Tumultuous times in the auto industry have seen brand loyalty tossed around like a kid on a trampoline.
Once a core go-to sector for every manufacturer, receding sales, tough economic times, closed dealerships, lost brands and extensive recalls have left no company unscathed.
And then there are those who order a car a year and a half before it will be available, sight unseen. People like Dr. Hartley Miltchin, a Thornhill podiatrist whose love affair with Mercedes-Benz began 25 years ago and continues, unabated, to this day.
When Mercedes announced their E Class debut, Miltchin patiently waited for them to get to the third of four models: the cabriolet. While some lucky auto writers got to drive them way back in February in Spain (that would be me), the good doctor plunked himself first in line and signed up going on nothing more than engineering specs and a picture.
“I bought my last two – a ’94 E320 and a ’04 CLK 320 – the same way,” he explains. “Always triple black, always convertibles. Mercedes just makes extraordinary cars and I will wait for them.”
It strikes me that I am speaking to a man who is prepared to spend in the neighbourhood of $70,000 on a blind date. He was out of town for the auto show, so hadn’t even kicked the tires.
I meet Miltchin in a parking lot on a Sunday morning. Rain is threatening on this otherwise seasonal late June day, but it’s a lovely day for a drive. Ostensibly interested in meeting the man who has had possession of the first E350 Cabrio set free in Canada, I actually just want to drive the car again.
We set out north with the top dropped, me gathering up long hair in a ponytail. Miltchin indicates the Aircap, a new introduction on this model that I’d tested in Spain with two other long-haired writers. “I’m still curious about this,” he said, indicating the shallow spoiler that pops up from the top of the windshield.
Hearing this is refreshingly honest. The Aircap was a huge new feature on this model, and while you can speak in normal tones and be heard, my hair still blows around madly.
There are two types of exuberant car owners: those who are pleased to have someone else experience why they love their vehicle, and those who believe anyone but themselves in the driver’s seat would be automotive adultery. Mitchlin is the former, and gladly offers up the key to a car that has just 330 km on the odometer.
We have exited the main route in search of a more picturesque setting. Around a bend we stumble upon Sunset Beach, off Bayview in Richmond Hill.
“Wow. What is this place?” I ask. Miltchin lives nearby – and surely this pretty lake and shoreline must be a local favourite.
“I have no idea. I didn’t know it was here,” he replied.
As we prowl around the lake, I ask about his kids. All are in their 20s, so in my mind I jump to a conclusion that Dr. Daddy must just hand them the keys to a stable of Mercedes.
Miltchin laughs. “No, I went to school for a long time and knew what I wanted to do. I work hard and the kids are expected to do the same.” I make a mental note to start working harder.
I call Miltchin a few days later to double-check the mystery beach.
“I was talking with my wife Cheryl about that. She said she used to take the kids there all the time,” he chuckles.
Sunset Beach and a new E350 Cabrio. Nothing says summer like that.
Lorraine Sommerfeld appears Mondays in Living and Saturdays in Wheels. Reach her via www.lorraineonline.ca.