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Bryan
Hagerty Employee

Flirting with a 1995 Mercedes SL500 on Craigslist

If you’re like me—and really, I hope you’re not, but we all know that deep down you are—you’re always looking for the next car. Fingers reflexively type certain things into Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Some of them are impossibly hopeful things like “E-Type.” Some are masochistic things like “Lotus Elan,” “Triumph GT6,” and “TVR.” But mostly I stay within my BMW-related wheelhouse, as the knowledge that’s accumulated from nearly four decades of familiarity with a marque or model translates into a huge amount of risk reduction at purchase time ... Read the full column on Hagerty.com:

 

https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/flirting-with-a-1995-mercedes-sl500-on-craigslist/

 

17 REPLIES 17
Flashman
Advanced Driver

When you're trying to demonstrate your urbanity, it's always a bad idea to get the foreign phrase wrong.  It's vive la différence.

Bmike
Intermediate Driver

Rob, while I admire your willingness to stray outside the Bimmer box, I believe a $2800 '95 Benz (or a $2800 '95 7 series, for that matter) is, at a minimum, really a $6K to $7K Benz before registration and tag.  On the other hand, a $2800 Miata . . .

SuperCommando
Pit Crew

nothing more expensive than a cheap Porsche, or Benz...or RR.  but sometimes its the journey that's fun, not so much the destination.  I would enjoy looking at it in my garage, esp if I knew I was the one who fixed it.

sidewinder
New Driver

Sorry Rob, having owned a 129 500SL (and several 107's) which was maintained well by the previous owner, I must admit I will never again purchase a Mercedes-Benz built post 1989.  I do 98% of my own maintenance and I must admit, this was the car which soured me on MB.  Seemed as though every time I fixed something, two additional problems completely unrelated would pop up.  After a while, I said enough and swapped it for an '84 Euro Porsche 911 Carrera.  My perception is Porsche has better build quality, improved road manners, and a car which was free of gimmick cup holders, seat warmers, automatic nose hair trimmer, and all the silly stuff marketing tells the engineers to create.  

 

However, to each his own.  If it gives one pleasure, who am I to rain on another person's parade.

SteveNL
Intermediate Driver

An empty slot in the garage is a dangerous thing. I bought a 1992 Taurus about 8 years ago and when people ask why, I can only explain that I had an empty spot in the garage.

 

Like Rob, I've been into German cars ( and bikes ) for a long time.  One thing that I'm sure he knows, is that anything German that is designed and built before 1990 is probably high quality and relatively easy to repair, but anything built after 1990 is another story.

 

Rob says that the lines of a car, the interior and the driving characteristics are critical to his love for a vehicle.  I have to add one more.....ease of maintenance and repair.  I once owned a 993 Porsche 911.  That car might have punched all of Rob's buttons.  It looked gorgeous, had a beautiful leather interior and it could do 60 in first gear.  The howl of that flat 6 at high RPM was stunning.  But what a monster to service and repair!!  I couldn't wait to get rid of it.  So, while an NA or NB Miata doesn't attract many people,  it's a joy to those who love well designed simplicity.

 

I've restored Mercedes and know that you can get underwater very quickly with them.  Only buy a cheap Mercedes if you plan to keep it for a long time.  That gives more time to amortize the loss.  Good luck, Rob.

 

KirbyBoston
Passenger

Rob, I can totally relate to late night CL surfing, a surprising find, rabbit hole research to gut check yourself, assessing whether it's love vs infatuation, assessing the wife acceptance factor, and being thankful when the car is delisted and saves you the agony of a decision.  Truly love reading your stuff here.  I am also in MA northwest of Boston near 495 in Acton.  If you ever need a truck and trailer and driving companion to check out a rare find in Burlington calling to you again let me know.  I have a small warehouse and a growing car collection and am totally willing to enable a kindred addition.  

ed
Intermediate Driver

I'm on my 5th SL - in order of ownership - 2002 SL500 Silver Arrow; a pair of 1998 SL500s w/Sport package (black/black and white/blue, his and hers), 2005 SL55, and current 2011 SL63 P30.  I guess I've been lucky, no horror stories, and the SL63 has been to the track several times (Thompson, Lime Rock, Watkins Glen).  But I do consider it a minor victory if I can get out of a regular service for under $1,000.

