Go Mercedes Team: Search & Rescue Mission
Date: Sunday, September 18, 2016
Primary Mission: Save a rare 1978 450 SEL 6.9 Mercedes Benz with Hydraulic Suspension from extinction
Challenge: Car in the middle of a meadow near an abandoned soup factory and “ghost” 1931 vacation resort called Chalet Suzanne in Lake Wales, Florida
Super Challenge: Trying to live through 100 degree heat, a bizarre GPS that wouldn’t let us leave a “Bate’s” like motel, not much water and a whole lot of wasps.
Our primary Mercedes obsessionist, (I mean enthusiast), Angelo, had located the car about two months prior through his constant searches throughout the United States. After connecting with the owner the proper arrangements were made and we were off to collect the newest found treasure.
The morning was bristling with excitement as the Go Mercedes team headed out to save this worthy classic Mercedes from certain extinction. We downed plenty of hair raising coffee at the local breakfast joint, gobbled down breakfast and quickly headed out for the central plains of Florida.
Moving quickly due east we headed through the sprawling horse country of Florida. Upon arrival in Lake Wales our primary objective was to pick up a u-haul trailer to pick up the car.
We pulled up to the Grove Motel which just happened to also double as the local u-haul rental establishment. We nervously joked a little bit about it’s “distinctive Bates motel ambience”.
As we waited for the u-haul manager to wake up. It was afterall still 11:00 ish, we busied ourselves with a little walk around. We got some curious stares, as a little chihuahua scurred about, and a bored resident pulled wheelies on his bicycle in front of the place. A little girl came running up excitedly to ask if we were going to move in. “Naw sorry, we’re just here to rent a u-haul”, we replied.
We were informed that the manager was in room 5 but alas he wasn’t answering the door. Not sure what to do at that point we continued our informal walkabout.
The Grove Motel is quite popular. Here’s their official “Sorry No Vacancy” sign. For added effect, if you look real closely you will see a bullet hole over the “A” in “Vacancy”. Hmm, not sure whether a guest was thwarted from a cozy night’s stay or someone just didn’t care for the room service.
This sign says it all about what it’s like to stay here.
Finally the u-haul manager appeared scratching his belly and yawning, muttering something about a busted water pipe in the motel.
At last we secured the keys to the u-haul and trailer. But trying to leave the motel was somewhat like trying to get out of the Bermuda Triangle. The GPS had the caravan turning around and around and we passed the same Grove Motel sign no less than three times until we figured out we needed to just use common sense to get out. At last we turned left instead of just doing circles and we were hot on the trail with the fresh scent of a new Mercedes capture filling the air.
About 20 minutes later we had the car within sights. But we needed to make a pitstop in order to procure essential provisions. The list included one giant bottle of Orange Crush, licorice whips, and a Mountain Dew super sugar instant diabetes drink. (Later the purchase did seem rather frivalous on our part. The 100 degree heat and humidity later proved quite a challenge. Water would of been a lot more welcome then a hot orange crush bottle on the floor board of the truck.)
At last making our way down the country road, we pulled up and got our very first glimpses of the hidden German beauty.
Viola, the target: a Mercedes 1978 450 SEL 6.9
There it was, at last. A 1978 450 SEL 6.9 with hydraulic suspension nestled in the grass. This particular model in the 1970’s was considered to be at the pinnacle of Mercedes engineering. In it’s day only a couple of Ferrari’s could match it’s performance. (Unfortunately weighing in at over 4,500 lbs, it was introduced right in the middle of the gas crisis in the US. Oops, so not exactly the best timing market wise.)
Hidden Treasure: The Green Bean
Adam and Angelo posing with their new find
Contemplating the logistics of moving the car out
Adam working his magic to get her loaded.
Affectionately called by the code name “Green Bean” the car was found in a very unusual area. Sleeping for awhile, she was resting in a meadow in Lake Wales, Florida right next to an old abandoned 1931 chalet style resort, restaurant and soup cannery called Chalet Suzanne.
Chalet Suzanne built in 1931
This quaint Swiss style hideaway was once where the rich and famous of the 30’s used to come for gourmet dining and rest. Complete with it’s own private airstrip, grape vineyard, shooting gallery and soup factory, patrons were once served by waitresses dressed as Swiss maidens.
Chalet Suzanne’s carved wooden sign from 1931
This quirky resort was owned by the same family for 81 years. It recently “retired’ along with its owners in 2014. Today it sits quietly resting nestled in overgrown flowers and butterflies.
The abandoned boiler area for the soup factory.
The Mercedes was in nice condition but just happened to be a bit ornery when it came to being taken out of the meadow. Adam, aka “Atom Bomb” cranked in the hot sun for 2 1/2 hours to get her loaded up onto the trailer. In addition, the tires were flat and the suspension was decidedly unsuspension-like which didn’t help much in getting it loaded. But as luck would have it, Angelo had his trusty Mercedes tire inflator that came standard with his AMG black beauty. Adam and Angelo were able to jockey the car around using the cigarette lighter powered compressor to fill up the tires enough to get it on the trailer.
At last the car is loaded and ready to go
At last we are back at the Go Mercedes Ranch.
Ready for restoration!
Stay tuned for updates!
Extra Bonus Scenes from the Adventure at Lake Wales
A Ford quietly napping near the barn and in the weeds
Another Mercedes on the property.
Sadly the condition inside & engine is too far gone for restoration
View of sleeping beauties from inside the barn
Trees vs Barn
Believe it or not this is an official FAA airport.
Complete with freshly mowed runway.
Closeup of exterior tile from Chalet Suzanne
Classic Ford Thunderbird sitting in grape vineyard
Steering column of Thunderbird
An elegant lady waiting patiently.
Reminder of the glory days of the chalet.
A hungry hawk flew past the photographer with his freshly caught dinner from the nearby lake.
Assembly line of abandoned soup factory
Distressed door inside barn where car was found