Monday morning was to be unlike any other morning. I was about to embark on a journey unlike any I had embarked on before. In three short hours, before noon, I would be arriving in Camarillo, California to pick up my new car.
I had booked a early morning flight out of SJC (Mineta San José International Airport) to BUR (Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California) on Southwest Airlines. The flight was short, just under a hour and the plan was to meet the A-Class seller at the airport before 11:00 AM which would give me plenty of daylight driving time for the estimated five hour drive.
Unfortunately the airport gods did not smile upon me and my 9:40 AM flight was delayed until 11:45 AM, which meant I would be getting on the road almost two hours later then planned and unfortunately be driving some of the trip to San Jose in the dark. Luckily the A-Class seller was self-employed and told me not worry, he would pick me up at 12:45 PM.
After finally boarding the flight, we were on our way. I was lucky and scored a seat in Aisle 1, so I could exit the plane as quickly as possible in Burbank. We arrived and I briskly walked out to the car pick area and the A-Class seller picked me up.
He and I had a very nice conversation on our way to his house in Camarillo. I learned he was a gearhead, had bought and sold many cars in his time. He developed a fondness for the A-Class in 2001 after seeing it on a exotic car dealership in Orange County; he had been there purchasing a Lotus and one week later he returned to buy the A-Class. Arriving at his house, I was greeted by three very exotic cars in his garage (Ferrari Testarossa, Porsche 911GT, Aston Martin DB8) and … the Mercedes A160 I purchased off of eBay.
We spent about a hour reviewing paperwork, going over all of the spare parts he included in the sale, and discussing the nuances of the car itself. My first impressions of the car were very positive, the car was spotless and looked like someone had spent a half-day cleaning it, and the car ran very well. The engine bay was spotless, the upholstery looked unused and fresh from the dealer, and there were no visible paint issues. The aftermarket window tinting looked brand new and untouched.
This car is the very first car with a manual transmission I have ever owned, yet alone driven on a road. The previous time I drove a manual was around my parents yard, I probably drove 30 feet in it and never left first gear. As I departed his house, I drove carefully through the neighborhood and practiced shifting gears. This particular Mercedes A-Class has a clutchless manual transmission, so I found it easy to learn not having to worry about when to depress the clutch.
After a 15 minute drive around Camarillo, I drove onto Highway 101 and pointed the car towards San Jose, a 320 mile journey. It was nearly 3:00 PM when I finally reached Highway 101, which meant I would not get home until 8:00 PM if everything went as planned.
Somewhere along Highway 101.
This particular Mercedes A-Class was sold in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2001 which meant the speedometer was in Kilometers per hour only. I played a fun game the first hour of the trip, which was trying to guess how fast I was going. I used a basic conversion of 10 MPH to 6 km/h, so if I was going 130 km/h I guestimated I was going 78 MPH. In reality 130 km/h is 80.77 MPH, which explains why I was still passing people the whole trip.
The ride along the highway was a bit tight, the suspension had been tuned so as the car drove along the sun-baked concrete highways of Southern California I could feel every crack and crevasse. After two hours of driving along the Pacific coast, on mostly concrete highways, Highway 101 takes a sharp right turn and heads inland for the next 200 miles or so. The roadway is primarily asphalt after Pismo Beach, however the sun had set by this point and I was driving in the dark for the next three hours.
As I drove on the deserted roads, I started to learn about my new car. The first order of business were the headlights, the headlight dial has five positions (left parking lights, right parking lights, no lights, city lights, and main lights) as well as two positions when you pull the nob out (front fog lights and front/rear fog lights). The previous owner had only driven the car to/from work, so he indicated that I should set my lights to “city lights” and “front fog lights”. As I drove in the darkness, I realized quickly that this was not sufficient light for the darkened countryside driving.
The roads were pretty empty, rarely did I have a car in front or behind me closer then a 1/4 of a mile, oncoming traffic was sparse as well. I did not feel like adjusting the lights during my drive would endanger me or others; I eventually learned that I should drive with the “main lights” on and the “front fog lights” on as well. This uncovered a repair item, the toggle to engage high beams was very sensitive. I routinely flashed my high beams as I signaled lane changes, no doubt to the annoyance of the oncoming traffic.
I stopped for gas twice, the first time I filled the take until the nozzle clicked off. I was annoyed to find the gas indicator showed the gas tank was only 7/8 full. This is possibly another repair item, but on the second fill up I was able to fill the tank all the way. I pumped in a additional half-gallon of gas after the nozzle click, filling a total of 10.2 US Gallons into my tank even though my gas indicator light illuminated prior to filling up. This is another possible repair item, considering the tank has a 14.3 US Gallons capacity.
During the drive, I was terrified of being pulled over. The previous owner had diplomatic plates on the car, which had to be removed prior to sale which left me with no plates. I had two pieces of paper in the glovebox which the DMV had issue for a single day moving permit which gave me two days of driving. I had a copy of my Highlander’s insurance card, the title to the A-Class, and two crossed fingers the whole way. I was not looking forward to explaining to the law officer my life story in the event I was pulled over. Alas, I avoided any interaction with the law.
I eventually arrived home, pulling into the garage, after my wife parked the Highlander outside for the night, at 8:30 PM. I had spent twelve hours traveling, taking a plane and a car over 600 miles in a single day. I went to bed that night with a smile on my face, knowing that my 2001 Mercedes A160 was parked safe, warm in the garage for the night.