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Ride of the Week: The ultimate automotive family member

Raymond Wojtusiak (left) and Russell Wojtusiak pose with their Mercedes E320, which has been in the family since 1997, when it was purchased from Sovereign Motors in New York. Photo Submitted
Fireball Tim Lawrence
8:30 am PDT April 18, 2017

Last week as I was coming out of Oxnard to Malibu, I stopped at the Pt. Mugu Rock to get some shots of the car I was driving.

And there in the dirt lot stood a family admiring the view and taking some photos. I asked if they’d like a shot of their entire family (including the bun in the oven), and they eagerly obliged. But as we wrapped up, the subject went from the bun to the car they were driving. And that’s when an interesting story unfolded.

Realtor Russell Wojtusiak, of Nourmand & Associates in Beverly Hills, and his wife were expecting a newborn baby boy any minute. Literally. I could tell by the way she was beaming. But as the focus turned to the car they had driven into Malibu, each one of them (including their parents) told me a story in succession. Where one of them would leave off, the other would pick up. It involved their Mercedes E320, which they considered a family member like the newborn, only born in 1998. It was a bone stock V6 Benz with RWD. A daily driver and survivor. “Not a cream puff or trailer queen” as Russell put it. 

“I tell my clients, if the first question you ask about a house is ‘what’s the garage like,’ call me,” he said. “We’ll get along great.” 

And that’s a clear indication that Russell and his family were car people.

The car was purchased for cash by Russell’s father, Raymond, in 1997 at Sovereign Motors in New York, from a salesman with the surname German. 

“We thought that was funny,” he commented. “A guy named German, selling a German car!”

“It was the first thing my father bought for himself after decades of paying for kid’s private school and college,” continued Russell. “I was there when he picked it up. It’s not a car, but a symbol. Dad didn’t grow up with much and some teachers told him he’d never amount to much ... so he proved them wrong. It was about years of work that created that moment in buying that car. He proved something to himself, and I remember him playing Frank Sinatra on the Bose stereo and dancing with my mother in the garage after the purchase.” 

But it went further. 

“This car was not famous, exotic or flamboyant, but like a great high school teacher in that it was there every day and kept showing up. It helped you get through life, and sometimes that meant more than being quick. Now, it’s still reliable, never quits and in the ’90s, when not all cars were reliable, it provided modern levels of reliability before its time. It became part of the family. 

“At that time, Mercedes also offered this amazing paint called ‘brilliant silver’ and it’s still exactly that. It hides dirt, scratches, dings and imperfections. The car looks clean even for long periods of time.”

We took a spin up PCH with Russell and his dad and shot an episode of my show. I got a sense that the car was as eager to tell his story as they were. It wasn’t spotless or even that clean, but was like a brother or son that just forgot to comb his hair. The energy from these two was like talking about some great thing that Benz had accomplished and how they were so proud of him. I could see this car in a “Cars” movie, all smiles.

“As a Realtor,” mentioned Russell again, “I take it to meet clients. But being the Los Angeles area, you meet people with wild cars. They ask ‘what’s up with this old car?’ When they learn it’s been in my family for 20 years and I was there when my father bought it ... they get it. They’re interested. Inevitably, they tell a tale about some car that they remember, lost, miss, or got a chance to restore.”

After about 19 years in New York, Raymond shipped the car to California. The next day, Russell went to register it ... and it was hit by an old lady. The hood was smashed. The fluids bled out and it was declared totaled. 

“But, we would not let it go,” Russell recalled. “We recovered the car with a salvaged title, paid to fixed it, and got it back on the road. Besides that, I remember my father driving it and sitting beside him. It was our time together.” 

And they thank Golden Hammer Auto Body and Star Autosports for that.

And with a final thought as we wrapped filming, Russell said that driving the California coast is as close to driving the Italian coast as you can get in America. 

“It’s amazing and makes you appreciate the topographic and geographic diversity of America,” he said. “We are lucky. I love that.”

Want a new house with a garage? Then Russell’s your man. Reach out to him at russellcw@nourmand.com. And if you happen to see a silver ’98 Benz drive by, know that love abounds inside. And the plan is to have that newborn boy drive it just the same. Big thanks to Russell and his family for letting me in. And congrats on that little squirt!

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