A Thing of Beauty _ My award-winning 1955 Mercedes-Benz 220 Coupe

Laura Peters, with Gary Anderson
Denis L. Tanney
I still remember my first glimpse of a Mercedes-Benz: a lovely SL convertible. I ran over to get a closer look. The sleek lines and small size particularly appealed to me; they matched my own ideas of grace and understated beauty. Upon my return home after seeing that SL, I announced to my mother that I was going to own a car just like it someday. After a few years of looking at other people’s vehicles at car shows, I concluded that my holy grail was a W187 220 Coupe, a variant of the 1951-1955 220 Cabriolet, built for just two years, 1954 and 1955.

A Thing of Beauty _ My award-winning 1955 Mercedes-Benz 220 Coupe

Laura Peters with Gary Anderson Images Denis L Tanney

 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an appreciation for interesting automobiles. Growing up as the child of merchants in a small town in rural Georgia an hour east of Atlanta, I was always alert to the sound of a car or truck coming down the street. By the time I was about 10, I could correctly identify the brands of most of the cars I saw.

 

I still remember my first glimpse of a Mercedes-Benz: a lovely SL convertible. I ran over to get a closer look. The sleek lines and small size particularly appealed to me; they matched my own ideas of grace and understated beauty.

 

A life-long love affair

 

Upon my return home after seeing that SL, I announced to my mother that I was going to own a car just like it someday. By the late 1960s, as a student in the business school at the University of Georgia, I was finally able to buy a Mercedes-Benz of my own: I’ve owned one ever since. As soon as I became aware that there was a club for people like me who admired the marque, I joined the Peachtree Section of the Mercedes-Benz Club of America.

 

Being settled in as manager of the family’s furniture and appliance store – with a growing understanding of the history of Mercedes-Benz and a deepening respect for good design – I started combing classified ads in The Star magazine looking for an earlier model. In 2001, a red-and-black coupe for sale in Eugene, Oregon, caught my eye; these were the colors of my alma mater. So I bought my first classic, a W111 220SE Ponton Coupe built at the end of 1959.  

 

The coupe was in pretty good condition. With a little work I was able to bring it to a level that I was proud to present in local shows. I discovered that I enjoyed sharing my love for its design, details and history with other enthusiasts. The bug had well and truly bitten. I started thinking about what model I might like to acquire next.

 

My holy grail

 

I liked the cars of the 1950s and 1960s; I particularly liked the coupes’ practicality and styling. After a few years of looking at other people’s vehicles at car shows, I concluded that my holy grail was a W187 220 Coupe, a variant of the 1951-1955 220 Cabriolet, built for just two years, 1954 and 1955. It had the same stunning and dignified tall grille and sweeping fenders of the 220 sedans and cabriolets, but the more understated styling of the coupe’s rear end seemed much better proportioned to me than the body styles of either of its older siblings.

 

There was only one catch: Only 85 of the coupes were built, and they were only sold in Europe. One might speculate that the decision to produce so few of these coupes was perhaps a response to customers with close ties to the factory who appreciated the lines of the separate-fendered luxury-level 300S coupes. These vehicles had been hand-built in very small numbers at very high prices, but production ended when the more up-to-date Ponton coupes were introduced.

 

Fantasy and rough reality

 

At this point, my dream seemed more like a fantasy that might entertain me for decades but never be realized. In June 2008, after years of telling everyone who might have a lead what I was looking for, I saw an ad posted by Leland Gohlike in Stillwater, Minnesota: He had a Stone Grey 220 coupe for sale, reportedly found in a barn, that he had purchased in 1991 through Mercedes-Benz specialist Alex Dearborn. Gohlike cautioned me that the coupe was very rough, but it was reasonably complete and the interior and exterior colors were original.

 

Tossing aside the rigorous due diligence I had learned so well in business school, I immediately decided to buy it. After all, everyone needs an unrealistic project on the side to balance all of the serious and sensible concerns of daily life.

 

Having gotten to know the experts at Bud’s Benz during the years that I had owned my Ponton, I shipped my new project to them in Douglasville, Georgia. Right away, the team at Bud’s cautioned me about the challenges and pitfalls of a full restoration, but I knew I had to do it. When only 85 of something have ever existed – and I owned a precious example – how could I not accept the duty of preserving it in original form?

 

Timeline with no end

 

The 220 project would extend over the next seven years. A big stumbling block was that many small parts were missing. Not only were they hard to find, experts would often disagree about which part was correct for a specific application. Andre Horvath, Henry Magno and Ricardo Jimenez were a great help with finding parts and separating truth from fiction.

 

Even when I found someone who said they had what we were looking for, we were often disappointed when what arrived was clearly wrong. Equally frustrating, a parts order would often simply be canceled weeks or months after delivery had originally been promised.

 

Arranging for the elaborate and impressive interior wood fittings to be correctly refinished was very trying. After all, fine furniture was my family business and this feature was a major appeal of the 220 for me. However, the talented craftsman who had done my W128 was no longer available. Reaching out to my network of specialists, I found similar commitment to high-quality work at Madera Concepts on the West Coast.

In spite of the delays, over the years my patience and persistence have been rewarded.

 

Today, everything in the interior, including the optional radio, is period and model correct. I’m very proud of finds like the full set of original luggage and original tool kit and factory-original box of spare parts in the 220’s trunk.

 

A show queen emerges

 

Finally, about six years ago, the coupe was finished at last. Since then, I have had the pleasure of sharing the car with other enthusiasts at regional concours events like Château Élan, as well as club gatherings. At StarFest®  in 2018, the 220 was awarded Best of Show and featured on the cover of The Star soon after.

 

The only drawback is that with my small stature I have difficulty reaching across the fenders to raise the center-hinged hood, so I have friends help with even simple maintenance. Stop-and-go traffic is also a challenge with a 4-speed manual transmission and stiff clutch.

 

But there is no more sublime pleasure than taking the car out for exercise early on a Sunday morning before people start to stir; a beautiful car at speed on the idyllic back roads of rural Georgia. I like the idea that – just like a piece of well-designed antique furniture – this rare and lovely automobile will live on after I’m gone because I invested the time and resources to bring it back to life.

 

Images and Captions

At once practical and elegant, the 1955-1956 W187 220 coupe has the dignified grille and flowing fenders of its older model siblings, the 220 sedans and cabriolets, but a more understated and better-proportioned rear end.

 

Lustrous leather and gleaming wood welcome the driver and passenger to this 1955 220 coupe’s refined interior. In the trunk, factory tool roll, spare-parts box, and a set of optional fitted luggage are all period and model correct.

 

Proud owner Laura Peters has taken great satisfaction overseeing the painstaking years-long restoration of this rare 1955 220 coupe in its original colors and finishes, as verified by her Mercedes-Benz certificate of originality.