Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget

Style and luxury are usually sold at a premium.  In the world of classic cars, that doesn’t always need to be the case.  A simple search on sites like Hemmings and eBay will unearth a wealth of cars that will make heads turn, but also not put you in the poor house…if you are lucky.

To find the right car, you should avoid cars that are too obvious.  An old Rolls Royce or Bentley can be found for cheap money, but buying one means you will end up dirt broke and depressed.  Plus, unless you get the exact “correct” example, you will look like a fool who blew his life savings on a desperate attempt to get attention.   What you want is something a little more subtle.  You want a car that you would see pulling up to a Kennedy family picnic, or something driven by a lesser known DuPont.   I recommend a nice Mercedes Benz sedan.

Mercedes Benz has a reputation much like Porsche.  It is the chosen car of the well heeled, as well as the douche.  For this reason, you have to be careful about which car you choose as your own.  First, since most of us are not Rockefellers, I recommend you avoid the expensive models.  Second, unless you are a cast member of “The Jersey Shore” I recommend staying away from almost all late 1980’s and 90’s models as well as any flashy coupes.  That brings me to what I think could be the best value on the classic car market, the 200/300-series.

The 200/300-series cars are a collection of mid-range sedans offered by Mercedes.  I would be more specific, but it takes a PhD to figure out the Mercedes model line.  For this discussion, I am speaking of the sedans carrying the 200, 230, 250 280, and 300 badges…sometimes including the 330.  These are also known as the W108, 109, 114, 115, 123, and who knows what else.  Never mind…anything cheap and boxy with a Mercedes badge is good enough.

For less than $6,000.00 you can find some amazing examples of Mercedes style and class.  Given the right condition and color, and you could have the perfect classic luxury car.  These models never seem to age, probably because the basic design and style was already pre-aged from new.  They were boxy, clean and carried just the right amount of chrome.  Interiors are well appointed, usually leather and seem modern even by today’s standards.  It is a car you can drive to the country club, or the supermarket with the same sense of satisfaction and dignity.  These are the cars driven by professors, lecturers, judges and the wives of wealthy industrialists.  Their natural habitat is that huge house in that beautiful neighborhood that you always dream of moving into.

To most, a classic car is a pastel colored, chrome speckled, fin encrusted monstrosity.  Muscle cars and Chevy Bel Airs need not be the only choices.  There is not a single car show in my area that is not home to hundreds of cheap little Corvettes and ugly “rods.”  The true aficionado looks for something different, something with a little culture.  A nicely preserved Mercedes sedan is a car that would look great at a local show, but also not seem ridiculous as an everyday driver.  However, before you buy, make sure you do your homework.

Like any old car, a Mercedes can be a handful.  Though pre-1986 models seem to be the best quality, there were still issues to watch out for.  A check of Mercedes forums will keep you updated on what to look for, like electrical harness issues and transmission problems.  Finding a good example is worth the effort because trying to restore one can be a sentence to automotive hell.  The saying “There is nothing more expensive than a cheap Mercedes” is something to remember at all costs.  If there are problems, then there is a 50/50 shot that it will be cheap and easily repairable.  Of course, on the other hand, it could mean you bought a disposable car.  That is the risk with classics, and a Mercedes is no different.  Treated well, a Mercedes can be as reliable as a purebred Shepherd…treated badly, and it can rip your face off.  Look for a dealer-maintained no rust, documented history car.  Start with super wealthy Greenwich Ct families with large heated garages that were anal about maintenance.  Otherwise, look on eBay and Hemmings, roll the dice and live dangerously.

With some luck, you will end up with a car that represents quality, culture, style, and discriminating taste for all to see.  It can be a car that you can enjoy for years and re-sell without depreciation if it is maintained, or even make a profit if the value raises.  Classic Mercedes Benz sedans are becoming more collectable as the years pass, and finding the right one could be an excellent investment.  For the price of a used Buick Century you can have all the best that Stuttgart can offer.

Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photos Courtesy of eBay, benztuning.com

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