Joy in an old Mercedes/and Ode to good Cheap Cars

I recently rounded a corner, I’m sick of constant car payments (decades of car payments). I’m a serial car whore, I love shiny machines and I’ve rarely gone much more than year without getting bored and wanting something different. I’ve taken the easy path over and over and over again, car dealerships make it incredibly easy to walk out in whatever your heart desires. Some times I’ve been smart(er) and gotten a several year old new toy where-in I’ve ridden to the next sunset in what may have started life as a car outside of my meager budget. Other times I’ve taken home the finest example of a cheap economy car, but lets be honest, it’s still a cost cut economy car and I’m STILL accepting the idea of paying nearly $30,000 for it. It’s been a vicious cycle that I’ve been STUPID enough to hold for the better part of 30 years now and I’m going to break it!

I’m by no means or stretch wealthy, but I am fortunate to have a comfortable life with a beautiful, understanding wife. That sweet wife has been on more adventures Like THIS or THIS, Even THIS, hell, I forced my Dad on This One than she deserves, so the story of how I got the fantastic beauty you see above is relatively benign.

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I’d been pining for another car (that I totally didn’t need) for some months since my current “toy” car is nearly perfect and I just can’t stand to not tinker on something. It’s also notable that for maybe the first time I have no inclination to have said toy leave the stable in order to replace it (maybe I’m growing up....nah). Enter a renewed obsession to satisfy a long time desire for a ~1990 w124 and/or w126. I chose poorly a few years ago between a 560 SEC and that POS Z32 and have regretted it since.

Believe it or not, these cars are not particularly valuable, regardless of the fact that every review or article you read about either points out that these cars were possibly the last to be utterly produced by the engineers (not the accountants). They are built to last and last and last, they exude style and quality.

I’d cast a fairly wide net ~500 miles from home base, ended up chatting with someone in Atlanta with a 560 SEC and someone in Nashville with a 300CE, both with an asking of not quite $3k. Then I saw her, popped up just that morning on Houston’s Craigslist, a 1992 400E that appeared in an unusually descriptive, concise listing with a full boat of pictures.

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We immediately struck a deal wherein I offered to give him his full asking (which I found to be entirely reasonable) if he would hold the car for a couple of weeks until I could make it out to Houston (with a deposit of course). The previous custodian of this amazing automobile was quite possibly the most honest person I’ve encountered in several dozen car purchases. He told me in great detail about every flaw the car had, which really didn’t account to much, she has just a bit over 100k on the clock, 3 owners and has been extremely well cared for with a stack of receipts.

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So a couple of weeks later we loaded up in a rented 2018 Camry, oh how I hated the less than 24 hours I spent with that thing. I met with the former owner the next morning, we finished the deal and my lovely wife and I spent the rest of the day exploring downtown Houston before we headed out the next morning for our journey back to coastal Alabama.

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The first thing I noticed is how comfortable this car is. Compared to the ride in the Camry, where I got out after several hours and could not stand straight for a minute the old Benz is a wonder of engineering. There isn’t much that is not purposeful, no big screens or swoopy dashes, but every surface you touch, after 26 years of roaming this planet I might add, oozes quality, it’s solid, the carpet is dense, the leather feels good, each stalk behind the wheel feels solid. The doors....oh the doors, close one and you hear a “thunk”, there is NOTHING tinny or cheap feeling on this car.

Mine is a 400E, meaning it’s the only slightly less buff brother of the vaunted 500E (the one passed back and forth across town to Porsche to put on wider fenders and a massaged suspension and motor in). Both carry a V8 engine that is dimensionally the same, with the 500 having slightly more output. They didn’t make nearly as many of these as the 6-cylinder little brothers. The monster up front isn’t for stoplight racing. It’s got a quiet authority, burbling from the exhaust just enough to notice. No, this is a cruiser, floor the throttle and before you are remotely aware you are smoothly gliding down the road at well into triple digits. Dear heavens I love this old thing.

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I had a few things to sort out as things will go, she needed new shoes, brakes and the suspension was tired. The AC is a bit fussy and if I don’t drive her for 2 weeks she lets me know that’s not to her liking (but a blast down the highway and she is happy again).

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26 year old German luxury cars require regular attention & maintenance, short and simple. Parts are easy to find (even at my local FLAPS if necessary) and aren’t any more dear in general than for any other brand. The reason I’m comfortable going down the road I started this diatribe with is that I get calm and peace working on cars, I’m not really afraid of most anything breaking as I’ve had my hands deep inside engine rebuilds, replaced all manner of wear items and generally tinkered for 3 decades and as many dozen cars of all sorts. I expect it, I’ll figure it out and fortunately I have other cars I can drive for a bit if need be.

Anyone reading this that says hell yeah, that sounds great! Please go in with the notion that the relatively tiny buy-in (at ~$3k) is just the beginning, hell, I’ve put $1k into it in a month just to fix or improve what I wanted to in the outset. The PO handed me a stack of receipts for his previous 5 years totaling about $10k because he wasn’t a work on the car kind of guy. I can totally get how a quality mechanic would justifiably run up that tab over that time keeping a car that at one point was VERY expensive and at the top of technology for the time going. Fortunately (and because) I am able to take labor out of the equation I get to enjoy these old beauties.

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Soon is the day I will sell off my not quite 2 year old Hyundai, not because it’s in any way a bad car but because this is the sort of ride I want to be in, and one without car payments.

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Everyone else has a quip here so why not..... Travis is a normal guy, with a normal home in a normal place and not nearly enough car budgets to go around. He has been automotively obsessed since he could push a matchbox car on the floor and say pbpbpbpbpbp. He’s currently driving cars no. 30 and 33 and doesn’t plan on limiting that figure any time soon. He has no idea why he’s using 3rd person....

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