It’s been a while, but I am back!
In the intervening two-and-a-half years since I last wrote up a COAL, I’ve made further car purchases…15, if my count is correct. But it’s going to take me a bit to collect my thoughts about them. In the meantime, I’ve come up with some words about several other cars with which I’ve had up-close experience. Some of them, I owned for a short time, while others were merely in my care for a bit. Either way, none warrants a full COAL article, so I put them all here. Call it, if you will, an interlude. Here’s Part 1 of that interlude.
Car 1 – 2006 Cadillac STS-V
For those not in the know, the STS-V is a pretty rare car. Not to be confused with the STS V8 (which merely had the 4.6-liter Northstar V8), the STS-V was its own thing. It got a unique aero kit, a mesh grille, special exhaust, unique suspension, its own interior materials including rich Tuscany leather with suede inserts. The centerpiece, though, is the engine: a 4.4-liter supercharged Northstar V8 making 469 hp and 434 lb-ft of torque. Hence, STS-V models are readily identified by the word “Supercharged” emblazoned across the bottom of each front door.
The STS-V was far more refined than the CTS-V, and it was Cadillac’s competitor to the Mercedes-Benz E 55/63 AMG and BMW M5. That said, it was a much rarer car than either of those, with only 2,500-ish produced between 2006-2009 and a significant number of them going to the UAE. Whether that was GM limited production or because few had the taste for a nearly six-figure Cadillac sports sedan, I couldn’t tell you.
This particular STS-V belonged to a woman called Dr. Wood, who became something like a second mother to me. She was an administrator at the small HBCU in Arkansas I attended—and helped me get a full-ride to that college—but she was actually local to Oklahoma City, where my home base also was, and was a member of our church. She had a condo in Little Rock, near the college, but would frequently drive the 5 hours back to Oklahoma City, usually one weekend out of the month. Her daughter, who was in my class, went with her, as did I. Since she liked to nap, she usually handed the wheel to me.
What does an 18-year-old with almost 500 horses at his disposal do? Well, he develops a lead foot. That much power and a dislike for GM’s turn-signal/wiper/cruise-control all-in-one stalk led me to forgo cruise control on the interstate, and usually end up exceeding the speed limit by some measure. Thankfully, no troopers ever caught me tearing down I-40. I also remember the car being ready and willing to change direction with a flick of the wrists, as I found out when I made a sudden lane change and only traction control saved me from tossing the car into a concrete barrier.
The other thing I learned, at my tender age, was that a RWD car with staggered wheels and (as I found out) summer tires does not a great winter car make. I remember one January when Dr. Wood, her daughter, and I all set out to go to Oklahoma, with me at the wheel. I pulled out of the parking lot relatively gingerly (I thought), and—with only a light dusting of snow—the car did a complete 180, ending up pointed the wrong way. We quickly took the car back to her condo and rented something, and she shortly after bought a winter beater (a 2004 Volvo XC90 2.5T).
But what of the STS-V’s fate? Well, I’m pleased to say I never wrecked it, and Dr. Wood still has the car. It spends most of its time garaged since she has another daily, but it’s been good to her. It’s had no major failures since she bought it CPO in 2010, and the only drivability issue it’s ever had was a failed fuel pump, which was quickly replaced.
Car 2 – 1993 Mercedes-Benz 500 SL
My best friend, the aforementioned Austin, and I bought this car together on a whim. Originally, for the sheer novelty of it, he was looking at a 1991 Chrysler TC by Maserati, but found that car to be every bit as unsatisfactory as its K-car origins would suggest, plus the owner (it was on consignment at a dealership) wanted $5,500 for it. On the way home from that dealership, we saw a bright-red 90s SL-Class sitting proudly on the corner at the local GM superstore. So, we pulled in.
The salesman seemed surprised anyone would be interested in it, but I knew a bit about them. The R129-generation SL-Class, which lasted from 1990-2002, was one of the last Mercedes-Benz products with no-expenses-spared engineering, which made it an attractive proposition to me, in particular. On top of that, the engines were rock-solid, and the wedgey styling had aged well across more than a decade of production.
A quick inspection revealed this to be a 1993 model, and a 500 SL, which had the 5.0-liter “M119” V8, and which seemed to be the volume option for the SL-Class during that era. It had a bit of paint fade, but seemed to be otherwise fine. It also had what looked like a mint-condition hard top installed, which was great since this was in February. Inside, there were a couple of wear areas, like the stitching that was beginning to come loose on the driver’s seat, there was a mysterious bit of tape on the A-pillar near where the sun visor was, and an A/C vent had gradually excused itself from its correct position in the dashboard over time, and looked ready to fall out altogether.
Austin and I took one look at each other and were almost simultaneous in asking the salesman to fetch the keys so that we could take it for a test-drive. That test-drive revealed the car to be throaty and full of life. On top of that, it had enough power and was comfortable enough that it seemed almost like it would make a decent modern daily driver, and I was smitten with a car that could remain this drivable and modern-feeling. I told Austin that while I had wanted no part in the TC by Maserati, I would go in with him on this SL. The dealership wanted $5,000. I figured we could talk them down to $4,000. This was early 2020, when the market was still dead, after all.
