Sometimes a manufacturer produces a masterpiece, a car that never ages and has the appearance to turn a man's head away from a lingerie shop. Mercedes did just that with the 500 SL Convertible, a car to weaken the knees of any motor enthusiast. For those who have never seen one, she is long, sleek, touched up with chrome, and bears a slight resemblance to Lady Penelope’s car, in Thunderbirds. Built in 1983, the Merc 500SL I have is finished in a pastel shade of blue, and embroidered with a beige leather interior. It would set you back somewhere in the region of £15,000 to drive this beauty away, but I feel she has to be housed in the winter and left to wander pastures green until the sun comes out and the clouds fade into distant lands. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ APPEARANCE ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ As mentioned earlier, she is long, sleek and “classic” shaped. Her pastel blue paint blends perfectly with the polished chrome, allowing a sheen to vibrate her metallic finish. With her roof down, she has a dashing physique, offering a sneak preview of her leather interior and elegant dash layout. However, with a hard top in place of the softer flexible roof, she commands a more regal notice, and proudly stands with her peacock tail aloft. The cutting edge of her design streamlines her appearance, adding to her appeal and ensuring that her looks challenge even the modern ladies produced by other jealous competitors. My personal taste is displayed here, and I find her to look elegant, yet majestic, nay arrogant, and above all, I find her slender figure pleasant to the eye. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ DIMENSIONS & TECHNICAL INFO ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ LENGTH 4390mm/172.9in (14.4ft) WIDTH 1790mm/70.5in (5.9 ft) Her height varies by almost half an inch fro
m 1290mm/50.8in to 1300mm/51.2in when you place the hard top (Roadster) on her, replacing the Coupe roof. Her gross weight is an incredible 4320lb, or the equivalent to almost 2000kg, now that is some amount of bulk for one so sleek. Although an automatic, she can reach speeds of up to 137mph, 43mph in first gear alone. She has a 4 speed automatic transmission, of which I will run through in more detail later. The engine comprises of a 4-cycle fuel injection, 8-cylinder 4973cc monster, which roars like Simba finding manhood! The two questions that I am frequently asked are what insurance group is she, and what is the fuel consumption like? When people ask me that I know that they are never going to purchase her. I mean the impertinence of it! Would you ask a woman her age? Okay, for those who really want to know, her insurance group is 20, and her fuel consumption is nominal, 18 around town, 30 at 56mph and 26.9 at 70mph. I tend to find she returns about 15mpg around town and 25 on the motorway at 80mph. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ INTERIOR ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ There is something about the feel of leather that has spawned many a fantasy, both sexual and luxurious. Beige leather has to fall into the latter of the two, and has that look second to no other upholstery. Elegant may be a word I am splattering around a lot, but that is exactly what my first impression is every time I sit in this classic. Staring at you with almost flamboyant arrogance, the three-eyed dials install a deep trepidation within you already humbled body. The speedometer is the size of a grandfather clock, and you can’t help but feel she is laughing at you for you timid approach to the 70mph point. “Are you a man or a mouse? Put you foot down!” Growls the engine, begging, pleading to be released.
