Somewhere between wallowing in memories of past love, brooding in loneliness, lecturing at a university, engaging in mid-night trysts, frequenting gay bars, being pursued by a beautiful young man, romping in the ocean, confiding in Julianne Moore, and planning an exit from this earth, A Single Man‘s Colin Firth drove a Mercedes 220S Coupe. If I were a college prof in 1964 and lost my partner in a tragic accident, I might have been driven to indulge in these diversions. I would also have driven the Mercedes.
Tom Ford, one-time purveyor of all things Gucci, might be the only man capable of creating such a film that blends perfectly honed style, color, and lighting. The vintage clothing, fingernail polish that matches cigarette tips, an architectural glass house, a classic Mercedes co-starring in its garage, and various rendezvous were perfectly orchestrated. But buyers of the 220S Coupe were even more rare than those of Ford’s exclusive fashions. From 1956 until 1959, a total of 84,645 220S models departed Stuttgart, Germany, and of those, a very chic 3,429 were coupes and convertibles.
Refined motoring came courtesy of a 2.2-litre inline six-cylinder engine that produced 99-105 HP, depending on the model year. A four-speed manual column-shift transmission, power drum brakes, recirculating ball steering, and independent front suspension filled out the technical profile. At full gait, an elegant gentleman could just see 100 mph on the speedometer and massage 20 mpg with a light loafer.
Engineers would undoubtedly profess their love most for the coupe’s monocoque “Ponton” body. The 220S was among the first cars in the world to feature an integrated unibody instead of the more traditional separate ladder frame designs that were still common in mid-century Cadillacs and Lincolns. This not only foreshadowed modern automobile construction, but also enhanced crush zones in the front and rear for safety. The Ponton was the first true modern Mercedes, putting it fashion-forward of the archaic post-war models.
Firth’s co-star was painted in shades of brown and beauty. I’m not talking about the handsome blonde with delicious red lips and too-perfect skin. My mind is still on the Benz with a face to covet and rear forms sexier than the naked boy’s trunk. Contemporary Mercedes design placed round headlamps in the front fenders, separated by a tall chrome grille and gleaming star on top. From the driver’s seat, a timeless view reflected that of the previous 30 years, and continues to this day. Accentuated rear fender haunches flow into subtle fins and wrap-around taillamps, forming the perfect backdrop for a scene in which the professor and his trick smoke cigarettes over the rear deck. Viewed from the front or rear, the coupe is a thing of desire.
I wanted to snuggle the boy’s fuzzy sweater with him naked in it. After a late night swim with his professor, he slipped onto the car’s leather seats, probably dripping water on the wood dashboard and thick-pile carpeting. Chrome glistened on the doors and dash. The professor shifted gears with the thin column lever and viewed his speed on a wide, rectangular speedometer. A man could really feel in command of an automobile like this, gazing hoodlong at the shadowed star in night.
A later variant of the 220S would have been more period-correct, but we have to assume a college professor probably wouldn’t spend movie star coin for a new S-Class Coupe – even in the ’60s. So, in that brilliant light, the movie car is perfect as an older generation. Besides, I don’t dare question Tom Ford’s attention to detail.
Firth’s character lets his memories reach across time to happier days, lying in the sun with the someone he loved. Look at the 2010 Mercedes E-Coupe closely and you can see echoes of the 220S in its sculpted bodysides, rear fenders, and bi-color taillamp lenses. One thing you won’t see from the driver’s seat anymore is a star at the end of the hood. It doesn’t exist, having been removed to the grille in tradition of Mercedes’ more sporting models.
Compared to the 220S, E Coupes are a quickie. E350s roll with a 268-HP V6, connected to a seven-speed automatic transmission, run 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds, and achieve 26 mpg on the highway. Its sexier brother, the E550, is plugged with a 382-HP V8 and hauls its bubble from 0-60 mph in a scant 5.0 seconds; fuel economy rates 23 mpg highway. Base prices for the special Es range from $48,050 to 54,650 — considerably more than the $6,000-7,000 sticker of the 220S when they were fresh young things.
If you hurt for a love that left too soon, put away the gun. As a single man, or with the love of your life, the coupes are visceral delights, designed for the art connoisseur and automotive enthusiast at once. Besides, who could commit suicide knowing such a gorgeous creation was resting in his garage? In the end, Tom Ford saves his star from death’s hand with a hot young lad and comforts from Julianne. A gentleman would still light a lady’s cigarette and look suave arriving in a brown Mercedes coupe.