By on March 31, 2011

The ad says that cotton is “the fabric of our lives.” It wasn’t the fabric of my youth, I can tell you that. There were the blue school uniforms, seemingly forged in a single piece from iron-strong polyester, hot in the summer and abrasive in the winter. There were suits and ties in rough wool to wear during the weekends, sweaters in soft Lacoste velour and miserable Brooks cable knit, and the instantly dirty, plasticized leather of the Nike “Burt Bruin” shoes on my feet. And, of course, there was M-B Tex, eternal and unchanging, perennially youthful even as the car surrounding it disintegrated into flakes of chromed rust.

You have to understand this: there was only really one acceptable Mercedes-Benz to own, and that was the W123-chassis 240D. The S-Class was for bounders, social climbers, and the irresponsible. I can still remember gagging with personal agitation as my father refused to even test-drive a W126 560SEL. “Not the message I’d want to send.” Instead, he bought an XJ6, which at least sent the message that its owner, stranded by the side of the road, waiting for the next tow truck, had a certain dash and/or panache. No, the one to have was the diesel taxi, in beige or red, perhaps with yellow foglights. It was staid, reliable, respectable, a twenty-year car. We understood, as children, that certain mommies and daddies had so much money that they simply could not contain it, that it burst from the seams of their Yves Saint Laurent flannel three-pieces, that this money resulted in acquisition of the slightly embarrassing but still acceptable 300D, with its rather brash “TURBODIESEL” script on the decklid. Still the 300D did not commit the sin of leather.

M-B Tex is the interior material of the gods. It does not wear, stain, or fatigue. It instantly adjusts to exterior temperature and/or sun load, freezing skin solid to its bolsters in winter and smoking the leg hair off the lazy women on the way to an August day at the pool. It comes in several colors, none of which are quite the color of any known leather dye. It was found in the 240D, the 300D, and even the daddy-knows-someone-who-knows-someone-who-takes-risks 230 and 280E. Every ride caught to school, to soccer practice, to the pool or playground was in one of these Tex-lined conveyances, crawling through the towns of Long Reach, Upper Arlington, Reisterstown, White Plans, and all the other little burgs where the train of my childhood came to a temporary halt.

M-B Tex is still around, but that’s like saying that Guns N’ Roses are still around. When you throw everything away that made your band, or your brand, great, it doesn’t matter if you’re slinging the same vinyl or have the same singer on the vinyl. I wouldn’t be surprised if the new M-B Tex suffered from the same lousy quality and ephemeral construction which is as much a part of the three-pointed-star’s image now as eternal, vegetable-oil-burning four-cylinder diesels used to be. I don’t like to think about it. I wouldn’t want a new Mercedes. The last one I owned, as opposed to leased, was a 190E 2.3-16. I suppose I’d consider a CL, but nowadays I tend to spend my car money on musical instruments.

No wonder, then, that when I heard about a company which made guitar straps and wallets from old “deadstock” M-B Tex, I immediately visited their website and dropped a couple hundred bucks on the stuff. The package arrived yesterday, and I could hardly wait to take some lousy pictures with my lousy camera so all of you could see this stuff. Couch Guitar Straps are made in the United States under “sweatshop-free” conditions, so I decided to pair the straps with another great American-made brand. The Heritage Guitar Company, located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, builds a very small number of guitars using the original Gibson tooling, in the original Gibson factory. Many of the employees are former Gibson people who were left behind when that firm moved to union-free Nashville thirty years ago. One of the founders, a fellow named Marv Lamb, started working at Gibson in 1957 and has been making guitars ever since. Some Heritage owners say that their guitars are “the real Gibsons”. I don’t know if that’s right. I do consider them the proper successors to those fabulous Les Pauls, Flying Vs, ES-335s, and L-5s made way back when.

I’ve uploaded these photos in 2400px size, so if you want to see the details, click away. The brown M-B Tex seen in the above photo is the basis for Couch’s most expensive strap. I’ve placed it here with two of my Heritage H-555 semi-hollowbodies. The strap has “cruelty-free” vinyl ends and Samsonite-style stitching; the guitars have inlays constructed of abalone and mother-of-pearl, ebony fretboards, gold-plated hardware, and Seymour Duncan pickups.