Five air vents sweeten the air with their gentle breeze, three situated in the centre of the vertical dash, one more to each corner. The joke is on anyone who has to attempt to sit in what can only be loosely described as a back seat, as I am afraid there is no possible way to get a fully fledged adult onto or into her tight, miserly like, space. However, the two “fronties” have the legroom of a canoe and the headroom of a giraffe’s house. I can stretch out and not feel confined, and quite happily go over bumps with out that brush of hair feeling I get in some other cars. The seats offer the comfort of a sofa, allowing that slightest hint of sinking, before grasping your butt with her supportive features. The leather does however become hot and squeaky after a while, but then again, you can always take your pants off! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Close you eyes, open you mind, be one with your senses. Anyone who has driven a car anytime, can only dream, dream that this is it, the ultimate driving experience. Its Sunday afternoon, the sun is hot, not a cloud in the sky! You tenderly insert the key, turning her fob and slink back into the comfort of her leather embrace, as the engine purrs into life. Slowly, carefully, you gingerly caress her accelerator with your foot, and the purr vanishes, to be replaced by the roar of a charging dragon, fire bellowing form her every orifice. Grasping the handbrake, with knuckles a white, you release her chains, and cry “Forsake all others, for you are mine! Let us fly and be free” and off she goes. People stare, point and openly applaud her as she coasts past tourists and local villagers alike, enjoying the fresh Dorset air and local brewed ales. She clicks through the gears as smoothly as a knife cutting butter, kick
ing down a gear to over take that tractor, and then veering back to her cruising position without any effort. Cornering like Beckham, her pinpoint accuracy and power steering make the tightest of bends seem like a slight inclination. The ABS brakes apply themselves without duress as that stray sheep in the middle of the road appears on the blind bend. With ease she stops more than adequately, allowing enough distance not to worry the ewe, as she clambers over the briar hedge. Although she showed signs of a slight pull to the left, tracking the wheels sorted that problem out, and now she drives straighter than Tiger Woods! With the top on, there is no hint of wind whistling through, and with the soft top, there is just the merest hint, although a bearable one. All in all, putting her back in the garage is the worst part of the day, but never mind, there is always next Sunday. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ SERVICING AND REPAIR COSTS ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Now this car has only done about 62,000 miles in almost 20 years, so repairs/servicing can only be used as a guideline rather than the norm. Her last service consisted of an oil and filter change, new battery and two new tyres, costing a mere £230. An average service would be presumably £300 up to £600 for a major overhaul, but I recommend that if you only drive a few thousand miles a year in her, that you have the oil and filter changed, and get the battery checked. New batteries cost me £53 trade, so about £90 retail. Tyres are £70 trade/£120 retail. I would guess that anyone with the budget, time and inclination to buy this car would not baulk at the repair prices, but someone on a tight budget would be too scared to drive her. That just about concludes my Sunday drive friends, and I will allow you mind to wander back to the mundane daily tasks in hand. I
have my accounts to do now and then pop down to the auctions for a bargain or two (hopefully ;o) Angus
In early November 2000, I was passing the Mercedes Benz Main Dealer in Edinburgh. I wanted to look over a new C class saloon and, if happy with the seating position, head-rests, etc. to arrange a test drive of a Sport or Elegance model, preferably with a V6 engine. Unfortunately, the demonstration model was out being 'demonstrated', so I amused myself by looking at their used car stock list that was displayed (with photographs) on the showroom window. I noticed an S600 coupe (with a V12 engine) and could see that it was on the forecourt (at £34,995 a bit outside what I would pay for a second-hand car), but I also saw a photograph of a 1990 (G registered) 420 SEC coupe but could not see the car. Now, this car was only a year younger than my 190 saloon (the family hack), and by far the oldest car they had in stock (4 years' older). It was also the cheapest, at £9,995, but the mileage, 76,500 ("warranted", and with "full service history") was only 10,000 miles more than the 6 years' younger S600...... I asked the (young) salesman about the car and he said, without prompting "It's around the back, I'll just go and fetch it". I went out on to the forecourt and this beautiful vision in pale metallic blue wafted into view. The engine (4.2 litres V8) was silent, the bodywork, the panel fit at the front and the paintwork all seemed absolutely perfect and the grey leather interior was as new, and obvioulsy not owned by a smoker. I commented that it was unusual for them to be selling a car this old, and the salesman replied that these were usually sold off through the trade, but IT HAD PASSED THEIR FULL PRE-SALE CHECKS, and so they "had decided to retail it". This SEC model was made from 1987 until 1991, with a choice of 3 engines - 4.2 litre, 5 litre and 5.6 litre. It is a genuine 4 seater, fixed-head coupe. The cost new in 1990 (with 'essential
