I had just returned from my annual Las Vegas trip with friends when I happened upon this sad-looking 450SL parked on the curb. The first day back to the daily grind from any vacation is usually hard, but thankfully, I had the presence of mind to relax, drink lots of Gatorade and water, and eat properly when returning to Chicago the day before. If fact, one could say that the shape of this Mercedes mirrored that of my mood at the time, as I attempted to shift gears from “vacation mode” to “get-it-done mode”.
Look at this car. This is not the condition in which one would expect to see any, running Mercedes, and certainly not a vaunted SL. This looks more like the condition in which one would expect to see a daily-driver G-Body Cutlass Supreme from the mid-’80s… but a Mercedes? This is what happened to Baby Jane. When looking at a once high-end beater, I often think of the chain of ownership, which is a topic that has been discussed at length here at CC in the four years or so that I’ve been a reader and/or contributor.
This thing cannot be cheap to keep running. My only guess might be that its owner might either be, or be friends with, one of the many foreign car repair shop guys in this city. “Once…just once[,] have the automobile you want,” says the print ad above. Perhaps that’s the thought process, here. A rusty, blue Mercedes is still a Mercedes, and don’t you ever look down your nose at a car bearing the Three-Pointed Star that almost singlehandedly snatched the desirability trophy from GM’s Wreath-And-Crest brand. I’m guessing as to the model year of this example, but 1980 was the last year for the 450SL here in the United States. Its 4,520 cc V8 engine yielded 190 horsepower (the same rating as the base-350 in the 1980 Corvette) in these 3,600-pound coupes.
A few years ago, Chris Gardner, the author of the autobiographical book “The Pursuit of Happyness“, came to be our motivational speaker at a work event. You may remember the 2006 movie based on the book, that starred Will Smith and his son, Jaden. The book and movie chronicled Mr. Gardner’s true-to-life story about being a homeless salesman for a period of time, as he also tried to provide food and safe shelter for his young son. Mr. Gardner was an engaging, open, very likable speaker, and I consider it money well spent by my company to have him talk to (and with!) us.
One of the main takeaways that I remember from his recounting of those days was that sometimes, one can find oneself in a severely compromised position even through no direct fault of one’s own, and that “sometimes, life just happens”. I am a firm believer in actions resulting in consequences (thanks, Mom and Dad), but Mr. Gardner’s words and story rang completely true and legitimate – and I suddenly gained sympathy for the plight of many I’d normally just assume “didn’t pay enough attention in school”, or whatever. Yes, what we do affects our present and future, but the picture is often so much bigger than that.
As these ideas relate to this car, its own chain of ownership may have had a similarly uneventful (downward) trajectory, until some tragically expensive repair needed to be made, which then kicked it down one (more) rung on its ladder of multiple ownership. No matter. It may not be the prettiest thing on wheels (regardless of its prestigious pedigree), but one thing remains in its favor: it’s still a Mercedes, and it’s still running, despite “life” having happened to it, and as Aretha Franklin once sang about twenty years ago, “A Rose Is Still A Rose”. Soldier on, Baby Girl.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Tuesday, September 11, 2018, and Tuesday, October 9, 2018.
Nicely said. I like when I see cars like this being driven and used as cars. Not all need to be in a museum. Just keep two as a breeding pair. The rest can go and play outside.
Great article as always Joseph and welcome back.
My wife works on Elston Ave (a largely industrial corridor here in the city) and I’m amazed how many mom-and-pop “import” mechanics that are still around there. It seems like a throwback to old times, before most Subarus were built in Indiana and most American cars were built in, well, America.
Not that I’ve ever paid much attention to these…
But in coming to understand the Three-Pointed Star’s position in the automotive pantheon and WHY – especially in the context of their 1990s conscious decision to shift from “engineered like no other car in the world” to “just good enough” – I certainly appreciate what we see here.
I’d like to assume that while repair costs are probably high, there still aren’t as many of them as should be expected on a newer one with the same mileage and condition.
Yes it’s a 380 portrayed here instead of the 450, but it’s still engineered like no other song in the world.
I totally agree that the durability of one of these built then is much better than what could be expected today.
And as for Maren Morris (“I’m a Nineties Baby in an Eighties Mercedes…♪♫”), she gets my respect for being featured in one of the catchiest earworms of 2018: “The Middle”.
These never “did” anything for me…the earlier “Pagodas” I did rather like. They looked sportier, more lithe.
A great take on a car that seems down on its luck.
This car rings a bell with me as I was once that guy who took possession of a well-used 15 year old Cadillac Fleetwood (from back when a Cadillac Fleetwood was one of the best cars built in the world). Mine was in better shape than this, but not by all that much (and it was not nearly as old, besides). I got the breakdowns and the expensive repairs – which is what caused me to give up on it. But when everything was working the car made this college freshman feel like a million bucks.
I can imagine that when this old Mercedes is running right that three-pointed star on the steering wheel still works its magic.
You get it, J.P. The driver’s perception of the car as being a luxury / higher-end item is sometimes all that’s needed for a car like this to work its magic.
This was my childhood dream car. Even in this condition, if it’s still running I’d be more than happy to take it home. If I were a betting man I’d wager that the soft top is in great shape, likely not having been exposed to the world in many moons if the car is street parked, and that MB Tex interior is probably still wearing like iron. These things were engineered for the long haul and built like tanks. The poor thing just needs some love. It’s still a beauty in my eyes.
Personal Disclaimer: It is precisely this mindset that has caused me endless heartbreak and turmoil over many years, from a vehicular standpoint and unfortunately in other realms. Sometimes life just happens….but a bit of forethought is still worth its weight in gold.
Sad state of affairs, but it still stands proud. I think my SL is in a little better shape though.
Not sure how that happened !
