“Hm, guess we gotta find you a car now huh?” This sentence spoken by my dad s begins the tale of a short but very treasured time with my little silver C-class that I lovingly named Checkers, and how I’ll always own some form of Mercedes product as long as I drive.
After establishing a budget of $4,000, I began my search for my Mercedes. It needed to be within the 1990’s or newer and have less than 200,000 miles. One day I happened to drive past my mechanics shop. Next to his shop there’s a small empty parking lot where there sat 2 W202’s for sale. “Guess it couldn’t hurt to look” I thought, and pulled in to the lot.
The one that caught my eye was a mint condition C280 but it wasn’t like any other older C-class I’d ever seen before. On the outside I started noticing, quirks, about this car. It looked more aggressive than any other W202 I’d ever seen in person, besides the C43 of this generation. The wheels weren’t the normal 15 in 8-hole wheels that every other W202 had from this generation. ,
For starters, it had the automatic transmission that you could manually shift yourself. Me being the car guru that I am knew that Mercedes only did that starting with all Model Year 2000 cars, so it’s a 2000 C280, the last year of production for the W202 which means most kinks should be worked out.
Another quirk I noticed this little C had was the trim. Most Mercedes, even the AMG cars, have wood trim but this one had a strange faux carbon fiber trim on the dash and doors. “Ok, so maybe this C is kinda cool with its trim and shifter but it’s just another C28- OH MY GOD THE SEATS! Mercedes seats usually come with a leatherette surface known as MB Tex. Some come in leather but that’s only an option, or reserved for its S-class sedans, or on AMG vehicles. This C280 not only had leather but it had unique black and grey leather seats for the front and rear occupants. On the door molding my questions were promptly answered with only one word “Sport”. So here before me was a 2000 Mercedes-Benz C280 Sport, finished in Brilliant Silver over a unique black and grey leather interior, I got back in the car feeling a strange love for this silver car that I haven’t even driven yet.
Indeed, it was a 2000 model with only 145,000 miles on the clock with an asking price right at $4,000. Recent service included a few vacuum lines replaced by my mechanic, the original Ignition Lock Switch and steering lock replaced at a MB dealer (over $1,000 and it can only be replaced by the dealer) and it even had fairly new tires put on. I slid behind the black and grey leather wrapped steering wheel and Immediately I was greeted with ivory faced AMG-style gauges, the chrome electronic key went in, audibly told the steering wheel to unlock and the 2.8 SOHC V6 turned over without hesitation.
Down the road the 5-speed auto shifted without hesitation, the radio blasted out excellent sound from the 8-speaker BOSE sound system, the air and heat worked effortlessly and the car handled like a monorail. Both my mother and I were impressed, it even had a working cupholder! I told both my mother and father that I was in love with that C280 and that I’d do anything, even picking up hours to save for it. I had to have it and I didn’t care if that my sister and I had matching models. I wanted that Silver Sport.
The first week of March began my spring break and one day on the web, I saw that the craigslist for the C280 that I found and showed my dad a few days earlier had disappeared and I was saddened. “is my C280 gone? Had all that excitement been wasted on something that I’d never see again except in passing?” I didn’t think anything else about it until I came home from work one evening and saw my mother’s Pathfinder in the drive way. No big deal because they went out earlier that day and sometimes it’s more effort to park it in the garage than to just leave it in the drive way.
I told them I’d move the Pathfinder in for them and as I grabbed the spare key for it and opened the door to go out to the garage there stood my dad, recording my reaction as I laid eyes upon that silver C280 that I had given up hope on earlier that week. Being in shock, the only words I could come up with were “NO, OH MY- YOU DIDN’T, NO, IS THIS REAL? IS THIS MINE?”
My dad warmly replied with “yup, just keep your grades up and it’s yours” I don’t think I could’ve hugged the man any tighter and took the keys, and took my NEW C280 to get gas. Once I returned my dad asked me if I liked it and I told him “you could’ve gotten me a ’76 model year car or ’16 model year car and I’d drive it either way!”. But this one meant SOOO much more to me and I set out on personalizing it to reflect that.
Window tinting came first. Tthe next thing to go was the head unit. In the year 2000, tape decks and CD changers were fine but in 2016 those days were long gone, replaced by Bluetooth and Auxiliary Jacks. A local car audio store replaced the stock head-unit with a very nice Kenwood unit that had USB, Aux, and Bluetooth function. It also featured hands free calling via external microphone and a handy remote, all for around $280 after installation and taxes.