Also available is the infamous red M-B Tex. For some reason, MBUSA loved to saddle its dealers with beige 240Ds avec red Tex interiors. Here’s a 190E with that interior:

Quite a feast for the eyes. The wallet at the top of this article is made from the same material. Here’s the strap, pictured with my H-170 double cutaway. Marv Lamb himself “rolled” the neck on this one. The back is a single gorgeous piece of mahogany. plain-sawn near the center of a very big old tree.

Couch has a variety of different materials. Here’s another motif from my pre-teen years: the “8-bit” strap, shown on my H-535 “23rd Anniversary”. Seymour Duncan “Seth Lover” pickups and nickel hardware create a sound and feel very similar to an early Gibson ES-335.

They also have a variety of fabric straps, which can be made from more “deadstock” — in this case, fabric trunk lining originally destined for Pontiac and Ford automobiles. It’s worth checking out. Unfortunately, there’s no special TTAC deal, primarily because the company has no idea I’m reviewing the product. Maybe you can talk them into something.

I suspect these straps will last a long time. They aren’t cheap, so they had better last a long time. I’ll pass them down to my son, along with the guitars, his 911, and the other miscellany, but I suspect he won’t really be that interested. Perhaps he’ll want a sling for his sampler made from Chevrolet Volt interior fabric. More likely, I’ll have to tell him what a Chevrolet Volt was. Perhaps one of those old Benz diesels will wander by on the road while I’m explaining the difference between craft and junk.

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44 Comments on “What The World Needs Now… Is A Wallet Made From Real MB-Tex… And GTO Trunk Fabric…...”

  • avatar

    More likely, I’ll have to tell him what a Chevrolet Volt was.
    You’ll probably have to tell him what a Chevrolet was.

  • avatar

    Ah the 240; back when Mercedes were indestructible.

    • 0 avatar

      Long live the W123!

    • 0 avatar

      The engine (and the seat fabric) was indestructable.  The rest of the car was not.
      Trust me, I went to a Lutheran church filled with upper-middle-class Germans who bought these thngs.  The cars ran forever, but weren’t cheap to keep up.

      • 0 avatar

        Brand loyalty meets installed service base.
        Worked well for decades until MB began to lean too heavily on the idea of, ahem, “designing for service”!

      • 0 avatar

        My Dad bought a used 240D and kept it for nearly a decade. It was an incredibly reliable quality vehicle. Although it wasn’t the quickest vehicle on the road, the ride quality and stability were excellent.
        The interior ergonomics and style were quite a bit better than any North American built vehicles. People unfamiliar with Diesel engines would comment that the car sounded like a tractor, which it sometimes did, but we felt that it was better to sound like a tractor than to ride in a car that navigated like a boat.

  • avatar

    Car interior colors are so boring nowadays. Imagine if all those guitars only came in beige, gray, or black.

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    That beige strap would go perfectly with my Autumnglo 4001. I think I’ll look into one of these.

    The strap, that is. I won’t be buying another 4001 any time soon.

  • avatar

    This is so unbelievably cool. I just had a quick look through their wallet inventory– they have a decent number of old auto upholstery wallets, and they are, amazingly, not all that expensive. Bravo, Jack… great find!

  • avatar

    I think “MB-Tex” is just a polite word for “embossed vinyl”.
    Just like Starbucks spends millions of dollars convincing the world that “Via” is not instant coffee.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes.  I don’t have a problem with that — it’s an excellent material. 

      I never did get the obsession most social climbers have with sitting on the skins of dead bulls.  Very strange behavior, especailly considering the superior durability, breathability and texture of alternatives.

      • 0 avatar

        The really good stuff like tex and certain domestic types aside the vinyl used in cars is almost universally inferior to even decent leather.

        That’s not a shock given that vinyl tends to be the basic non cloth option for low end cars but even cheaper leather has advantages. Namely it wont try to slice you open once it has cracked when the temps drop. Now my own cars interiors are chosen based on what that manufacturer dose better. GM leather is trash. Cheap and fragile like bad vinyl but their cloth can be very durable and they can make very comfortable seats. My truck and Firebird were both cloth and held up very well. My Mazda had decent leather seats but mine being so nice came down to regular moisturizing and probably luck as almost every other example I have seen has been thrashed terribly. The leather feels nice enough and is better than GM but it dries and falls apart very often it seems. Mazda did do fantastic cloth for the 88-92 626 and MX6. Its not rare to find quarter million mile non babied examples with little more than some fading. The cloth and interiors in general hold up well. They make great second/winter cars if like me you cant stand driving a genuine beater that is falling apart.

        Cloth and vinyl are rarely done very well these days when leather is the mark of the non-economy car. Unfortunately they usually don’t do leather all that well either and owners who barely change oil never ever maintain their upholstery.

    • 0 avatar

      Via is instant coffee.  It just doesn’t suck nearly as bad as most instant coffee does.
      Similarly, MB-Tex is, essentially, vinyl, only much better than the vinyl in my dad’s old Dodge Aspen.

  • avatar

    The strap has “cruelty-free” vinyl ends
    Though I have nothing against using the skin of the Nauga or the hide of the Alcantara, and though there are some very nice synthetic upholstery materials that look and feel close, nothing is quite like leather.

  • avatar

    In addition to my embroidery machine I have an industrial straight stitch sewing machine that I got from a family friend who owned a leather apparel company, so it can sew any kind of upholstery material. If you have some Fender tweed or some other material that you’d like made into a guitar strap or wallet, assuming the sewing isn’t too technical, I can probably put something together for you.
    Wow, Fender tweed &  tolex is pretty expensive

  • avatar

    Have to agree that an M-B Tex wallet is pretty cool…a connection to the days when “Das Best Oder Nichts” really and truly meant something, when Mercedes were designed, engineered, and manufactured on a “aerospace-like cost plus” basis…it cost basically whatever it did to “properly” engineer and manufacture the car…and the price charged reflected the belief that quality was an INVESTMENT, for the company itself and in the mind of the buyer/consumer as well. The engineers had an inordinate amount of control (by industrywide standards) over the product…

    Well, that couldn’t last forever, now could it?

    My mother’s got an SLK230 that she loves, but the leather on her car ain’t “Das Best” of anything, and I doubt they’ll be making wallets out of it 20-30 years from now.

  • avatar

    Interestingly, I grew up in a W123 240D. A one year old pre certified owner car, bought through the factory in Stuttgart in 1983. A crap brown, manual, beige cloth interior. It wasn’t MB-tex, but I guess it was equally durable, though it stained something tremendously. I guess car interiors back then wasn’t made for hauling kids. At least not the interior of Mercedeses. The car really was the peak of perfection, I have never ever seen that level of craftsmanship since.

    Buying the car through the factory in Germany was the way grey imports functioned in Sweden in the 80’s. The price was about 20% lower through various loopholes in tax regulation, and you got a free european vacation in the bargain.

  • avatar

    “M-B Tex is the interior material of the gods.” True words.
    How is the M-B Tex from the W123 different from that of the W110/W111 vehicles of the 1960s.  I’ve owned several and the “vinyl” material on those seats easily outlasted the leather some had and you can still find dilapidated heckflossen with back seats that appear as new (the fronts are usually worn in the some places but often intact). The vinyl that VolksWagen used was of similar, legendary longevity.
    I actually really miss this stuff.  My friends deride me for insisting on buying cars with leather seats, but the only reason I do so is that I hate cloth seats and it’s really hard to find good vinyl.  Most vehicles aren’t available with vinyl seats at all except for pick ups.

  • avatar

    Like Jack, but a much longer time ago, my parents bought me a wool suit with a matching hat! Of course, this was in the late fifties. That suit wore like sheet iron and rubbed every inch of skin raw. The hat? Are you kidding me? All of this I had to wear on Sundays. In the St. Louis summer. Hot. Humid. No A/C. None in church, either. Misery! The funny thing about this is I now wear a hat and have a half-dozen fedoras to choose from!

    The 1980 Chrysler LeBaron I once owned had nylon upholstery. A guy at Chrysler told me that even though the “fuzz” was worn off the driver’s side of the seat cushion, the material was also like iron and would never split or wear through. I believed him, too.

    Don’t get me started on polyester clothing in the seventies! Absolutely awful. Period. Modern fabrics are usually some sort of blending of natural fibers and oil-based stuff and are much more comfortable as long as you don’t catch fire! Then you become one with your clothing.

    I have a nice English tweed sport coat with a hat to match and my wife just bought me a brown corduroy sport coat – my very first with elbow patches! Goes good with my brown fedora. I have arrived as an official “Old Fart”! I love it so! When my wifey and I step out for a classy evening playing “dress-up”, whether we slide in to our MX5 or my Impala (CR-V – not usually – no class at all) I sit up just a bit taller and a little more sure of myself, confident that our ride will convey my aging carcass and my dear wife of almost 34 years to and from our destination, sure to “out-class” all comers!

    Some, like Jack, collect guitars. I don’t play any instrument except my turntable, I have an old Conn trumpet I rescued out of someone’s trash can that’s missing a valve, now it’s hanging on the wall in the basement. I owned a bugle when I was a kid. Couldn’t play that much, either!

    I take an interest in looking at stuff for sale recycled out of old materials used for another purpose. I wonder what products will be made from that old Buick featured yesterday? It would be very nice if we could recycle everything and not waste stuff when it reaches the end of its useful life. I suppose we shouldn’t complain that our old cars are being crushed and sent overseas – at least someone is finding a cost-effective way of re-using the basic material.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Nice piece, Jack.  If your guitars sound half as good as they look, then they are truly something special.  My first encounter with MB-Tex was when my wife and I went car shopping in 1980 for something a little more commodious than our ’78 Accord.  Because the smart guys were predicting $100/bbl. oil in just a few years (boy did they get that right!), an oil-burner seemed like the thing to buy.  It was early in the year, and cold.  One sit down in a 240D that had been outside in the cold convinced my wife that the car wasn’t going to be for her.  Instead, we bought an Audi 5000 diesel (with nice cloth upholstery), which cured me from owning Audis forever.  Just think, if we had bought the 240D, we could have passed it down to our kids.  As I write, my oldest daughter (30) tools around LA with her boyfriend in his . . . wait for it . . . .240D with the 4-speed tranny.
    There was, by the way, a 300D that was normally aspirated (3-liter, 5-cylinder) for that body style, as well as the 300D that was turbocharged.
    Ultimately, cloth upholstery is more comfortable to sit in, in both heat and cold; and your butt doesn’t slide around in it either.  Problem is, it doesn’t clean up; and buying a used car with cloth upholstery is kind of a yuck.

    • 0 avatar

      I had the non-turbo 300D (’81; succeeded, at least here, by the turbo in ’82 IIRC)–88hp, and slowest car on the road, except for the auto 240D. :D But fun to drive, especially with my dogs hanging out of the back windows.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    So I know that Naugahyde is still around and can be purchased in industrial quantities, but is MB-Tex ever sold new on the aftermarket?  There’s a little upolstery shop down the hill here (Pablo’s Upolstery) and they do home and auto work.  I’d love to get some custom MB-Tex seat covers for my next ride. 

    • 0 avatar

      I’m glad you have a good local upholstery shop nearby. Some of the guys when I was in the USAF took their cars down to Tijuana for real cheap tuck ‘n’ roll upholstery on their junkers. Problem was, you were advised to bring your own thread and had to watch the work being done, as it wasn’t unheard of that the padding could wind up being horse manure rather than cotton, or having your seats stuffed with marijuana and have your car stolen when you got back to base! True.

      Some Sears stores back in the day had excellent upholstery shops, too. One was in Sacramento where I had the top replaced on my 1964 Chevy back then. Nowadays, upholstery seems to be very expensive, at least around here.

  • avatar

    It’s still very good.  Heck, it’s one of the few things in a modern Mercedes that really is still top-shelf.  The guy who bought the C320K hatch that I almost bought has had worlds of trouble with the car (to be fair, I had grief from my Saab) but the seats look and work great.
    Interestingly, the downmarket variant (YES Essentials at Chrysler) is similarly excellent.  Cooler, better-breathing and much more stain-resistant than the mouse-fur that most cars come with.

  • avatar

    I wonder if there is any deadstock Corinthian leather lying around somewhere.

  • avatar

    It stood up very well to two different Labradors in two different MBs.

  • avatar

    Sears blue jeans with rolled-up cuffs at leg’s end allowing continued use as cellular reproduction steadily led to increased height.
    Don’t like it?
    Meet me at the bike rack after school.
    “…as long as you don’t catch fire! Then you become one with your clothing.”
    “…mouse-fur that most cars come with.”
    Eeeeeeek!!!!!!!!!  or should that be Squeeeek?

  • avatar

    What a stupendous find! I love it! That red VW Beetle strap would go perfectly with my Martin D-15; and the Mustang trunk liner strap was made for my Guild GAD-30RE…

     ====>Hauls out CC…

  • avatar

    That’s awesome!  I just ordered the MB-Tex wallet, my old one is falling apart, this is perfect!  Thanks for finding this!

  • avatar

    One of my motorcycle saddles, custom made by an outfit called Sargent in Florida, is made of the stuff. Earlier this spring, when I was getting my really nice Russell saddle (internal suspension + “love handles” = supreme comfort) recovered by the local hot rod upholsterer, he saw my Sargent saddle and said, “MB-Tex.”  I’ll have to ask him if he can get it.

  • avatar

    My wife has a purse made from (excess?) seat belts. She loves the thing, but it’s rather heavy, even when empty. It was made by Pure Detroit (maybe?) and was not inexpensive, but it is durable. She’s had it 4 or 5 years, and it hardly looks used. She’ll probably get rid of it because it will go out of style before it ‘wears’ out.
    I’d love to get a set of drum and cymbal cases made out of the same material. It would frakin’ last forever!

  • avatar

    Hey Guys.  Great site and community here!
    Jack, thanks for the kind words and great pics.  We really appreciate when someone likes what we do enough to share it with their friends.  Plus you have killer car and musical instrument knowledge. We’re going to stick around and learn a thing or ten!
    To everyone who placed an order in the last couple of days, we shipped out a ton of stuff on Friday and have another full day of shipping coming up tomorrow(Monday), so you all should be getting your straps and wallets very soon.
    I’ll leave it at that as I don’t want to just come over here and hawk our stuff. but we do really appreciate the support and interest.  If you are interested in getting future updates on new products and materials, you can find us on Facebook or create an account on our main site which will get you signed up for our newsletter(don’t worry we only send one out maybe one every two months)
    Thanks again,

  • avatar

    I missed this the first time around, thanks.  Nice Heritages, as well.  I was watching the used market for a Heritage 535 or 150 when I came across a Hamer Artist and couldn’t pass it up. I might have to order a Mustang trunk liner strap for it.

  • avatar

    I can’t believe I missed this article when you first posted it. The other week we had an absolutely mint 240D with less than 30K miles. The car was flawless.

    Currently though I think that MB Tex is the biggest sin they are making. All their competitors are selling leather interiors and Mercedes has vinyl seats.

  • avatar
    Nick the Greek

    I’m a Rickenbacker guy (and a long-time ttac reader), but I must say these Heritage instruments are eye-catching.

    I gotta say though, if I could have any strap made for my 360, it’d be from the leather of an ’89 Coupe De Ville’s with gold-plated trim on blue and white leather, with the Caddy emblems at each end of the strap embroidered with thin gold thread. Just like my mother’s late Caddy, which was totalled in such a BAMF accident that it deserves to be memorialized on a sick guitar strap.

    Anyways Baruth you’ve got some truly superior instruments, and you get paid to review truly serious automobiles. Mere mortals like yours truly will only be able to drool pathetically as you continue to rock like a prodigy. Anyway F*** you. But thanks for a great piece. I might ask my girl to buy me that 1960 GMC trim wallet. That’s a nice piece.


  • avatar

    Thanks for this. I bought one of the red MB Tex wallets. I am very happy with it.

    I am sure it will now last forever. I once bought a 1969 Mercedes 280 as a parts car for $100. The car was completely worn out but the upholstery (green MB Tex) was perfect.

  • avatar

    In the interest of continuing to piss off PeTA I flatly refuse to ever buy a guitar strap that’s not made out of a dead animal.

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