By Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Dr. John Dyer has a gift for educating people.
Typically his day as a University of Oklahoma electrical engineering professor involves exploring and explaining the intricacies of Space Based Augmentation System error analysis or Cardiac Electrophysiology research. This talent extends to other less esoteric technology as well.
“Just think of it as the standard gear pattern that’s usually horizontal instead is vertical so you’re moving the shift lever up and down rather than back and forth,” Dyer said.
He was demonstrating how to manually change gears with a steering column mounted shift as we went for a ride in his beautiful 1959 Mercedes-Benz 220S. The good doctor made it a snap to understand with words and actions. It’s a teaching method he initially learned from his Navy medical doctor dad, as a boy living in various parts of the country.
“When I was a kid my father had a 1957 Mercedes-Benz 220S with a bench seat in front,” Dyer said. “I would sit right next to him doing the manual shifting while he’d operate the clutch pedal.”
Still in grade school, young Dyer had a good grasp of how to smoothly operate a standard transmission.
That’s not all he learned to do with his dad.
“I’ve been working on cars since I was a kid,” Dyer said.
One memorable project involved rebuilding the motor on another of his dad’s rides, a 1962 Peugeot 403.
“We pulled the engine and tore it down,” he said. “He bought a head gasket and rings and we used cut-up cereal boxes with aviation Permatex sealant for the other gaskets.”
Another family repair was changing the clutch in the ‘57 Mercedes that involved a child-powered lever and fulcrum that didn’t meet with Mrs. Dyer’s safety standards.
“Mom thought someone was going to get killed,” he said.
Dyer has continued this father-son shop tradition in his own Norman household with 13-year old son James. They’re rebuilding a 1958 Triumph TR-3 from the ground up.
Dyer bought his 1959 Mercedes-Benz 220S in part because of its similarity to the one his father had owned.
“It was the quintessential foreign car that I’d grown up with,” Dyer said. “He’d had a 220 SE coupe that came to me when he passed away, but the real nostalgia for me was the 220S sedan so I sold the coupe.”
The automobile was located on e-Bay, purchased without physically examining it and shipped to Norman from Chicago. His family calls it the “Benzer.” It’s Dyer’s daily driver to campus, the OU Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City and his kids’ swim meet competitions around the state. It has no air conditioning but Dyer doesn’t mind, which proves he’s a genuine Okie.
The Benzer’s 2200S name indicates a 2.2 liter engine, that’s an in-line six cylinder with an overhead camshaft and dual carburetors. Unusual counter-weights in the exhaust manifold rotate on thermal springs, changing a flap-valve position and throwing a bit of heat on the carburetors to improve fuel efficiency. The car had not been restored when Dyer received it. The old beauty had suffered a number of indignities committed by a shade tree mechanic.
“The last owner hadn’t kept it original, including installing a goofy fuel pump,” he said. “Also some electrical problems had been jury-rigged.”
Dyer slowly and methodically has brought the Benzer back to originality. He lovingly stripped, hand-sanded and refinished the natural wood dash to a gorgeous glowing patina.
Part of Dyer’s career includes being an authority on instrumentation. He’s particularly fond of the car’s gauges.
“There’s a horizontal instrument cluster and the speedometer looks like a radio dial,” he said. “The needle tracks just straight laterally. It has temperature and oil gauges which had fallen out of favor with a lot of American cars.”
The interior seats are camel-colored leather. There’s one cigarette ash tray in front and one on each rear door. It has a cabin heater and radio.
“It’s not a posh interior like Cadillac had,” Dyer said. “The German touring cars had more of an austere elegance.”
Turn signals are activated by turning the horn ring on the steering wheel, counter-clockwise for left and clockwise for right.
The entire brake system has been rebuilt with original parts.
“I do the work myself and probably couldn’t afford the car if I had Mercedes-Benz do it,” he said. “It’s something I enjoy doing.”
The car’s sheet metal with its compound contours and rounded features appeal to Dyer. He’s had it painted a 1959 M-B color that could be described as soft sea mist green.
“The Benzer is a smooth car to drive,” Dyer enthused.
Indeed, our sprint around his neighborhood in the Benzer was remarkable for being much the same as in a car five decades its junior. The distinguished automobile with a ambassadorial air also has proven to be eminently reliable mechanically. Asked if he’d take off for the west coast in the Benzer today, Dyer didn’t hesitate.
Have you seen a cool vehicle around town? Writer Doug Hill’s always on the lookout for future Dig My Ride columns. E-mail him at Hillreviews@hotmail.com.