A Real ‘Pretty Woman’: La Jollan’s 1971 Mercedes once owned by Orbison family

Marilyn Noonan with her 1971 Mercedes, once owned by the Orbison family.
(Ashley Mackin)

ONE FOR THE ROAD: In response to an invitation to classic car owners to share their vehicle love stories, more than a dozen car buffs contacted La Jolla Light to be interviewed about their prize possessions. In this series, we present their delightful roadster experiences.

From the time she was about 14 years old, the 1971 Mercedes has been La Jolla realtor Marilyn Noonan’s dream car. She is also a longtime fan of singer Roy Orbison, known for his hits “Oh, Pretty Woman” and “You Got It.” So imagine her joy at owning the 1971 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet Mercedes Benz once owned by the Orbison family — complete with a “PRTY WMN” license plate.

“When you live in La Jolla, you see a lot of interesting cars, but I was always in love with the 1971 Cabriolet; it was always my dream car. I had a rough year in 2005 with the death of a family member and a health emergency. So my husband (Greg Noonan) was trying to cheer me up and he bought me my dream car,” Marilyn said.

In addition to its previous owner, the car is “quite rare” for its engine and construction. Greg explained, via e-mail, “The 1971 was the first year they put a V8 motor in it and only sold so many in the United States and there is not that many left.” Marilyn added that the car was made in an era when Mercedes were hand-built, so manufacturers could only build so many per year.

“It’s a beautiful design, I think when the car was created it became an instant classic because of the design,” she said. On the “Pretty Woman,” the Noonans try to keep as much of the car as original as possible (the only modern addition is an upgrade to the radio). “The color and style is beautiful. I’m particular about cars and that is the best looking car I’ve ever seen.”

The license plate ‘PRTY WMN’ is in honor of Roy Orbison’s 1965 hit song ‘Oh, Pretty Woman.’
(Ashley Mackin)

That said, it is not “as immaculate as a show-car,” she said. “If it were a show-car, I’d be afraid to drive it or add a mile to it. I like that I can drive it around. My husband drives it around more than I do, because you get a lot of attention in this car and I’m a little shy, but we like to tool around town or take it to the beach.”

Further, she said people are respectful of the car when they see it on the street. “People like to look at it, which I understand because I like to look at it, too (laughs), but generally they don’t touch it. People beep and wave and give me a thumbs-up when I drive by, which is nice.”

The car is driven fairly regularly — albeit “gingerly,” Marilyn said, so she doesn’t hit anything — to keep the batteries from draining, but stored in a special location away from the Noonan home. When driven, she added the car can be heavy and occasionally intimidating, but makes the driver feel “spoiled.”

And because it’s a Mercedes, she said, “things are well made and don’t break very often.” But in the event a piece needs repairing, she would take it to the Heinz Geitz Autohaus when it was open in La Jolla, and now to its Sorrento Valley location. “We also have friends that own the Only Yesterday (classic car dealership) and they are a great resource,” she said.

Due to the expert care, the car “runs like a top,” Marilyn said, and lives up to its name. “We call it the ‘Pretty Woman,’ but people think the license plate is about me and I have to tell them the car used to belong to the Orbisons. We think it was driven by Roy’s wife,” she said.

“We always loved Roy Orbison, our whole family does. We always sang Roy Orbison songs when the kids were little and our son’s dog is named Roy. We got to see him perform at Humphrey’s before he passed away (in 1988). So not only was this my dream car to begin with, in my dream colors, but my dream singer owned it! When I’m in it, I feel overwhelmingly blessed and appreciative of my husband. This might be the best present I’ve ever received.”

Editor’s Note: In response to an invitation to classic car owners to share their vehicle love stories, more than a dozen car buffs contacted La Jolla Light to be interviewed about their prize possessions. In this new series, we present their delightful roadster experiences.