Heavy Metal Affliction - Hardtail Sally
At present Steve Haines owns 50 cars. Among them, a Unimog, a Cadillac Limo, four Nissan Z-cars, four tow trucks, and the love of his life, Hardtail Sally, an artful, slammed 1967 Mercedes 200D. I’ve watched Sally evolve over my years in the Seattle area car scene, and it has always been a favorite. I’m not the only one either. What’s not to like about a classic 55-hp diesel Mercedes riding on the bump stops with rust, art, and embellishments?
This is a car that turns heads everywhere it goes, and Haines does drive it everywhere. Everyone loves it; passersby, cops, car show goers, and of course, its owner. This is a guy who has owned many cars over the years. Touring his home is like a trip to car guy heaven. Some of the cars are his, some he stores for friends, and some he is just storing, because he uses those four tow trucks in his day job – which is more of a night job – as a repo man.
I’ve seen Haines around at quite a few car shows and I always wanted to ask him about his car. I’ll admit I was a little intimidated because Hardtail Sally makes quite an impression and Haines always has a crew of friends around him. When we first talked he was wearing a Chewbacca winter coat and an AC/DC hat; somehow, I knew things would work out.
The car gets its name because she has no springs; like the early Harley-Davidson motorcycles, she is a true hardtail. To my surprise, the ride (provided the road is smooth and flat) is pretty good. On surfaces like Haines’ driveway you might wonder how parts aren’t being ripped out as Sally digs rocks right out of the ground.
As I hung out with Haines at his place he showed me around. Next door is an abandoned house that provided a backdrop for some creepy photos. Behind his home is a giant shop full of car parts and a couple of classic hot rods. There are cars and trucks everywhere. Haines is a trader and a collector and, as he puts it, “the ‘Buy and Sell’ used to be my redneck Bible.”
Back in the day before the Internet and sites like Craigslist, there used to be the Buy and Sell. It was like Craigslist on paper. The Buy and Sell had free ads, and sold everything from property to pets, as well as cars and trucks of all kinds. Once, I traded a 1977 Ford work van for a 1967 Rover TC2000 I found in the magazine.
How Haines found Sally is the tale of a trader. Through a series of deals he owned a 1949 Plymouth Business Coupe, “I rocked it for a summer, and put it up for around $5,500,” Haines said. A guy offered him $3,000 and the bone-stock 1967 Benz 200D. Haines did the deal and drove it around for a while, “She was just a putt-around car,” he said.
He later sold it to a friend who wanted a gas saver (Sally gets around 40 mpg). After a couple months of payments, he gave it back because he bought a scooter instead. Haines was elated to have it back, and to have made a little money for nothing. The day he got it back he took it to a friend’s shop and they cut the springs, then just removed them altogether to get the ride height he wanted. Since then he has been making changes to debut at local car shows.
There’s the fender mounted drink holder, the custom headlight grills, the fender skirts, the double front bumpers, the license plate roof, and of course the paint (or lack thereof). Most of the original paint was sanded off and left to take on a tone that shows Sally’s age. Then, Haines hired a street artist to paint the detailed murals on her. It’s the kind of artwork where the more you look, the more details you find. It makes Sally more than just a low-riding classic, she is an epic art car.
Haines is a car guy at heart, he grew up on the “Dukes of Hazzard,” “Knight Rider,” and one of my personal favorites, “The Fall Guy.” “In the beginning I was a Chevy guy,” Haines said. “Now, I'm more of a car connoisseur. I can normally find something I like about any older car.” He has owned around ten Suzuki Samurais, numerous older American classic cars, trucks and vans, and quite a few imports, including a Honda Civic on air-ride with Lambo doors. “I'm interested in anything funky or vintage,” he said. The one that got away for Haines was a 1972 Mazda RX2.
With many labors of love often we invest more money than makes financial sense in seeing our visions through. With Hardtail Sally, Haines has done most of the work himself, aside from the artwork, some with the help of friends. Over the years Sally has needed just a water pump, a belt, and a brake caliper. When it happens, he prides himself on the satisfaction of a roadside repair that gets him home.
You can’t be the average car guy to own a car like this. You have to be ready to dodge the slightest pothole, you have to strategically navigate every speed bump. To get up a hill you have to pin the throttle at the bottom and be ready to barely make it to the top. Moreover, you have to know how to deal with the attention it gets you. Most of all, you have to trust your car, as the bottom scrapes hard enough to make any other person cringe. It’s a role that Haines is perfect for.
Owning cars and making them your own is a journey. Along the way you shift gears and change direction, sometimes you just keep the pedal to the metal and stay the course. After meeting Haines, it seems he has done both, with Sally being the keeper, the car that he could never sell. Not only is it so personalized that any potential buyer would be trying to fit a shoe far too big for them to fill, but this car deserves to have found its forever home.