Photo Essay // A Pagoda in Shoreditch

Photo Essay // A Pagoda in Shoreditch

Words and photos by Andrew Coles

What makes a car cool? It’s a discussion that has been running since an internal combustion engine was first fitted to a horse-drawn cart, and we’re no closer to a resolution.

However, there’s one simple rule of thumb. If you have to question it, it’s probably not cool. Underground, car nerd cool is a very different thing to mainstream cool.

There’s no questioning the coolness of a Mercedes 230 SL, particularly when fitted with that airy, slim-pillared hardtop roof, said to somewhat resemble a Japanese pagoda. We’d argue it’s a bit of a tenuous link, but what’s undisputable is that the 230 SL is the coolest classic car in existence.

Gullwing? Too attention-seeking with those bizarre doors. Anything Ferrari? All Ferraris are a touch on the nose to the general public, sorry to say (McQueen behind the wheel of his Lusso and Audrey Hepburn in the 250 California being a small handful of notable exceptions). Rolls-Royce? The expensive ones are too plutocratic and the cheap ones too crass to be cool except in hipster, beatnik type situations. Volvo P1800? Far too eccentric. Lamborghini Countach? I mean, come on…

We had a few spare hours after a road trip so we decided to take the 230 SL to Shoreditch, because it too is the undisputedly cool village in sometimes questionable London. Locals would somewhat argue that Shoreditch has become too mainstream (read: expensive) over the past decade (thank you, urban gentrification) and that there are edgier and hence cooler places these days, but then again, you could probably argue that in regards to the 230 SL, too.

Where the 230 SL backs it up is in the integrity of its design and its inherent quality. This isn’t some Herschel backpack, designed to last only as long as the trend upon which it surfs. This car is a masterpiece, it’s Paul Bracq-penned lines showing restraint and measure. And to think that this is the first Mercedes roadster engineered with safety in mind, and it still looks so timeless.

A car should never be measured by the looks it elicits from strangers, yet it’s hard to ignore that the 230 SL seems to be universally loved. You get comments equally from people of both genders, something that has never happened in any other classic that I’ve spent much time in. And during my time with the car, multiple friends reached out to say that their partners, who are otherwise not interested in anything automotive, would be proud to have a 230 SL in the garage as a weekend car.

There you have it. The coolest classic car there is.