Were you a social-climbing, Mercedes-driving, industry hack in the 1990s?
October 19, 2008 11:18 PM   Subscribe

When I lived in LA a few years ago, I heard about a short-lived craze among status-seekers in the entertainment industry.

Apparently, at the time, there were two models of Mercedes-Benz sedans that looked virtually identical. The only differences were the model number affixed to the back of the car - and the fact that one model was probably ten grand cheaper than the other.

So it seems that a couple of enterprising body shops were doing a brisk business in Mercedes modifications: young social-climbers would buy the cheaper model Benz, then bring it in to the shop, and for a small fee, the shop would swap out the logo on the back of the car for the one from the more expensive model.

Does anyone else remember this wonderfully typical LA story? I've been thinking about it forever but don't have any idea what the two car models in question might have been. Anyone know?

I might have read the story in the LA Weekly; I'm not sure. This would have been some time in the late 1990s.
posted by AngerBoy to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hadn't heard about it, but sounds plausible. Especially with the W126 series (1979 to 1991), the entire line of S-class sedans had very similar bodies. All very different cars in the cabin and under the hood, but I can imagine it being easy to buy a 300SE and rebadge it as a 560SEL. You might fool a few people momentarily, but Merc-enthusiasts would definitely notice something was amiss.
posted by randomstriker at 11:48 PM on October 19, 2008

A lot of the Mercedes cars look identical between their "classes", but have different engine sizes, which is denoted in the model number. An S320 has a 3.2L 6-cylinder engine, but an S600 has a 6.0L V-12 and costs an order of magnitude more. This happens up and down the Mercedes lineup, so it could have been within any of their cars.
posted by hwyengr at 11:50 PM on October 19, 2008

Not precisely the same thing, but logo "upgrades" are common on ricers.
posted by dhartung at 11:55 PM on October 19, 2008

Actually, this is still true today, and it happens all the time.

As hwyengr said, the class bodies (C, E, S, SL, etc.), are essentially the same (despite special and/or upgraded body work, in some cases), but the more expensive models tend to have higher engine displacements, which are reflected by the "higher" number (e.g., the S600 -- the 600 designating a 6.0-liter V12 -- is more expensive than an S500). Consider that an S500/S550 starts just shy of $100,000, and the S600 is nearly $150,000. That's what motivates those drivers to "rebadge" their cars.

Some people also comically affix an AMG (Mercedes tuning division) badge to their standard cars. I've seen one on an S500 before, among other Mercedes, and got a laugh out of it. How astonishing that some people are ashamed to drive a $100,000 automobile. Better yet, few people would know what AMG meant unless they also knew the car wasn't a real AMG model, so it all seems to be for naught.

-- Mercedes nut
posted by scoria at 11:57 PM on October 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you may be thinking of the 450SEL 6.9. Except that was 20 years before the time you mention.
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 12:20 AM on October 20, 2008

I think it's the Mercedes 500/600 that Scoria's talking about. I say this not because I'm any kind of authority on cars, but because it's because it's referenced in Season 2 of Entourage. E threatens to tell Ari's wife that she's actually been driving a 500, not a 600 if Ari doesn't switch out the fake painting he gave Vince for the real thing.

I am not proud this is taking up space in my brain.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 12:41 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could do this with many models. For example, the 123 body 240D, 300D, and 300D Turbo look identical, but vary considerably in performance and original sticker price. Here's a good guide to American Benz models.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:44 AM on October 20, 2008

At some points, the C class and E class have had extremely similar designs.

I also noted a few years ago that some Mercedes were skipping the 500/600 suffixes, instead only having the class. Quite why that is, I don't know, but there might be something in it. Perhaps they were being removed by the owner.
posted by wackybrit at 1:08 AM on October 20, 2008

I knew a gearhead who changed an Escort into a Mustang (he also modified the hell out of that car, engine, interior and all). I don't know enough to say whether it was realistic, but it was interesting.

I can see the attraction of it. I once flashed the firmware of a Rio MP3-CD player to gain the features of the more expensive model (didn't repaint it to match the color, though...)
posted by alexei at 2:38 AM on October 20, 2008

I don't know about this, but you can buy badges that say things like "turbo" at Halfords. I've thought about getting one for my W-reg Vauxhall Corsa. For a joke.
posted by cardamine at 4:18 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is common on many cars, not just Mercedes. Witness the number of BMWs driving around with "M" badges.
posted by saladin at 4:56 AM on October 20, 2008

This is childish. Far, far better is the "badge delete" option which introduces that exquisite sense of self-doubt as in, "Oh, he's probably driving the V12 but doesn't want to show off. I think. Maybe."
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:30 AM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

On the other extreme, I have seen people rebadge 15 hp outboards with 10 hp logos so they can use them on waterways where powerboats are limited to 10 hp. Sort of the redneck counterpart to the LA practice.
posted by TedW at 5:52 AM on October 20, 2008

We used to do this for customers at a Porsche dealership I used to work for. We'd have a good laugh about it usually, but it's your car - you can do what you want. It's an easy matter to do.

What I did like was when a client would remove 'CARRERA' and replace it with '911'.

We had a number of clients who turned their 'CAYENNE' into a 'CAYENNE S', or 'CAYENNE TURBO'.

Personally, I never really understood it -- real nuts can tell these cars and their specific models apart without the badging.
posted by smitt at 6:43 AM on October 20, 2008

This was a referred to on an episode of Entourage, so that might be how it recently entered your radar screen.
posted by mzurer at 7:20 AM on October 20, 2008

I grew up in LA - I remember something similar with the BMW M models in the 80s, so much so that my uncle had an M when I was growing up and he got himself a vanity plate that said "4REAL M".

My word, I never realized how LA that was until I typed it out loud.

Also, in the 80s, "car phones" were really luxurious, and I remember folks would get those spirally little antennae affixed to the back of the car, even if they couldn't afford a car phone.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:13 AM on October 20, 2008

'young social climbers' my ass. you are talking about the S500 and S600 models.

this is a minor plot point in 'entourage' back in season two (youtube proves it) - ari gold bought an S500 for his wife and fooled her into thinking it was an S600 using this trick. your friend watched HBO and took a little artistic license. I could see nikki finke having written about it in the LA weekly but entourage is where it's from.
posted by krautland at 11:22 AM on October 20, 2008

Rebadging the other way happens, too. An acquaintance rebadged his Ducati 999 as a 749, presumably so people would think he was damn fast on it.
posted by workerant at 12:59 PM on October 20, 2008

These responses are so awesome. Thank you. I had clearly underestimated the number of ways that people could use fakery to inflate their own sense of self-worth. :O)

[For the record, though, this was definitely going on before Entourage. I've never seen a single episode, and my recollection is almost certainly from a written source, not stories I'd been told.]
posted by AngerBoy at 7:46 PM on October 20, 2008

yeah, I'd suggest emailing nikki and seeing if she knows where that entourage thing came from. perhaps it was an inside joke on an actual fad. if anyone knows, she does.
posted by krautland at 3:19 PM on October 21, 2008

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