The Mercedes-Benz Ocean Drive is nothing more than a long-wheelbase, V-12-powered S-class. Actually, it's something less than that, because its roof has been sliced off, but that makes all the difference. When was the last time you drove a four-door convertible, one that oozes elegance and style from every angle? If you're like me, probably never. Most people have never even sat in a four-door convertible. So what if the Ocean Drive is held together with Elmer's Glue and a prayer, a fragile prototype that I can drive no more than 20 mph? California, here I come.
The gatehouse guard nods, pushes a button, and motions me toward the black iron gate, which slowly retreats into the shrubbery, exposing the entrance to Ocean Heights, a collection of palatial homes nestled into the hills above the Pacific. The gate track is a narrow strip of steel laid into the concrete. A minor bump in the road for most vehicles, it's a considerable threat to the delicate Ocean Drive. The dampers are on the blink, and impacts with the uneven paving stones in the Ocean Heights entry drive already have sent the car all a-jiggle. I ease the ragtop over the track at what seems like a cautious pace, but the twenty-one-inch wheels scuttle roughly over the dimpled surface. Ralf, the Mercedes engineer who's riding shotgun and who spent most of 2006 helping craft the Ocean Drive, is not amused.
"Sir!" he practically shouts. "We will have trouble if you drive fast. Please keep your speed to 30 kilometers per hour."
Feeling a bit chagrined, I concentrate on alternately glancing at the speedometer, scanning intersections for daydreaming pool boys who might run a stop sign and plow into the Ocean Drive, and ogling the lushly landscaped, modernist houses. Would the people who live in them want to descend the hill to the Pacific Coast Highway in something as bling-tastic as the Ocean Drive? There's no telling, since the only signs of life are from a construction crew, but the big Benz clicks with that particular demographic. "Awesome car!" one worker yells. I would be willing to bet that the Ocean Drive also would have made quite a splash at dinner last night at the hyperhip Mastro's Ocean Club Fish House down on the Pacific Coast Highway, where a Bentley Continental Flying Spur idled in the valet lane.