NEVER thought I’d find doors to be a challenge. The concept is simple enough: open door, go through, close door. I’ve been doing this successfully for four decades. Well, there has been the odd painful hiccup, for which I blame alcohol.
The SL has long doors that need a good three feet in which to operate, or the opening is severely compromised. Which it often is. Which means I do a strange contorted vertical limbo as I extrude myself.
Scuff marks on the door’s lower panel give count to my less than perfect starts as I swing my legs way back to where the opening is widest. Then, rather than scratch the car next door, I place my fingers directly in harm’s way between my door’s trailing edge and the other car’s door panel. The tighter my squeeze, the more my fingers are squeezed. It’s never elegant.
The only places I’m assured of an easy egress are my driveway and kerbside spots. Elsewhere, it’s compromised because Australian parking spaces are not wide. I’m not saying they should be, but the SL ownership experience has helped me understand why wealthy types do yoga.
I’ve also started keeping a baseball cap in the car. Last month I vowed to drive topless as often as possible. This, too, has not been easy, but not because of the summer sun’s intensity. I expected that. It’s the delay each time I get in to drive.
The SL’s roof refuses to operate if the car’s moving at anything above Zimmer-frame pace. Benz claims it’ll go up, or come down, at vehicle speeds up to 15km/h. My read of the speedo suggests it’s below 10km/h, which is easy to exceed, even in my driveway. So I’ve been forced to work the roof into my start procedure, right after I put the seatbelt on and hit the starter button. It’s only 15 seconds, but it feels soooo long.
The feeling of being ‘on show’ is acute while the roof does its origami act in public. Also, the roof switch occupies my left hand, so I can’t simultaneously set the nav, or tune the radio, or engage the stubby gearlever, or anything really. A First World problem, sure.
Listen to me whine about what amounts to 30 seconds for each drive. But it’s caught me by surprise how much I really begrudge it. When was the last time you did nothing for 30 seconds and didn’t subconsciously reach for your smartphone? Waiting for an elevator, in line for a coffee, at the bus stop...
Okay, I ain’t catching the bus. Driving the Mercedes-Benz SL400 is much nicer, and the person beside me doesn’t have BO, or mutter to themselves.
This article was originally published in Wheels April 2015.