 

I used Ken Rockwell's guide at https://www.kenrockwell.com/sl/history.htm and specifically the 129 breakout at https://www.kenrockwell.com/sl/r129history.htm to buy the 1998s.  He's right.

 

I will also add that one of the best cars I've owned, a 2002 Lexus SC430 in Absolutely Red, was purchased on a rebuilt title.  I owned it for 4 years with no issues (even had a minor recall done with no dealer complaints), and later sold it for more than I paid for it.  Tan leather, burled walnut, got more 'wows' with that car than any car I've owned, just stopping for gas.  And the V8 got 25MPG.

Smileamile
Pit Crew

Rob,

Great article. Bought my first BMW in 1962. Learned how to keep it going and bought the tools needed. Ever car thereafter was another BMW...cause I could maintain it. Bought my first MB (E350 4Matic wagon) in 2015 (for my wife, she had to have it). Similar “technology”, but actually very different. Never again...stick with what you know. I do crew for a friend with a '72 Alfa GTV in vintage racing...my time, his money (and beer)...the best way to go!

Viva la difference!

 

T911
Passenger

I just bought a running 1990 SL500 for $600..... 79,000 mi, a bit rough, needs plugs. Beautiful car with the now manual top down!  They are cheap now. My 18 year old neighbor got one for $1900 that he just drove  on a 2500 mile trip around Lake Michigan last weekend! They are out there. 

farna
Detailer

Let's see, value for a #3 car is $10K, you can get it for less than $3K (under 1/3), the problematic wiring harness has been replaced, you might need to have the transmission rebuilt (cost of what... $4-5K since it's a Mercedes?). All in you're still $2-3K under the value... which would probably be right due to the salvage title (totaled because of wiring issues, not body damage... a big plus!!). I've owned a couple salvage title vehicles.  The trick is to get them at about 25% under book value, as that's the best you're going to do when selling. For some cars (and people) it doesn't matter though. For me it's the value (mine were 6-10 year old cars intended for utility transportation, nothing special -- last was a 2003 Ford Ranger).  Took a little longer to sell even at a good price due to some not understanding what a "salvage title" means. Many assume it's a rebuilt total wreck, which usually isn't the case. Just means that it cost more to have it repaired by a reputable shop/dealer than the book value of the vehicle. On many older cars it can just be a crunched fender with bumper and headlight. On my Ranger is was a lower A-arm (cracked), fender, bumper, grille, and radiator. Get junkyard parts and do the work yourself and it was a cheap fix. A carfax will show what damage was done. "Frame damage" is something to avoid, but that can also be very little. You need to have some working knowledge of what's involved in a repair. In my case of selling after three years of owning after the repairs, I'd say that was proof everything was just fine...

farna
Detailer

Oh go ahead and get a Rambler!!!  I don't think you'll regret it, I've been into Ramblers since 1979. The choice of a 63-64 Classic or Ambassador is a good one! If that loaded Ambo 880 with seized motor was at a good price (after factoring in about $4K to rebuild) it would have been great. But part of the Rambler charm is simplicity -- so do you really need all the power stuff? Three turns of a window crank and it's down, not like late model cars where you crank away in comparison. If you plan on driving it a lot I'd avoid the 63 models with six cylinder -- though the old 195.6 is very reliable it's just adequate for that size car and needs more maintenance. A 64 with the 232, however, is a totally different animal! A 232 can be retrofitted to a 63 easy enough though, and if it's an auto car the trans is up to the task. The manual in a 195.6 car is a T-96, and just adequate to the engine power and car size. It CAN be run behind a 232, but only if you're planning on geriatric driving. The torque tube can have issues, but nothing insurmountable. If  that scares you, get a 65-69 American. Open driveshaft, and even the 199 (smaller version of the 232) is more than adequate power. I drove a 63 American (the old 1950 Nash Rambler chassis with new exterior sheet metal) for 14 years with a hopped up 195.6 as a daily driver for 14 years, from 85 to 99.  I drove it everywhere, it literally went coast to coast (not in one trip though...). The thought of losing a water pump and it taking a week to have on rebuilt made me shy away from it for a long trip car, now have a 63 Classic wagon with a 4.0L in it, and some other mods, like a late 80s Jag IRS. It was built to drive, not as a collector car. Not enough value in a four door Rambler wagon to worry much about collectibility...

lweb19
Hagerty Employee

I hear that the cost to replace the heater core is so high that if one of these needs that repair, the car is more or less junk. But good luck Rob! Will be great fodder. 

kyree-williams
Pit Crew

I briefly owned a 1993 (same year I was born, LOL) 500 SL earlier this year. The thing you want to watch for, and what ultimately did my not-well-cared-for example in, is the hydraulic top. It's not just for the soft top; even the mechanism to release and latch the hard top is tied to that hydraulic system. Eventually, the pistons will leak like sieves and need replacing, and there are quite a few of them. Worse, when the ones at the rear leak, they leak onto one of the traction-control computers, causing the car to hesitate and stall.

