EDMONDS — The little red convertible boasts a storied past.
The 1958 Mercedes-Benz 190SL has gone on two honeymoons on two continents since leaving the showroom 61 years ago.
Now, the Benz is retired to the garage except for special occasions, such as serving as the mayor’s car in today’s Fourth of July parade.
Car owner Olaf Weckner, 43, is the man behind the wheel.
“I never thought I’d be driving the mayor,” Weckner said. “It’s nice to add that to the history of the car.”
Actually, Mayor Dave Earling walks behind the car and does the hand-shaking, waving thing.
This is the fourth year of patriotic duty for the rare German car and its proudly American driver.
Weckner, a German emigrant living in Seattle, offered up the firecracker-red beauty in gratitude after being granted his U.S. citizenship in 2015. He’d been to the Edmonds parade the previous year with his family.
“I noticed there were some collectible vintage cars, mainly American muscle cars, which are very cool cars,” Weckner said.
“I had just bought this Mercedes. I asked the Chamber of Commerce, ‘Is it OK to participate in your parade?’ And I told them I became a U.S. citizen this year. The car is red, really red, and I said I will decorate it in red, blue and white and celebrate America. I didn’t have anything special in mind. They wrote back immediately and said, ‘Would you like to drive the mayor?’ I was like, ‘Wow!’ ”
The ride became an annual rite.
“We are pleased to have Olaf as our guide,” Earling said. “It is a real reflection of his pride of being a United States citizen and it should also be our point of pride in knowing the importance of being a United States citizen.”
Weckner earned a doctorate in engineering in Berlin and came to Boston for post-doctoral study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2004.
He moved to Seattle in 2005. He works at Boeing in Everett and has four aerospace composite patents.
The Edmonds connection is through his wife, Christy. Her grandmother’s sister, Evelyn Fox, was married to Gordon Maxwell, who was the Edmonds mayor from 1955-61 and 1964-67.
Weckner’s infatuation with Mercedes-Benz wasn’t part of his German boyhood.
“I wasn’t as much into cars growing up,” he said. “My parents were very conservative. They bought inexpensive cars that would run.”
Then one day, about a dozen years ago, he saw a black 1958 190SL convertible parked at Pike Place Market.
“It was so beautiful and I fell in love with it. And I thought this is exactly what the perfect car should look like,” Weckner said.
He wanted one.
“They are very hard to find,” he said. Only about 2,700 were produced of that year’s 2-door, 4-cylinder soft-top model.
The stars aligned, he said, when he saw the red 190SL listed in a local Mercedes club chapter magazine.
The seller, Arthur Dietrich, paid around $4,500 for the car in 1958 and had put 104,000 miles on it. Dietrich was asking only $42,000. That’s right — only. Weckner said it could have easily fetched 60 grand then.
“He wasn’t trying to get the most money. He is in his 80s now and he was looking for a good home for the car,” Weckner said. “He owned the car for 54 years. Buying from first-owner is rare.”
The Swiss-born Dietrich and his wife immigrated to the U.S. in 1960, car in tow. He retired from Boeing in 1988.
For Weckner, there was more to the car than just looks.
“This is more special because of the history. He bought it in Germany to drive on a honeymoon with his wife,” Weckner said.
To preserve the tradition, six months after buying the car, Weckner drove it on his honeymoon with Christy. The couple tooled around Leavenworth, Washington’s version of Germany.
They have three children: Walter, 18 months, Karolin, 4, and Katrin, 6.
Under Weckner’s title, the car has added 4,000 miles since 2012. He said it’s worth double what he paid for it. Car site Hagarty puts the value at $90,000 to $188,000, depending on condition, and Hemmings Motor Sales has a pristine model listed online for $170,000.
“But I don’t plan to sell it, ever,” Weckner said.
His daughters ride with him in the Edmonds parade. He said Dietrich has an open invitation to join them.
Mostly, the red car is kept under roof, away from the perils of the road.
“I drive it on my kids’ birthdays,” Weckner said. “My mom comes over from Germany once a year and I take her on a nice trip, if the weather allows. I don’t like to drive it in the rain.”
On his wife’s grandmother’s 94th birthday, he picked her up in the Mercedes to take her for a spin.
For his daily commute, Weckner drives a practical Honda Accord. He hauls the family around in a minivan.
“This is the fun car,” he said.