Some imaginary scenarios appear almost too perfect. Like the most perfect bubble, shining in mother of pearl’s delicate hues, just waiting to burst the instant you try touching it.
Turning an imagined perfect moment into a reality can only lead to disappointment. Either that, or this is just a very popular excuse on behalf of the dominion of mediocrity that shapes... almost everything.
But imagine yourself driving by Italy’s Lago di Garda. The pleasabt, warm temperatures; the lush green trees lining the Gardesana, this textbook concoction of grand vistas, elegant curves and beautiful villages, some of which are slightly dilapidated in that peacocky way only the Italians seem to be getting away with.
This is a road that, under most circumstances, should make for a delightful drive behind the wheel of even the most humble of motorcars. Naturally, one’s imagination, greedy as ever, is quick to provide somewhat more illustrious fantasies, as if to highlight the disappointment of one’s present. But the truth of the matter is: this piece of tarmac is begging for the right kind of car. Not necessarily for want of power or performance, but because this landscape deserves a machine that’s not left ashamed by nature’s lushness. Open-top motoring it has to be then, preferably of a mature age. Traffic levels as well as Italy’s new-found ambitions to enforce speed limits mean outright speed would actually be counterproductive. I’m therefore after cruising abilities (if not quite waftability), accompanied by good looks and an agreeable engine note. The ideal Gardesana motor would hence be a compact sixties convertible, and not necessarily the sportiest of the breed.
Which leads me straight to one of my all-time aesthetic favourites. The Mercedes W113, the Pagoda. I like to refer to it as the perfect woman’s car, and not in the sense some might want to describe a pink Nissan Micra CC. It’s the utter lack of aggression and its unpretentious, yet graceful stance that makes it the ideal vehicle for those more interested in class, rather than brash, loud exhibitionism - which tend to be of the fairer sex. Paul Bracq’s styling of the Pagoda lends it a mature and subtle quality that’s, in some regards, the opposite of the more extreme roadsters of the sixties. Does this mean a bloke can only drive it with a paper bag over his head? Most certainly not. A woman’s car made up of these characteristics would only repel the most blinkered of brutes.
In a case of extreme good luck, the beauty of Northern Italy and the epitome of elegant, Franco-German motoring were at my feet one sunny October afternoon - to create a most memorable driving experience. I’d consider myself privileged driving a Pagoda through Dortmund (or Milton Keynes, for that matter). But this combination of machinery and environment was one of those rare instances when the Automotive Gods aligned the stars.
After a simple, yet most pleasant pizza lunch I am handed the keys to a Mercedes-Benz 250 SL, W113, Pagoda convertible, complete with its original Italian owner’s manual in the passenger door pocket. In keeping with the Italian spirit of Sprezzatura, this Pagoda is neither run-down project car nor one of those ghostly concourse examples, which have been embalmed to a point where their age and very own history seem to have all but vanished. This particular Pagoda has been taken good care of, but it isn’t ashamed to show its age in certain areas. It also stands by its youthful folly of having additional fog lights.
And it even gets away with wearing whitewall tyres, which actually look superb in conjunction with its polished hub caps and the body’s metallic silver (with a hint of light blue) paint.