove her acquisition to her home across Munich and put it away in her
At that time the handsome, mid-sized car had been driven only about 50,000
kilometers or about 30,000 miles.
Of course all of the instrumentation on the car was in kilometers.
Frank discovered that her Mercedes-Benz 180D stretched 4.5 meters between the
front and rear bumpers.
The width of the sedan, according to the owner's manual, is 1.7 meters while
the height is listed at 1.6 meters.
Amazingly for a car that size the turning radius is listed at a wide 11 meters.
In kilograms the weight of the Mercedes-Benz is registered at 1,650 which works
out to be about 3,630 pounds.
The four-cylinder diesel engine sips fuel from the 56-liter fuel tank.
Literature from Mercedes-Benz claims fuel economy of 6.8-liters of diesel fuel
every 100 kilometers if the car is driven at 82.5 kilometers per hour.
The claim sounds good if anyone could be found that met that speed criteria.
In the functional dashboard the speedometer is prepared to register speeds up
to 110 kilometers per hour.
Frank recalls a rally in which she participated from Munich to Austria and
returning to Munich. She recollects that her underpowered sedan could not
maintain the pace of the newer, more powerful vehicles.
The manual transmission has the familiar steering column-mounted shift level
with an H-pattern gear location. The reverse gear is to the left and up.
In 1989 Frank returned to the United States. She says she was pleasantly
surprised to learn that her transportation charges were only $800.
When her car arrived in Baltimore she retrieved it and took it to a garage she
had rented in Washington, D.C. After all those years of being housed in a
garage in Germany she was not about to leave it out and exposed to the
Soon thereafter Frank moved to Great Falls,Va., where she bought a house with
sufficient acreage to build a garage to house her beloved Mercedes-Benz.
Since then she has only had to replace the 6.40x13-inch tires and also a
battery, wear items that would need replacing on any automobile.
The engine in her 1958 Mercedes-Benz 180D is just now approaching 70,000
kilometers on the odometer which is barely broken in.
"It's been a very low-maintenance car for me,” Frank exclaims.