9; extras) started the wrong side of £50,000 and the SEC coupe was the car of choice of grand prix drivers and team owners who could not risk the relative unreliability of a Ferrari (according to a contemporary road test in 'MotorSport'). Performance figures quoted for the 420 SEC gave a 7 second 0-60 time and over 23 mpg (unleaded fuel). The larger-engined cars were much less economical apparently, and although not substantially better at acceleration, gave more torque and therefore were better for over-taking and for driver enjoyment etc. (again according to contemporary road tests). The model was only available with automatic transmission and this example had a sun-roof, electric seats, remote alarm, outside temperature gauge, and (the original) alloy wheels but, surprisingly, no air-conditioning. I had gathered that air-conditioning of this vintage can be problematic, so I did not see its lack as a great disadvantage, particularly in Scotland. I was 'itching' to get behind the wheel, and so with trade plates on, off I went for my preferred test drive route in that part of Edinburgh - out onto the A1, then a quick burst along the by-pass. The car drove very well. I noticed a slight 'click' from the offside rear suspension when I drove over a rough patch, of road but the automatic gearbox was quiet, the kick-down smooth and all the performance seemed to be there. At the end of the test drive, I opened the bonnet and the boot. Underneath the bonnet, the engine compartment was 'grubby' and a plastic relay cover was missing, but the oil level was OK and the oil very clean. The boot interior was also clean and the spare alloy wheel and tyre in good condition. Oh I was tempted ! I went home and spoke to Heather and she agreed (reluctantly, because she wanted a new car) to come and have a look the following week. Before we went out for a test drive, (with a different s
alesman), I remembered that I had not checked the boot-fit lines. On doing so, I was dismayed to find that the gap between the boot lid and the near-side wing was significantly greater than that to the off-side wing. Close examination of the paintwork confirmed that the off-side rear wing had been re-sprayed (but sprayed very well), but all other panels seemed to have the original paintwork. However, on opening the boot, there was water condensed on the underside of the lid. Water had obviously leaked in through the ill-fitting boot lid in the time when it had been parked on the forecourt since my previous visit. Heather was impressed with the electric seats and the test drive went well again. I asked for the car to be put on the ramps/hoist in their service department so that I could have a closer look for any evidence of serious damage. The salesman was not 100% keen for this to happen, saying distinctly : "Of course, it has not been through its pre-sales inspection yet". I tried to give a Roger Moore impersonation by raising my eyebrow on hearing this ! I also took out a pair of latex gloves from my pocket to show that I meant business ! However, the rear part of the car showed no chassis damage, and the 'click' that I had heard on the first test drive I identified as probably coming from a 'loose' anti-roll bar bush. I proceeded to the front of the car where I saw an 'oily mess' under the engine. I commented on this and was told "Oh they always get an accumulation of grease (sic) underneath". However, I asked the mechanic operating the hoist if the belt driven device that I was then pointing to was the power-steering pump. He agreed and also agreed that this was where the 'oil' (grease?) was leaking from. The steering box also showed signs of leaking. I asked the mechanic how often do you get people asking to inspect a used Mercedes on the hoist ?
He grinned and replied that it had happened only once before with him, over the 6 years he had worked for this company. My enquiries elsewhere have indicated a likely bill for about £2,000 to fix these three problems (which not have been covered by the warranty that was being offered by the dealer on a car of this age). The warranty covers only 'failure' of a component. What I saw was "wear" and thus to be anticipated There are at least 4 points of issue here : 1. When buying a used car, trust no one - even a Mercedes Benz main dealer. I could easily have accepted the word of the first salesman and trusted the mechanical and body condition; 2. With any car this age (and younger) make sure you leave the rose-tinted spectacles at home. There are bound to be faults, but it is up to you to search for them - and don’t be mislead by a warranty. Frequently (as here) a warranty will only cover the complete failure of a component(and not a leak); 3. If at all possible, try to get the car on a hoist or a ramp so that the underside can be inspected; 4. Even if you have some confidence in your ability to spot a 'wrong-un', an inspection by the AA or RAC is essential. So how did I leave it ? I suggested to the salesman that the garage should carry out their complete inspection, and then decide what their lowest acceptance price would be. Then they should contact me when I would decide whether or not to pay for an AA or RAC inspection. I'll keep this Opinion up-to-date, so watch this space ! This could so easily have been an expensive mistake. But I still loved the car at first sight ! Update I received a telephone call from the dealer 8 days after the debacle described above to tell me, quite bluntly, that the car "has been sold". For some reason, I was not totally convinced that it had been sold by retail. I will w
atch out for it in Autotrader ! I have seen neither hide no hair of it since. © Sidneygee 2001