SO NOW I own a Mercedest-Benz. You want to make something of it? Of course you do. Everybody does.

I was prepared for a certain amount of guilt on my own part, but not, I have to say, for quite so much flak from my immediate circle.

Sure, I flinch when I watch Bob Hope in those "Made in the USA -- It Matters to Me" commercials, and I reply defensively, "It matters to me, too."

I had every intention of buying an American car. I drove one for seven years. If they still made Fairmonts, I'dbe at the controls today, honest. In 1980, during the Republican convention in Detroit, I met some nice, unemployed auto workers who hate the Japanese. I promised them I would buy a Ford, and I did.

My Fairmont was not flashy, but it was faithful. It seemed to want only to serve, like some good-hearted old maid named Agnes. Once a year, the mechanics who looked her over before inspection mananged to find expensive and exotic ailments and disorders of which she had never complained.

Over the years, Agnes began to embarrass some of my passengers. Her plastic interior, her sagging seats, the dent on the front door caused consternation among people who regard a car as a declaration. I never think of them that way. To me, there was Agnes and there was a Mercedes -- with nothing in between in the wasteland of my automotive consciousness.

"Getting pretty old, isn't she," said a colleague who had asked for a lift on a stormy night. "Yes," I said, "and so am I. Perhaps you prefer the Metro."

This general malaise about the the inadequacy of Agnes peaked during a recent visit of young relatives.

"You think of getting a new car soon?" asked one of my mortified kin on the way to the airport.

Agnes' last encounter with the garage mechanic resulted in an unintelligible bill of $500. Soon after, the windshield wiper paused in mid-stroke and the left hand turn signal developed a tic.

It was time, I said.

I went dutifully to inspect the latest and best in domestic manufacture. I was doing fine with the recommended model until the salesman said, "Look, a special option, the tilt-wheel" and lifted it up.

I was absolutely horrifed. I could see myself in traffic having inadvertently released the mechanism that made it move, clutching an uprooted steering wheel and screaming for help.

It is not my fault, I say, that the dealer also carried the Mercedes. I said I was just looking -- and that was the case when I saw the elegant little convertible with a price-tag of $61,000.

On the way back to the domestic showroom, we passed the "previously owned" lot. Even I know there is no such thing as a used Mercedes.

Well, I saw this little beauty, a blue-gray 190E, and I thought there was no harm in trying it. The salesman, a pleasant man named Mr. Azimi, winced when I started the motor. "Don't press down so hard," he said as I put a heavy foot on the gas in the manner to which I had become accustomed over the years.

I rode around the block. You know the rest.

The trouble I had adjusting to my new property, was nothing compared to that of my pals.

"You? A Mercedes?" said one fellow-worker, "It's not you."

One editor couldn't believe it. "You, a woman of the people?"

"A limousine liberal," another jeered, with technical inaccuracy.

Women friends said, after the first shock, "Well, I think that's wonderful," in a tone that suggested I had finally decided to run off with a 30-year-old rock singer.

My most persistent tormentor, told me, "It means you've joined the psychiatrists and the land developers."

A kindly soul said, "No, it means she appreciates fine engineering."

This was so wide of the mark I felt I had to disavow it. I can't divine the mystery of the child-proof top on the aspirin bottle.

An old buddy explained his problem: "It's wasted on you."

He is quite right.

Every morning when I turn the key to unlock the door, the latch springs up and the other three clunk authoritatively in sequence. When I start the motor, I get the feeling that I have activated a company of Teutonic knights, with spears atrembling and shields at the ready.

I say, "Hey, guys, cool it. We're just going down to the paper."

I feel the way that Elizabeth Barrett Browning did about her cocker spaniel, Flush, who gave up hunting rabbits to keep her company. This powerful splendor should be on the highway, laughing at the other cars.

Sometimes I wonder if its creators, hearing of the thumbs it has fallen into, will demand I return it. They wouldn't have to have a policy about defective cars; but they might have one about defective owners.

It's something I worry about when I'm not trying to figure out if I could have a sign on one door saying, "I paid my dues to Detroit" and on the other, "It's only new to me."

Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.