1971 Mercedes Benz 300SEL 6.3 - In Mein Merry Muscle Car

Many recoil at the thought, but I am here to tell you that taking a long road trip in an old car is no kinkier than, say, reenacting Revolutionary War skirmishes or the Battle of Verdun, dressed in tights or old helmets, the way some do. Not only do you get to drive the funky old thing, but you actually get somewhere.

So, what was my hurry this time? Here's the short-wheelbase version of the story. Long ago, I spent parts of two consecutive summers in Empire, a lazy village west of bustling Traverse City (population 14,532). On the northwestern edge of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, Empire was (and is) home to Lake Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes, a place of extraordinary beauty, carved by glaciers and sporting unusual (for a northern lakefront) white sand. Tourists flock here now in the summer, but back in the day, it used to be a more closely guarded secret.

For my introduction to the quiet life of Empire, I must thank Sam Jones, my next-door neighbor in New Jersey while we were growing up. Sam's paternal grandparents thought Empire was a pretty swell place and bought a house in the woods there, in the 1930s, as a summer retreat. By the time we came around, they'd passed on and the house needed painting badly. And, as luck would have it, we painted badly.

Housepainters didn't come any cheaper than teenaged Sam and me, plus our two associates from back east. Like us, they came along for room, board (primarily cheap beer and Slim Jims), and permission to sleep late and knock off early. That's why we came back the second summer; we hadn't finished the job. Nor had we yet learned to fully appreciate a locally popular but little-known Milwaukee brew whose greatest distinction, as near as we could tell, lay in its obscurity and mellifluous name: Blatz. As we often said while popping frosted cans so named, Schlitz may have been the beer that made Milwaukee famous, but Blatz was the one that made it nauseous.

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