Finally, a name. But what to name it? I didn’t like the thought of “silver bullet” because it wasn’t really unique and reminded me too much of a train. Silver Surfer? Meh. Then I began to think, “Hey brain, you know that fake but really cool carbon fiber trim kinda looks like a checkered flag?” “Yea? What of it?” “Maybe you could do something with that?” “I mean maybe but he’s also got some pep to him like he’s going for the checkered flag.” “His name shall be Checkers!”
Not too long after my sister’s car came back from the shop, the radiator went good night and my sister went back to driving my C280. Enter the tree incident. “So, um, I may have backed your car into a tree” my sister quietly uttered. I just calmly exhaled and walked out to the car to see the damage. Nothing major but while backing out the driveway she managed to clip the corner right where the trunk corner and rear fender meet, cracking the tail light, paint on the corner of the bumper, and leaving small scuffs on the bumper. She also pushed in part of the fender right where the fender ends and the plastic bumper cover begins. After sensing enough guilt, I just told her “well you’re fine, the damage isn’t too bad and I guess it means a trip to LKQ eventually, just PLEASE don’t ever do that again”
School started back and now I was in technical school studying to be an automotive tech. By December the traction on the Falken tires that were on the car at the time of purchase was so bad that one rainy afternoon any throttle input would cause the yellow ESP triangle to angrily flash at me. A trip to one of my stores local customers (National Tire Battery) landed me 4 new Michelin Premier’s with lifetime balance and rotation along with 1 year of free alignments. Merry Christmas Checkers.
2017 saw the replacement of the original shocks with fresh Bilstein, 2 faulty brake light switches and one power seat relay. Never once did I find fault with my little car nor did it give me any reason to find fault with it. As the miles piled on little things began to show signs of wear but nothing that wasn’t stopping me from loving the car any less and nothing that I hadn’t already planned to get fixed.
October 2017 rolled around, a whole year and 7 months with Checkers and there was no sign of me getting rid of my little buddy, why give up on someone who’s never left you stranded or given you a reason to want another car? All was fine until the headlight blew out on the driver’s side one evening, upon further inspection the wiring inside both assemblies had crumbled and there’s no way to replace the wiring without replacing the whole assembly. A YouTube video showing how easy it was to remove the assemblies gave me confidence to do the job myself and also gave me a chance to work on my emerging mechanical skills. 2 new ones were ordered from FCP Euro and $487 they arrived on the afternoon of October 27th, 2017. The day they came in I spent all the time I had before work putting in my new assemblies and once I saw the final product I was overjoyed! Off to work I went!
Life has an interesting sense of humor folks. No doubt about it. After my shift at work ended I went downtown to eat with some friends, and headed home around 10:30-11Pm. In my town if you’re coming off the highway there’s a stretch of 2 lane highway that runs all the way into town and continues into the other county. The BOSE/Kenwood system had just finished playing one of my favorite songs and was dead quiet for the moment. As I approached the train track’s next to a local fast food joint the light turned red, “no big deal it’ll turn gree- hey those hea- “BOOM!! Followed by me saying a bunch of things that I can’t repeat in mixed company.
While I was deep in thought at the light, a 2012 Civic behind me saw me and stopped but the young lady and her mother in the rental 2017 Altima didn’t see either one of us stopped and ran into us doing what the cops think was a minimum of 45 MPH in a 35 MPH Zone. The Civic took 80% of the impact with Checkers getting the leftover momentum and force. Once my dad got there and I was able to calm down, assessedthe damages and noticed right away my trunk lid did not close or latch. The other drivers were fine with the lady causing it receiving a small cut from the airbag and the kid in the Civic getting whiplash. Overall, we were fine and I took my accident report, drove away and dealt with insurance the next morning.
Over the next two months I dealt with the paperwork and waiting to get my car in a shop to be torn down and have its fate decided by the adjusters at USAA. Eventually I was greeted with the inevitable news that he was deemed a total loss, the original estimate was $1500 but after the tear down it ballooned to well over $4000 with the shop foreman telling me “there would have to be a lot of cutting and welding involved” not to mention being 17 years old with 188,000 miles. It was best to let my friend go.
I got a decent check from them and I eventually went and cleaned him out. It was surreal seeing him taken apart like that, with a dead battery due to the trunk not closing and leaving the trunk light on, it was like he really was dead. Walking back to my rental I did tear up a little, which is something one should not do over material things but it was as though I lost a great friend. A few days after that he was towed away, the keys and title were sent to the insurance auction and other than a few pics online from Copart I never saw my bullet again.
I moved on to a newer vehicle (another story for another time but I’ll give you a hint, it’s got 7-speeds of fun) but every now and then I see another Sport Edition w202 for sale and wonder…..Checkers Part 2?