Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz
November 6, 2006 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about getting a second car just for kicks and have a few questions. Of course, there's ...

I'd like a 3-season weekend-driver, mostly highway cruising and running to the beach. I'd prefer luxury to raw performance (think 70s-80s Mercedes SL), but I wouldn't mind being able to lay down rubber or slice through curves, either. A manual gearbox would be really nice; I've noticed that most (all?) of the older SLs in the US are automatics. I'd also prefer a convertible, but I could be convinced otherwise with a nice, big moonroof.

The catch is, since it's an occasional driver, I don't want to spend more than $8 or 9k up front (even less would be better, even if it means compromising on some things). Prices for the SL (I keep coming back to this; it's sort of the benchmark car in this pursuit) are all over the place, although there seem to be a very few late-80s 560SLs and mid-80s 380SLs that mostly fit the bill. There are also some early-to-mid-90s BMW 3-series convertibles, too, but I think they're plug-ugly.

While I keep searching for my dream SL (Spring is a long way off), are there any other makes / models I should be looking at? Thanks!
posted by uncleozzy to Shopping (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Those Bimmers are indeed inelegant- but they drive so much better than almost any Benz. And you'd only be looking at $2500-3500 for an 89-92 325iC.
I have a few other favorites, but again, the prices are all over the place:
80's Porsche 911 Targa: it's got a removable roof. (Why are these always brown?)
Honda S2000: almost twice the price you want to pay, but the savings in maintenance will make up for it in the first two years. Quite nice inside, and they handle AMAZINGLY and are very fast.
Mazdaspeed Miata. Again, not elegant. But they're damned quick, and they really stick to the road.

Furthermore, on any of these cars, you can add r-compound tires, which are often used for racing but are street-legal. Since you'll only drive it occasionally, you won't wear them out too fast. And don't rule out cars that aren't local- keep an eye on Southern California craigslist in particular. There are plenty of gearhead Mefites that'd go look at a car for you.
posted by wzcx at 10:32 AM on November 6, 2006

Actully Mr Jalopy @ Hooptyrides might be your man to ask. His fleet has several Benzos and he has a nice PDF on getting into used cars.
posted by ernie at 10:34 AM on November 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you buy a 30+ year old German car for a few thousand, expect to be sinking tons and tons of money into it over the coming years. Unless you're handy with cars, you'll find yourself taking it to the pricey import mechanic, constantly trying to figure out where all the oil went or why it just won't idle.

As for recommendations, for some reason this post made me think of the MkIII Supra turbo. While the looks of the car appeal to some (including me), an equal number think it's pretty ugly. But it's a solid, luxury/sport touring car, and in turbo form, quite fast. Throw a 3" exhaust on it and it'll really surprise you as it cuts the tires loose in 3rd gear. If you do go this way, just watch out for the head gasket. These cars blew head gaskets like crazy. Look for one that's already had the head gasket replaced, hopefully a metal one, with extra torqued head studs. Done properly, it'll never be a problem again.
posted by knave at 11:27 AM on November 6, 2006

r-compound tires, which are often used for racing but are street-legal

Careful here; almost all R-comps will be shit in the rain, and you won't be able to get them up to proper operating temperature on the street. In other words, you can get yourself into serious trouble if you're not careful.

That said, the issue of tires is very relevant. A set of very high-performance summer tires can make all the difference in the world. (The only thing "summer" about summer tires is that you are ABSOLUTELY NOT TO DRIVE THEM IN SNOW/ICE. That's it.)

Remember: luxury, performance, affordability. Pick any two. I also love how the OP says he prefers luxury, and gets a Miata recommended to him. :)
posted by trevyn at 12:35 PM on November 6, 2006

I recently got a Mazda MX5 (Miata) for my everyday car. Its a '95, which is the original model (MK1). it's nice, hardly luxury, but its fantastic fun and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fun car. added bonus for the originals being dirt cheap. It feels like driving a classic car at time. very raw.

However, the MK2's are nicer all round.
However, the Mk3's are EVEN NICER.
posted by lemonfridge at 1:57 PM on November 6, 2006

I know you guys love your Miatas (and rightfully so, they're pretty nice, performance-wise), but if I wanted to be seen driving a go-kart, I could just go down to the place next to the putt-putt course (kidding!).

