LETTER | How my journey to owning a Mercedes-Benz 190E became a dream come true

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Samuel Letsoalo's Mercedes-Benz 190E
Samuel Letsoalo's Mercedes-Benz 190E
Samuel Letsoalo

Even though I knew and wanted to drive or own a Mercedes-Benz, I did not realise that it would be my first car to own. I loved the brand from an early age, ever since my uncle bought an E250 around 1983. I was very fond of the car, and cleaned it almost daily.

One day the front emblem was broken, and I was blamed for it, which resulted in being banished from my uncle's house. Fortunately, my cousin told them who broke it. It was hard for me not to be close to that machine or just touch it because it was a car for wealthy business people, like my uncle. 

I told myself that when I grew up, I would own a Mercedes-Benz. I started making a wired car with the emblem, and drew cars on every paper that I found myself holding. I would draw trucks, buses, sedans, all fitted with the three-pointed star - to such an extent that I drowned it in my school books, resulting in punishment from my teachers.

The bug bit

My brother owned three Mercedes-Benz models, and all were E-Class versions. By 2000, he had six of them as well as a BMW 5- and 7 Series. He was an advocate and worked as a Municipal Manager by that time, but Mercedes-Benz would always come first to me.

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I started to work in 1999 with the ambition to one day own a Mercedes, but I was earning too little to afford even a city car or hatchback - while also having to build a house for my mom.

Vintage Mercedes-Benz badge
Vintage Mercedes-Benz badge

In 2004, my brother's friend offered to sell me a fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf because he noticed how I struggled to get to work, but my brother told me not to buy it. I tried to explain to him together with his friend, but he said no. Within a month and a half, he (my brother's friend) came home with a Toyota Conquest, but my brother repeated, "No". He told his friend never to offer me those cars, but I did not understand why because I was not asking for any help.

READ | This Mercedes-Benz 190E is one 'golden oldie' that ripples strings of modern nostalgia

In 2006, Luzzy (my brother's friend) came along with a 190E Mercedes-Benz. It was small, compact, beautiful and still in good condition. I was scared when the keys were handed over to me, and I was asked if I still needed a car.

190E C-Class
190E C-Class

"Here is the car. You can pay me when you feel comfortable with it". I said yes, but my brother won't be happy about it. I thought maybe he was jealous or didn't want me to have a car.

He reminded me how I loved the brand, and what I was doing all the years ago, and my ambitions to own a model like this one day. He asked me the differences between all those cars passed before me, like the Golf and Corolla. I told him that it is an acceptable car and not a 'big machine'.

On bricks.. for now

He said to me: "I don't want to come and collect your body parts scattered around if you are involved in an accident." He said that every car that I thought was of my age and driven by my peers is different to the 190E. All are of the same capacity, so I asked myself if Mercedes-Benz was the problem?

It was tough for me to take it, scared of how my friends would look at me, but deep in my heart, it felt so good. Driving it was a pleasure, and I started to feel more comfortable and confident, not forgetting the pride consistently over my shoulders.

Samuel Letsoalo Mercedes-Benz 190E
Samuel Letsoalo's Mercedes-Benz 190E

I drove it for four years without having a single problem. In 2011, the temperature light started to flash. I would have to check the water level at every stop or petrol station even though the temperature wasn't rising, even after a long-distance drive. Still, it was worrying to me with that light on because the problem couldn't be diagnosed.

One day I drove from Johannesburg to Tzaneen in Limpopo. When I come back to Johannesburg after I passed Polokwane, that red light switched off. It was a relief to me thinking my car got back to normal. It was around 02:00, and I was alone. About 70km after the red light switched off, the car was full of smoke, and the car finally broke down.

For now, it's a work in progress, and one day I'll get my 190E running again.

Compiled by Robin Classen

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