Imagine for a moment that you've just graduated high school and that your brother gifts you an already-modded Integra. It's got Racing Hart rims, it introduces you to Southern California's street racing scene, and life is good.
Human nature means that moving on to a more extensively altered del Sol fitted with the sort of Japanese parts the Internet dreams about almost happens on its own. It's got Mugen rims, it reinforces your sensibilities as a Honda devotee, and life is still good.
And then you go and buy a '72 Mercedes, just like Jimmy Uria. There isn't anything you can inhale that'll make you think transitioning from a Civic-based, open-top Honda to a 40-year-old European sedan will ever make sense. That's the sort of predilection you can only be born with and is exactly what's directed Uria toward cars like a '64 Cadillac on bags and, ultimately, that bell-bottoms-era 280SE.
"I've always enjoyed classic cars, especially being from L.A.," Uria says. "You're always seeing all sorts of classics modified in so many different ways." Post-del Sol, the Southland's influence soon led to the Caddy, then to a North American-spec 280SE that you don't know about, and finally to the right-hand-drive, European version of the Mercedes that Uria's molded into his own perfect union of Stuttgart-meets-Los-Angeles.
Before '10, Uria didn't know squat about classic Mercedes. And unearthing rarified accessories and engine parts exclusive to the Euro-only V-8 that Uria's 280SE has is enduring. Both of which are why this Benz remains happily uncomplicated. Here, modifications are few but direct, like the Universal Air suspension that gives him authority over ride height, the factory hubcaps that've been triple-chrome-plated, and the original hued paint that's been resprayed but with a glass-like finish '72 never thought possible.
Know Uria's del Sol and you'll know his self-admitted obsessive-compulsive tendencies. The sort of tendencies that lead to a vintage Mercedes being nearly completed and then ripped apart in preparation for an impromptu paint job. The teardown and overhaul meant refinishing everything that was either polished or chromed just got a whole lot easier but also led to the sort of guilt that only driving a fully restored, overseas classic can result in. "I drive this car as much as I can, but it's definitely not a daily driver, nor would I want it to be," Uria says. "It's rare, so I'm careful with it."
He has to be. The 3.5L V-8 found underneath the 280SE's monstrosity of a hood is native only to Europe, which means if it fails on Uria like his previous 280SE's six-cylinder did, its time-out for the project altogether. "I want to keep the original 3.5L engine in it for as long as I can," he says about the 200hp, cast-iron-block mill that, in '72, was good enough to scoot the 280SE to around 130 mph. Uria's going nowhere near that fast on those BFGoodrich whitewalls but has done his best to maintain the 90-degree, eight-cylinder powertrain as if he were to do that every day.
Care for a decades-old classic any other way and you can bet on failure. And here, failure will cost you. "Certain [replacement] parts for the engine mount differently," Uria says about the European-only V-8, "so I can't purchase them easily, and parts overseas can be expensive, not to mention [have high] shipping costs, especially if the parts are heavy."
Getting the accessories that make Uria's Benz special, like the North American-spec instrument cluster and French taillights was just as bad. "Not many cars have them," is the first thing he says you've got to understand about some of these '70s-era add-ons, "and asking people if they're willing to sell a part off of their perfectly functioning car isn't easy." As it turns out, it's as awkward as you think rolling up to the convalescent center, asking random golden-agers if they're down to part with that rearview mirror or window crank.
Uria never planned on owning this particular piece of Mercedes-Benz history-at least not an overseas-only, right-hand-drive version anyways. Had the straight-six of his initial 280SE that he'd only gotten three months out of held together, he'd have no reason to have been browsing those classifieds and stumble across the sedan he'd later build up. "It needed a lot of work," he says was his initial thought, "but I ended up buying it. The colors of the exterior and interior, and the engine size are all so rare; I had to have it."
Uncommon buildups are nothing new to Uria. Honda's CRX-replacing del Sol isn't the first car Hondaphiles line up for, and nobody ever owned two 280SEs on purpose. "I've always liked different or uncommon cars," he says, "taking them and creating something I've envisioned." Which is exactly what Uria's done and, if you ask him, it's just about finished, and the transition from Japanese sub-compact to classically dignified luxury car has never made more sense.
Jimmy's Other Half
Before cruisin' down Crenshaw Boulevard in his Benz, Jimmy built this del Sol, which he still owns today. It features a mix of JDM and EDM parts along with a legit Mugen body kit, staggered TE37 wheels, Spoon brakes, Bride seats, and a custom rollcage.