I'm looking for something that looks "cool"; I'm split a bit on the Supra (part of me digs the goofy 80s aesthetic, part of me is revolted by it). I would love -- love! -- an S2000, but I just can't justify the outlay. But I hadn't even considered a Porsche; not luxurious, but sporty and eye-catching, for sure. I'll have to look into it.

Thanks for the advice so far, folks!
posted by uncleozzy at 2:25 PM on November 6, 2006

Consider a larger Bimmer, in particular an E28 BMW 5-series. The 535is is a superb car; great power and handling, cool go-fast options like a 5-speed and an LSD, luxurious, relatively simple and elegant engineering and mechanicals, very reliable, and sexy to boot. You can pick one up in great condition for a few grand.
posted by saladin at 2:33 PM on November 6, 2006

Even though he wants luxury, a Miata isn't necessarily ruled out. The touring packages can be pretty comfy and have a lot of bells and whistles. However a 70s Mercedes brings to mind an image of a lot more space than a Miata has, so if that's what you're imagining...

Maybe you could clarify what you view as luxury?

Barring additional information I'd also say an older BMW would be the way to go.
posted by phearlez at 2:47 PM on November 6, 2006

Tsk, I should use preview.

What about t-tops? Personally I don't think anything looks cooler than the RX-7 in any incarnation. Second generations were available in convertibles or there's the third gens which ditched the rotary engines which could be problematic.
posted by phearlez at 2:50 PM on November 6, 2006

[a few comments removed - if you want to talk about the environmental impact of dual car ownership, discuss it in metatalk]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:10 PM on November 6, 2006

It's hard to beat an SL as far as fun luxury convertibles go, and if you're prepared to put up with the idiosyncrasies of old German technology, you'll probably be pleased with that choice. Theres a good reason why it's the standard by which others are judged.

Have you driven an Alfa Spyder? Not as go-kart like as the Miata, but not quite as luxurious as the BMWs or SLs (though the exotic Italian factor makes up for it somewhat). Fun Fun Fun, and every time you cross a bridge or run out of gas, you can pretend you're Dustin Hoffman. Alfas are chick magnets if that's of interest.

On the sporty side of luxury convertibles, Porsche 968s and 911 targas come to mind. So does the BMW Z3 and Porsche boxster.

BMW's 3-series convertibles are good vehicles, despite their butt-ugliness and the (well deserved) reputation of being owned primarily by douchebags and people married to them. But they were built to last and exceedingly popular in the cocaine fueled late 80s, so finding one for cheap isn't hard.

On the less luxurious side, there's the RX7 and the 300ZX ragtops. The convertible models of both of these are not so easy to find, but they're quite nice. They're both worlds nicer than a Miata.

On the non-convertible exotic side, there's always the Lotus Esprit. Unmistakably cool.

On the more luxurious, if less sporty side, check out Saab 900 convertibles. The turbos are a blast to drive, but aren't known for their engine life -- beware. True Saab aficionados disowned the brand once GM purchased it and shipped a rebadged Opel Vectra in place of the 900 (model year 1994, I believe).

And on the "avoid at all costs" scale: Buick Reatta and cadillac Allante.
posted by toxic at 7:01 PM on November 6, 2006

(For the purposes of this post, I will presume that you are located within the United States. If you aren't, I apologize!)

I think you have the right idea. The R107 SL is a beautiful, classic car. It was built during the era of "one car, one lifetime" quality at Daimler-Benz.

For extra points, consider looking for a more powerful "gray market" car, such as a genuine 500SL. It was the most powerful R107 built (if you measure by torque, anyway), despite the later introduction of the 5.6-liter 560SL.

As a bonus, a gray market car won't have the American bumper that can detract substantially from the beauty of the vehicle. The parts for such a car are still readily available today through Mercedes-Benz, but you will certainly want to ensure that the car was made ready by a quality importer.

Also available for your consideration is the W126 coupé (i.e., 500SEC, 560SEC), which is another classic. While it is not a convertible, it is considered to be an even more luxurious counterpart to the SL, and some do feature an enormous moonroof. ;-)

Either way, most people will recommend that you stick with the 500 and 560 variants of the SEC and SL. Some consider the 380 to be underpowered, and the engine itself was prone to a number of expensive problems prior to 1984.

Good luck, and happy motoring!
posted by scoria at 7:30 PM on November 6, 2006

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