The Mercedes-Benz 280SL, nicknamed the Pagoda for the slightly concave removable hardtop with delicate pillars, has a special place in Mercedes-Benz history, but one particular 280SL also has a special place in Lafe Bauer’s family history.
By TOM STRONGMAN
Bauer, a retired physician who is now 93 and lives in Mission, said that when he and his wife, Joanne, were visiting a son in Italy in 1970, they saw a 280SL parked on the street and she exclaimed, “That’s the cutest car I’ve ever seen.” Normally, Joanne only thought of cars as simple transportation, but she seemed to fixate on the Mercedes SL. After the trip, whenever she saw an SL in Kansas City, she would comment, “There goes my car.”
The car was first introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 1963 as the 230SL two-seat roadster/coupe and production began in June. It was the replacement for the 300SL and the 190SL. In 1966 the car became the 250SL with a 2.5-liter engine, and in 1967 it became the 280SL when the engine was enlarged to 2.8 liters.
The iconic styling, created by Paul Bracq and Bela Barenyi under the direction of Friedrich Geiger, set a new standard for the brand. The hood, trunk lid and door skins were made of aluminum to save weight, and the rigid passenger compartment was mated to impact-absorbing front and rear body sections, a unique safety feature.
One Sunday in 1971, Bauer saw an ad for a 1969 280SL and it was only a couple of blocks from their house. He promptly bought it for Joanne. “You never saw anyone so proud,” he said.
Lafe and Joanne grew up in Clay Center, Kan. “We went to the same church, 4H Club and high school,” he said. She was two years younger. His first memory of her was singing a solo in church when she was about 8 or 9 years old.
In 1944, after Bauer had two years of medical school, they were married at Camp Beale near Marysville, Calif. They had a three-day honeymoon before he left for the Philippines where he served as a combat medical officer.
After he returned from the war, the couple had four sons and raised two nieces after their parents were killed in an auto accident in Argentina.
Joanne loved being a “little gray-haired grandma” in her sports car. She died in 2008, but Bauer has kept her car. It now has 107,000 miles, and although he no longer drives, he can’t bear to part with the car.
“Maybe one day our oldest son would like to have it,” he said.
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