The reason this 1962 Mercedes-Benz 220S is attracting the attention of many Mercedes enthusiasts and collectors is simply the owner’s obsession with detail.
The Mercedes-Benz Heckflosse (Fintail) is based upon the W111 chassis from which models such as the 250, 280 and even 300 were manufactured. Most Fintails were used as family sedans, workhorse cars and even taxis and are often not considered as valuable or collectible as the models I mentioned above. However, Belinda Clontz Sarooei (aka “Belinda Benzo”), is not your average collector so she was able to take what was considered an average car and elevate it to a collector’s item.
Initially, Belinda was in search of a vintage Mercedes two-seater after losing her 1972 Karmann Ghia to an accident a few years prior. After going out to test drive that car and not being impressed with the condition it was in, she happened to see this 1962 Fintail parked nearby and inquired about it. She immediately fell in love with the car and credits the amount of attention to detail to her initial attraction.
Belinda’s philosophy on car ownership involves a bit of kismet. “I believe that cars have a way of finding their next caretakers. I knew the moment that I saw the boxes of receipts down to spark plug receipts that the car was coming home with me. I knew that I could continue to make the car better and provide the same type of love of the previous owners,” which was clearly what she did.
Upon purchasing the car, Belinda decided to treat this car as if it were one of the more expensive models that collectors are more apt to be seeking in this market. She has built it with the same quality and attention to detail as those who invested in those higher-end models have, which has served to elevate a humble 220S to a higher level. The result has been numerous awards including “First in Class” in Class 2 and 4 for Legends of the Autobahn at Pebble Beach this past year.
When she first saw this well-maintained red and black interior, she thought it seemed a little "mafia looking.” If anything, that should have fallen firmly on the pros side of the ledger in determining the purchase. Many of these 220S Fintails are still used in other countries as taxis. How cool must that be?
Belinda is a formally trained designer who owned a children’s formal wear clothing company for 20 years. She clearly has an eye for detail and accessorizing, as evidenced by the perfect matching of her driving gloves with the vintage steering wheel.
The full-leather interior is a feature more commonly seen in the higher-end 300 models. The rich red leather with black trim hearkens to a more sensual time in interior design just as the boldness of the “fins” on the rear reveals Mercedes’ willingness to take chances during a very innovative period in car design evolution.
During the process of building her car, she collected any photos or factory brochures that she could find which gave her ideas for how to best accessorize the car. While doing this, she came across a few Fintails that had special headrests that were specifically built for the W100 Mercedes limousines. These headrests are extremely rare, so much so that sometimes they can be valued at more than the car showcasing them.
It took Belinda several years to track these special headrests down and, when she did, she actually had to buy three so that she could tear them apart and make two good ones. She also had to find old upholstery so that she could match the upholstery that was already in her car. It was a labor of love and it is those extra details that often make a car stand out from the rest.
Although Belinda considers herself a “girly girl” as evidenced by this perfectly accessorized and matching Mercedes-Benz stuffed bear, both her biological dad and her stepdad helped her develop a love for cars very early.
Her biological dad even cleared some land beside their house and built a go kart track for her and her cousins. As if that weren’t enough, her stepdad (whom she lived with later) worked for the legendary Ford race team, Holman Moody Racing. Growing up with these types of influences, Belinda couldn't help but fall in love with cars.
When preparing the car to compete at the prestigious Legends of the Autobahn car show, which is part of the annual Monterey Car Week, Belinda found that she was missing a piece of interior paneling inside of the trunk. Those pieces did not survive in most cars because they were made of hard paper board. She drove down to the Mercedes Classic Center in Irvine CA and looked at another Fintail to see what an example looked like.
She tried buying the missing panel from Mercedes Classic Center, but they didn't have them available for sale. She ended up purchasing the original board material instead, and since she is a trained clothing designer, she was able to recreate the pattern with muslin and then take it from cardboard to final product before installing it into her car.
The 220S has an M180.941, naturally aspirated, inline-six engine. Producing 124 horsepower with 126 lb-ft of torque, it could get from zero to 62 in 15 seconds with a top speed of 103 mph. Belinda personally polished this engine bay by hand to a mirror finish to add aesthetic to function.
Here is Belinda showing off the original fuse box cover captioned in German. She has done a great deal to keep as much of the car vintage and period correct as possible. She is also effortlessly channeling herself as an extension of her vehicle.
Belinda replaced the full exhaust on this 220S with a NOS (New Old Stock) complete factory Mercedes exhaust system, which was purchased from the Mercedes Classic Center. She added the vintage chrome exhaust tip, and apparently, she always has people asking her if she's willing to sell the exhaust tip to them.
Much of what led to the realization of Belinda’s vision for this car was the research she put into locating historic pictures and information regarding her make and model. She was very meticulous about period-correct details like finding vintage grill badges from rally events that Mercedes Fintails competed in.
While researching her car, Belinda learned about Ewy Rosqvist and her co-driver Ursula Wirth, the two women who won the 1962 Argentinian Grand Touring Rally in a 1962 Mercedes Fintail.
Belinda saw the fog lights on their W111 rally car and became obsessed with finding period correct SEV Marchal fog lights for her own Fintail. She located Gavin Lewis-Davis, whom she considers to be the world’s leading expert and collector of SEV Marchal lights. He helped her to source these extremely rare and expensive fog lights, which were period correct for the rally cars of the 1960s. What makes her lights so special is that they replace the factory bullet light indicators, and they bolt on to the body panel of the car with a special escutcheon plate so that the lights actually become one with the car.
The original Mercedes 220S wheels were 13 inches, but Belinda upgraded to 14 inch wheels for better driving and handling. She opted to upgrade to these 14 inch Coker whitewalls, which look stately and elegant with the vehicle.
These Mercedes-Benz hubcaps are simply a breathtaking example of the style and design that went into building these cars but leave it to Belinda to take it up a notch. The Mercedes-Benz logoed valve stem caps are just the perfect added detail.
The lines of the 220S are undeniably classic and compelling, especially with all of the added touches that Belinda has brought to it. However, nothing is more compelling than knowing that much of this was done with her own attention to detail, and many parts were painstakingly installed by her own hands.
Nothing encapsulates the handmade, bespoke approach to car building that Belinda brought to this project more than this Mercedes-Benz handbag that she made from scratch. As a clothing designer, making a handbag from a Benz hubcap is probably second nature for her. For the rest of us, we can only wish we had this much awesome creativity to pull from thin air.
At the time that the 220S was introduced, a Mercedes with fins incorporated as a part of the design features went against the grain. At the time, they were probably considered a bit self deprecating and fun but they also made the car seem friendlier. The design has aged well and would now probably be considered charming.
The amount of time, work and dedication that was invested into the building of this car was monumental. A large portion of it was done by Belinda herself - by hand. Certainly, that’s a very good reason to smile at a job well done.
Belinda is particularly thankful that she hired Bill Corbett, a master paint restorer. She thinks it was the best investment she could have made and she has this advice for anyone embarking on building a classic car. “I would highly recommend anyone buying a classic car, or any car that does not have original paint, to hire someone who is a paint expert. They are worth their weight in gold. Once you understand the paint on your car, you can navigate the best way to keep it looking shiny.”
They say that the devil is in the details. This is true of both life and car building. The creativity, imagination and detailed persistence of the car builder can oftentimes be the difference between an easily overlooked daily driver and a collector’s item. Surely, Belinda has bridged that gap with this car.
Story by Avon Bellamy
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you like this W111 Mercedes-Benz fintail, you can find additional Mercedes-Benz content at mercedes.fcpeuro.com, as well as more build features like this one here. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS