A CHANGE HAS COME over me. I've gone from a scoffer at luxury to an out-and-out Epicurean. The transformation has been limited to one area, let me quickly add. I've caught classic car fever.

In the past, a car for me was simply a vehicle to ride around in. I was oblivious to the clutter from the children in our family station wagon. My teenager's Honda was for me the ideal form of transport. The car mania of certain people was incomprehensible to me.

What happened to alter this attitude was our acquisition of a 1965 Mercedes 230 SL. It is beautiful. I love its shape and feel.

This transformation in attitude was not sudden. We has had the car for several months, obtained from a wonderful gentleman who no longer wished to keep it and who knew my husband the arist would love the aging but beautifuuly crafted machine. A generous man, he made us an offer we couldn't refuse. time of galloping inflation and an economy that has even our children and our dog nervous, why take on this luxury item?

In any event, I never really got to see the car. My husband picked it up while I was out of town. Then on its maiden voyage with my husband at the wheel, a motorist unceremoniously crashed into the rear of the Mercedes. She was uninsured. Extensive repair work had to be done. We bit the bullet. We decided not only to have the repairs done but also to have the entire car restored.

Now, restroing an old Mercedes is no simple task. It takes a lot of money. In fact, an old Mercedes could have been just what J.P. Morgan has in mind when he said if you have to ask what it costs, you can't afford it. Likewise, restoration takes great patience, especially if your finances force you to use your friendly neighborhood mechanic rather than the super-duper European technician at the authorized dealer.

We waited on our neighborhood mechanic. We also waited for our pennies to pile up to pay him. Because I had hardly seen the Mercedes except as a partially dismembered absraction in the mechanic's garage, I was vaguely looking forward to driving it some day.

Finally, last Saturday, after many weeks of anticipation, the car was ready.

At the garage, the car sat their in gleaming glory, a classic convertible. The mechanics had transformed it tan and brown body into a tan and cream body. The chrome shone.

Billy Melby, the young man who had done most of the work, seemed reluctant to let the car go. "The Germans were 20 years ahead on this one," his father said.

On the brief ride home I was distracted, having to rush off to an evening engagement. But my husband, with linguistic flouishes befitting his calling, called the car a Tiffany lamp, a delight, a prized possesion.

It was not until the next day when I drove off on my own that my attitude started to change from wildly negative to wildy enthusiastic. The look and feel of this old classic made the view as I skimmed through Rock Creek Park seem more picturesque. The waterfall at Pierce Mill cascaded with more grace than usual. For a minute there, I imagined I was riding through a game park in Kenya and that any minute a humorous monkey would somersault off the back of the car as I drove on. This was a fantasy car.

Still another dimension was that the car elicted appreciation from other motorists. Many smiled; one honked. The attendant where I bought gasoline looked at the auto admiringly. "It's a fox," he said. When a man at another pump commented on its "mint condition," the attendant said, "Everybody is friendly today." I drove off to a couple of errands that suddenly did not seem very burdensome.

So I've converted from a sensible woman for whom a car was just a means of transport to a woman blatantly in love with a beautiful car. Too much materialism may be bad for the spirit, but it sure is a lot of fun.