By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Maggi Arendsee is a self-avowed “car girl.”
“When I was young, I hung out with my dad, who was an engineer, and asked him questions like, ‘How does an engine work?’ My sister drove a sports car, and she would let me shift from the passenger’s seat.”
Growing up, her dream car was a 1968 Firebird convertible. She wanted something that was fast and had a big engine. “I found one when I was 17, but my dad feared for my life and said no.”
The infatuation stuck. “When I was dating Wayne [now her husband], his family wasn’t sure what to get me when it came to gifts. He told them tools and car stuff. I was thrilled.”
Today Maggi and Wayne are both Porsche drivers for their daily excursions, plus they have a pair of Vespas for weekend-morning coffee runs in their Fort Worth neighborhood.
Maggi’s favorite ride, however, is an older gal with a few miles under her hood but who wears them well and looks refreshed thanks to some major touch-ups this past year. The white 1980 Mercedes-Benz 450SL convertible even made her forget her dream of owning an American muscle car.
The two-seat roadster lived a pampered life early on in San Diego. It was a surprise 20th anniversary gift from her father-in-law to her mother-in-law. “They were Mercedes people,” says Maggi, “and while she drove the car, at some point it was garaged in favor of a newer model. It became the car they loaned to guests like us when we went to visit them.”
Maggi fell in love with the 450SL, but she was fairly new to the family, so she didn’t feel like she had a right to inquire about buying it. “Plus, my father-in-law wanted to hold on to it long enough to see one of his granddaughters get to ride in it for the homecoming parade. In 2007, that happened.”
When she did ask him if he’d sell it, he gave her his stock answer: “You don’t want to buy that old bucket of bolts.” She eventually gave up but not before his wife asked if she was truly serious about the car.
Maggi got her own surprise 12 years ago when Wayne asked her to step outside with him. There was the Mercedes parked in the driveway. “My father-in-law drove it from San Diego to El Paso. My mother-in-law flew to Texas and drove with him the rest of the way to Fort Worth to surprise me.”
The car was in fairly good shape, and got yearly upgrades such as new seatbelts and a new German canvas top.
This year, she found someone to work on the car whom she could trust (Twiggyman’s Detail Shop) — critical to anyone who owns a vintage or collectible vehicle. When she drove to his garage, he was impressed with the car’s condition after he took it for a spin and gave it a thorough checkup.
Recently, new horsehair seat inserts — Maggi considers herself a purist — have been re-covered in a Sienna-colored vinyl. And the exterior paint got a new ceramic coating. Since the Arendsees only have a carport, the Mercedes stays in a warehouse — especially when it heats up and gets less time on the road (the air conditioner isn’t quite up to Texas summer standards).
But Maggi still loves to put on a pair of white sunglasses and a scarf and drive around town with the top down. “It’s not about speed; it’s about enjoying the moment and the car,” she says. And she has no plans to sell it to anyone, including relatives. “It’s my baby. I’ll cruise into the sunset with her.”