For sale right now in Colorado is a bearded, flannel-wearing millennial’s dream: a vintage Mercedes Benz 190 diesel that solves the problem of high rent with a built-in camper. It’s actually a really cool setup.
After a reader named Mason sent me this Craigslist post, I called up the owner, Gene, to learn a bit more about this 1964 Mercedes 190D whose rear seats, rear roof section, and trunk lid have been replaced with a camper.
Gene told me he picked up this beast while hunting for one of his favorite cars: the Volvo 240. “I’ve had 150 Volvos in my life,” he told me. “About a good hundred were Volvo 240 wagons.” One day, while driving around, Gene stopped by a lot in which he’d seen a 240 wagon and another car numerous times. “I drove past where [the Mercedes] parked all the time, and from the side I thought it was a Checker of the same vintage,” the Boulder native told me.
Gene spoke with the owner, who actually hadn’t listed the 240 for sale, and eventually walked away with both the Mercedes and the Volvo for a combined total of $1,100. According to documents Gene found in the car, the previous owner had bought the camper for about $3,000 on eBay in 2012, and had brought it down to Colorado from South Dakota.
“I really didn’t buy it to sell,” Gene told me. “[But] my circumstances dictate that I’m going to sell something soon.” He thinks the person who conducted the original conversion likely did it because the car was involved in some sort of accident. “Maybe a tree fell on the back of the car,” Gene, the former Buick convertible collector (he told me people used to call him “Mr. Buick) told me over the phone. “They wouldn’t have gone through this unless they had a really good running vehicle,” he said of the salvage-title car that, according to the odometer, only has about 18,000 miles on the clock.
The camper has a two-burner stove, a small fridge, and a fan. “It actually sleeps four adults,” he says, and it’s nearly tall enough in one spot for him to stand without hitting his head.
The car’s dash is cracked from the car having sat for quite a while, and Gene admits that he hasn’t really had time to look the thing over fully. Still, he says the conversion job was well done. The hubcaps, bumpers, and taillights are all original. Plus, there’s even the 190D badge on the back still. “This Mercedes camper is cool enough and done well enough that most people are gonna think that Mercedes built it,” he claims. By the looks of the pictures, I don’t disagree.
The engine turns over, but the car doesn’t run. Gene recommends that the next owner remove and clean the fuel tank to protect the injectors from nasty fuel, but for the most part, he doesn’t think it will take much to get this hipstermobile ready for the trip to vinyl record shop. “That 190D was a beast of an engine,” he correctly stated.
But what that little four-cylinder diesel had in reliability, it lacked in power, and Gene realizes this, despite never having driven the car. “I know that it would be slow. You just have to know that,” he said, suggesting that who ever buys this goes in with the expectation that this thing is going to be a bit of a dog.
But I’d be okay with dealing with a bit of slowness in exchange for a free place to crash, and a drivetrain that may never quit. Would I drop $2,900 on it? I’m not sure. But with youngsters these days living in vans and going crazy over vintage things, I bet someone will.