Mega-collector NBC’s Don Ricardo set the stage for Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld
It’s one of those life changing moments that at that time, is lost to the ‘busy’ backdrop of everyday commotion and pressing commitment. On an early spring morning back in 1985, I was afforded the opportunity of a car buff’s lifetime; a chance meeting with Don Ricardo and a stroll through what was at the time, a premier, unequaled automobile collection of immeasurable value.
Sitting beneath Ricardo's professionally manicured Pasadena “Old Hollywood” estate, was a subterranean garage housing 20 vintage collectables, most if not all in pristine condition.
As often noted in the Los Angeles Time, Ricardo’s 14 car garage(over-stuffed at the time) and extensive machine shop was as noted by Edmonds.Com columnist Ed Hellwig: Even without its treasures, Ricardo's garage would be the envy of car buffs. Ed Hellwig wrote in a column for the automotive Web site edmunds.com a decade ago that it was "the mother of garages, an inspiration to men throughout the nation . . . a place to pay homage to the automobile."
In the company of Mercedes Benz master mechanic and restoration artist Patrick McCants of Seal Beach, California, I caught a ride in Pat’s current project, a 1958 Mercedes Gullwing Coupe. This original “barn find” was transformed with just over 1,000 hours or restoration time, German black lacquer on red leather and just enough polished aluminum and chrome to catch this avid car buffs undivided attention.
We headed up the 605 Freeway from the beach to the foothills of Pasadena
After lifting one’s leg and literally dumping into the passenger seat over a high sidewall and subsequent well(the steering wheel tilts to the side to allow driver seating,) Patrick fired up the 300 SL and we headed up to Ricardo’s Estate in Pasadena.
The rumble of the straight 6 cylinder monster and occasional crunch of a nearly missed gear in arguably a tedious exchange of heavy pedal pressure, and un-synchronized manual took the driver and passenger back to a day of raw torque and questionable drum brake stopping power. None the less, the MBZ 300 SL Gullwing Coupe was and remains a driving adventure like no other. And, with a mere 1400 coupes built, one of the most sought after collectables of a bygone era.
Holder of the world production car speed record of the day(161+mph)The 300 SL was one of the longest legged, low end torque producing monsters of the day. The exhaust tone was unforgettable and thought provoking. The ride? As uncomfortable as a buck-board on a rutted country road in late August, noisy as hell, yet you couldn't get enough of it!
Tech-features back in the day of the 300 SL was a center dashboard mounted analog clock, an interior light or two and oversized drum brakes. While Pat had fitted racing harnesses to the 300 SL, I don’t recall them being a factory option. You’ll have to check with Jay Leno on that question.
Don Ricardo was personable, his hair perfect, and one could eat off of the floor of his subterranean garage. Patrick was in the midst of restoring a pre-World War 2 Mercedes Cabriolet for the Atkins family of Los Angeles. Don, aged in his early 80s at the time had fabricated a part for the project in his personal machine shop.
By today’s horsepower and torque measurements the 300 SL(Sport-Light) barely exceeded the engine output of Honda’s Civic Si. But, it was how the power was delivered. A car of many firsts, including fuel injection, aluminum sub-frame, optional aluminum body,(fewer than 300 built) the SL would set the “mark” for what Mercedes AMG performance has become today.
Looking over Don Ricardo’s collection was life changing as to realizing one’s potential as a ‘serious car’ collector. Although Don was well on his way to dedicating his collection to pre-war Daimler, Benz uber-iron, within the underbelly of his sprawling Pasadena estate rested the finest racing Jaguar, Mercedes SS, and Fiat collections this journalist had closely encountered.
Somewhere within his collection sat two additional 300 SL’s, that was Don Ricardo in his early 80s.
3.0 Liter fuel injected straight 6 cylinder 212-220 horsepower
4 speed manual transmission
Curb weight: 2412 lbs.
Oversized ventilated drum brakes
Construction: Sheet metal and aluminum mounted on welded aluminum body cage and subframe. Note: Standard, aluminum hood, trunk lid and doors, with optional full aluminum body.(saved 170 lbs.)