Timeless - Lee and Tarie Harris' stunning 1969 280SE Cabriolet

Jeff Zurschmeide
There’s a moment most of us can remember when we were struck by the beauty of an automobile. Maybe it was the line of a fender, the feel of a leather seat, or the sound of a willing engine. The details vary from person to person, but the experience is the same: that point in time when you first became enchanted with a particular car.

For Lee Harris, that moment cameas a teenager, riding in a Mercedes-Benz280SE Cabriolet. “When I was seventeenyears old my older brother’s co-workerbought a 1970 280SE convertible in silverblue,” Harris recalls. “I went riding in itand thought it was the most insane andbeautiful car I’d ever been in.”That ride served to notify Harris thathe was a car guy. Of course, at that age hecouldn’t afford a big Benz of his own, solife went on with the usual parade of carsthat someone owns. Still, the image of thebig soft-top Mercedes never left his mind.It just took a special moment in BeverlyHills to bring it back, full-strength.“My daughter was getting married inLos Angeles,” Harris relates, “We’d beenout there seven, eight, nine times, andshe said, ’Dad, you've been so great. Whatdo you want to do this time for some offtime?’ I told her I'd love to go into BeverlyHills Sports Cars and look at their cars."You might call it a pilgrimage. “I haveall sorts of old cars,” Harris says. “I've lovedcars since I was a kid, and my wife Tariedoesn't care about any of them. It's justtransportation to her. So, we go into thisbeautiful showroom. And then there's allthese fabulous cars: a ’57 T-Bird, Triumphs,and Jaguars. And there's a silver-blue 1971280SE Cabriolet. My daughter Lauren,when she saw the car, said, ‘Dad, get thiscar for mom.’ I asked my wife what shethought about it, and this time she surprisedme. She said, ‘It's a beautiful car.’ Itold her I was going to look for one.”He didn’t have to look far to find justthe right example.The deal that almost wasn’t“I looked on Hemmings, thinking I'dnever find one, but this car comes up,” hesays. “It was a 1969 280SE Cabrio, whitewith a Cognac leather interior, and it wasa bank foreclosure. I called the bankerand he told me they thought it was worthabout $28,000 at the time.”Harris gave the proposition somethought, mentally totaling up the potentialrestoration costs.“I was willing to take the shot at$28,000 because I just had a feeling,” hestates. “I told him I didn’t need photos, buthe wasn’t willing to make a deal withoutsending me some photos first.”That’s where the deal almost wentoff the rails. “I waited three days and onthe fourth day he hasn’t sent any photos,and suddenly I can't reach him. And I gethis secretary, who said he was meetingsomeone about the car. So I'm thinking,great, I just got stuck. My wife said itwasn't meant to be and I should move on."But something was tickling Harris’mind, and he couldn’t let it go.“The next week, it still bothered me,”he says. “I called the guy up and askedwhat happened to that car? He said,‘Actually, the deal fell through. The guydidn't go through with the deal on buyingit.’ He offered me the car if I was willing tomatch the other guy’s price. And I thought,you know what? I'm not going to play agame, so I bought it.”Fixing a few bugsBuying a classic Mercedes-Benz carsight-unseen is unusual, but the angelwhispering in Harris’ ear turned out to beright. Or at least, mostly right.“I had the car shipped up from Georgia.When we unloaded it, I said to my wife,‘Tarie, happy birthday, happy anniversary,happy everything. Here's your car.’ I gaveher the keys. She gets in the car, puts it indrive, and it goes backwards. She doesn'teven look at me twice. She puts the car inpark, gives me the keys and says, ‘Whenyou fix the car, I'll drive it.’ It turned outthat it just needed linkage adjustments.”Apart from that, the car was everythingHarris had wanted.The interior was all original,” he says.“The woodwork was uncracked, not even