Lol, I was about to say that you must not think much of the Merc’s condition if you’d prefer a Saturn that had been rolled onto its roof.
Was this photographed in Australia?
Nah, but it handles like it’s stuck to the ground.
If you are using iPad or iPhone to type in the comments and upload the photos, the thumbnails are often flipped upside down, but the photos are displayed in right orientation when clicked on for full image. It’s down to the WordPress software that requires EXIF metadata which iOS devices don’t transfer to when uploading the photos from iOS Photos app.
In the past, I (and others) have mentioned it a few times to Paul. There’s WordPress plug-in that automates the correction process.
More and more MB/BMW/Audi “beaters” are appearing in Chicago area, as sales and leases increase.
One time, saw a 10+ year old M class SUV blocking an intersection, broken down, with driver on cell phone calling for help. Wasn’t surprised to see it. Since its more common to see older German lux cars with flat tires or hoods up on shoulder.
Never been a fan of status symbol cars, regardless of their “pedigree”. it’s just a car and this one is way beyond serving as any sort of reasonable transportation, being the very definition of a money pit. If it were a true classic like a W113, that’s an entirely different story, but driving this common sorry heap is a classic case of throwing good money after bad. If there’s some kind of weird reverse-snobbism intended if they had any sense they’d pawn it off and get a beater Subaru, that’d be more effective.
Your post really got me thinking…. when I see one of these I think 1980’s. The sorry state this is in somehow seems appropriate.
IMO the Mustang was the car that defined the 1960’s (with Corvair a close runner up), Monte Carlo the car of the 1970’s, Ford Explorer the vehicle of the 1990’s. This R107 says 1980’s (with the Chrysler Minivans a close runner up). It’s interesting how popular these were when new, especially in California and yet today the Pagoda Benz has nearly all the collector interest.
I also will never forget my 6’ Frame crammed in the backseat of one these around 1987, the woman driving was a business associate of a friend whom I had the misfortune of dealing with. While she drove the streets of Chicago she often would say with teeth clenched – “I hate pedestrians!”
The trunk lid looks to be from 88-89 560SL. I’m on my second R107. There’s nothing like driving down Lakeshore Dr during a Chicago summer with the top down!
If it is from a 560SL, the matching patina is utterly remarkable. It must have taken some doing to find a perfect match! 🙂
Hate to be a downer, but I’ve never been a big fan of the styling of the R107 SL. A little top heavy looking, a little on the busy side, and a little heavy-handed with the chrome. The SLC improves the looks somewhat because of the extra length (despite the messy side window treatment). I would prefer an SL that brackets the R107 timeline.
Did anyone notice the leering ghost faces in the lower front windows of the two apartments in the 3 rd photo.
Sometimes it’s not what the car does for others its what it does for you.
I am and always have been a car guy.( hence my daily CC devotion)
When times ( and myself) were better I always took pride in what I drove and had my share of toys. Early retirement due to health and living on a disability pension changed that to what’s the best bang for the cheapest buck.
My son wrote off my Caravan last month and I started the search under the usual headers of how cheap is it to buy and how cheap will it be to fix.
I stumbled across a 2002 Acura RL at a very cheap price. For those of you not in the know ( which included me) it is the top of the Acura sedan food chain. It reminded me of some of the Cadillacs I’d had over the years and actually made me feel proud of my wheels which I thought was never going to happen again. So I bought it.
It is very good condition for the year and
I did due diligence, ( one owner, not hi mileage ) but I realize due to what it is and relative rarity (9392 sold that year) repairs will be a budget issue and in a few years inspite of my best efforts it might resemble this Mercedes. I will be OK with that tho because it will still be the car that will bring a little bit of my automotive soul back to life every time I turn the key.
And that old Benz may do the same for its driver whatever his life circumstances are. And that means no matter it’s outward appearance it is still doing its long ago job of making its owner feeling a little more special.
Bill, this is 100% on-point (thank you for this), and ties very nicely into the gist of what I was trying to say about this car. It’s sometimes the feeling one gets from owning / driving a car that one perceives as being higher-up that can be worth its weight in gold (or some other precious metal).
I hope your RL gives you many years of great, classy service.
The degradation of this 107 seems preordained.
Who was the dope who put on those chrome things over the wheel openings? For a knowing buyer of a used 107 (or 116) that would have been a very suspicious sign. What is under there? Who would have done that to such a car? These were not Cadillacs; they were just perfect the way the Germans sent them to us. (Also – they did not need their bundt wheels to be chromed in California, thank you.)
So somewhere along the ownership line some unknowing person “improved” this car with those chromed pieces – and greatly diminished the car’s value for all future potential owners/Mercedes collectors who might care for the car properly.
When these cars (and the corresponding sedans) were new, I would often see those chromed wheel arches added by the cars’ first owners. The were common enough that I believed them to be factory- or dealer-installed options.
I junked my chrome wheel arches after constant hounding from purists. Underneath the paint was like new. I bought this 1980 for under 10K and fixed all the rust and replaced the rusty back bumper. This year I bought new tires and leather skins for the front seats. I’m up to $15K in total cost which is close to market value IMO. The great thing about a roadster is the top down experience. My wife wouldn’t come with me at sunset for a neighbourhood cruise on my motorcycle but convertible cruising is awesome in the cool of an evening. Well maintained Mercs are out there you just need to find ’em or let other people know so they can help.
Hey so I got a 1973 Mercedes 450 SL as well as a 1979 Mercedes 450 SL with AMG that I’m looking to sell. I need to know a good site so I can advertise them in plus I also have hoods bumpers valve covers and another 20 milk crates full of electrical parts and miscellaneous parts let me know if a good site that I can post them on for sale if you would thank you I’m in the Bay area California USA