 

So, either make sure the top was done sometime in the last ten years and doesn't leak, or plan on spending about $3K to have it done.

I did love the car, and would happily buy another. This was Mercedes-Benz' last hurrah in making overbuilt, heirloom-grade cars, and the R129 was fundamentally reliable. It was also *extremely* nice for its day. For instance, I had no idea there was such a thing as a powered, memory-enabled rearview mirror, until I bought that car.

Genethemachine1
Pit Crew

Rob, here’s a vette for your winter dream, and this one is a proper manual.  https://milwaukee.craigslist.org/cto/d/oak-creek-1978-chevy-corvette/7219524201.html

RJ
Intermediate Driver

I always thought the term "bio-degradable wiring harness" was a slam, not a real thing.  Thanks for that heads-up.  On the other hand, I see a salvage title as a reminder to look the car over really well, not as "run away quick".  Salvage titles were an invention of the insurance industry, to protect themselves against possibly some day paying a second owner more then they paid for a car.

aregina49
Passenger

I bought my 1992 500SL after doing weeks of research as this was my first Mercedes. I bought my '92 based these facts: The early cars have the purity of the original engineering design before the cars were cheapened by the bean counters. You are still able to work on them. The '90-92 models do not have the electronic suspension, the electronic dashboard gauges. I do not want to deal with 30 year computers to keep the car running. The '93-95 engine wiring loom insulation was changed and deteriorates from heat and can short out everything including your drive by wire throttle aka electronic throttle actuator. The '93 and later cars have plastic oil feed tubes that break or crack causing loss of the oil supply to the overhead cams, oops! I found my 76,400 mile 1992 500SL 16 months ago. This navy blue two tone paint example is gorgeous. It had suffered some mechanical neglect from 2 previous owners and idled rough. It did run good on the road. I was well aware of what was needed. I have replaced the following: windshield wiper, serpentine belt, the tires, 1 scuffed wheel, the fuel injectors with new fuel supply tubes, the coils, rotors, distributor caps and both motor mounts. All filters have been replaced. All fluids changed, the coolant, power steering, transmission, engine oil and bled the brakes. I paid $5000 for mine and have invested $8,200 in this 500SL and it runs & performs like the $100,000 car it once was. You should plan on making these repairs on every 500SL / SL500 with high mileage. Few people maintained these cars. I cannot take a short drive in this car. I do not want to get out of it. It has the pizazz, timeless style and class it had when it was new. I just replaced all of the rear suspension links along with the front and rear springs and struts. The rubber that surrounds the bushing links in the rear suspension dry rot age and should be inspected before making a purchase. Mine were not that bad but I replaced them anyway. Check the inside of the cam covers for a witness mark where the timing chain has slapped against the inside of the cam covers. The timing chain tensioner pads and the chain guides are made of plastic. The plastic material for timing chain guides and tensioners will deteriorate with age not mileage. A low mileage 25-30 year old 500SL / SL500 does not exempt it from the plastic getting brittle from age. This should be done on every 500SL.  This is the most important maintenance to do on these cars. When a failure occurs the timing chain will wrap around the left H/B cams and bend the valves. While you have the cam covers off look for cam lobe wear. The "O" rings for that seal the cam oil feed tubes deteriorate with age and should be replaced also. It is easier to work on the earlier 500SL's than the later SL500's that have electrical issues. I good Mercedes-Benz mechanic can replace the timing chain without pulling the front of the engine apart. Mine was done by attaching the new chain to the old chain and threading it through. There is a procedure for this so do not try this on your own unless you like bent valves! Do not plan on having the dealer do the work. Find a good mechanic that knows these cars before you buy one. Not after!                               

Sajeev
Community Manager

Thank you so much for sharing, now I want a 90-92 modell!!!