Over the next few days with the 500 SL, with each of us trading off on driving it, we got to know it better. I found the infrared key fob, which you actually had to aim at the sensors on the doors, thoroughly charming and very 80s-feeling, and Austin thought the mechanical odometer and trip computer—which he’d never before experienced—were equally interesting. The one feature I liked, though, was the power-adjustable rearview mirror. All you had to do was twist the mirror-adjustment knob into the neutral position, and you could adjust the mirror without physically touching it. Better still, it was tied to the memory settings. I’m sure new owners of these cars were thrilled with not having to fettle with their rearview mirrors after someone else (valet, the dealership techs) had driven the cars, and I’m amazed this feature has died off.
There was one thing we didn’t test at the dealership, and later—after having procured the car for $4,000—we wished we had, because it made all the difference.
You see, the R129 SL relied heavily on hydraulics for its top operation, not just for the rising and lowering of the soft top, but also for latching and unlatching the hard top. These were, of course, wear items, so over time, the gaskets and seals in the hydraulic mechanisms would crack and cause the entire system to lose pressure. Had we tested the top before we bought it, we’d have realized that and factored it into the price. But we didn’t. And so, when I peeled that odd, tartan-patterned tape off the A-frame and later hit the switch to unlatch the top, all I got for my trouble was liquid running down the pillar.
A bit of internet sleuthing revealed this to be a common R129 issue and informed us on how we could manually unlatch the top. After we did that—with Austin complaining very loudly—the system had enough pressure to let us lower the soft top, if slowly. But…whatever portion of the system was leaking…leaked right onto one of the body computers. This caused the car to hesitate, stumble, and go into a primitive pre-OBD2 version of a limp mode where it wouldn’t accelerate beyond 25 MPH…as we alarmingly discovered trying to merge onto the highway.
I found, and bought, a repair kit that came with all of the seals to repair the system, plus the correct hydraulic fluid from FCP Euro. The problem was that I already had two project cars at the time (which you’ll hear about later) and was about to close on my house, which would then need some interior paint and to be furnished. I was even seriously considering buying a local CC-er’s Citroën XM, which itself would need some work. So I just didn’t have the bandwidth for fixing the 500 SL’s leaky hydraulics. And since that was a pretty major component of the car’s experience, Austin and I decided to sell it.
I took some good pictures of the exterior and interior, described the car’s condition in painstaking detail, and listed it for what we had paid for it. It didn’t take long for us to get a bite from a woman in Dallas, a three-hour drive away. She said she and her husband would come up to Oklahoma City, pick up the car and drive it home. When they got there, I made sure she understood the issues with the top and that under absolutely no circumstances should she push the switch to lower the top during her drive. Life and limb depended upon her following these directions. I covered the switch in bright red tape just to make sure she remembered, and I threw the kit and the hydraulic fluid I’d bought in the trunk.
And that was the end of the 500 SL’s brief tenure as a joint-custody fun car for Austin and me.
Stay in your seats for Part 2 of the interlude!
Interesting cars! Never seen one of those Caddy’s on the street, even here in the big city!
They’re super rare. I’ve only ever seen one other, a local black-on-black example.
I’ve also only ever seen one XLR-V, which was the only other vehicle to use the supercharged 4.4-liter Northstar V8.
A weird thing about the STS-V was you couldn’t get cooled seats, but it did have alacantra in the middle to keep you from sliding around.
In 2013, I bought an out of state 2010 V6 STS equipped with (I believe now) the V’s extra stiff suspension, the probable reason for its low price. Got it right before my spring allergies arrived, so my head discovered just how wavy the heat has made our roads. Lost $3k trading it to CarMax for a Platinum DTS, whose lower gearing and better torque solved that STS’s other annoying problem–constant downshifting. CarMax had sent the DTS from Michigan to Florida to sell instead of replacing the driver’s blend actuator, which switched from hot to cold air after 15 minutes until I fixed it last summer.
Every few years, I get a hankering for another STS, regular V8 this time, and I’m close to pulling the trigger now if I can decide between two, both hundreds of miles away. With the standard 17″ wheels, there’s room for higher profile tires to soften the ride, causing either 3.5% or 7% speedo errors. I’d have to remove the head restraint just to sit in a CT6, and I suspect that’s true of most recent cars. Damn safety nannies!
I was not aware you could get an STS (and a V6 at that!) with the STS-V’s suspension, which, indeed, was rather harsh.
As to the DTS, I have a bone to pick with that car…since an 87-year-old in a 2007 DTS hit me on my bicycle when I was 16. I guess I also prefer the Buick Lucerne with the Northstar, between the two, but it was a solid car.
The final RWD STS was also nice in whatever guise you got it. I will say that the Northstar was pretty solid across the range by the time GM started using it in longitude applications. I’m sure you found that out when you had your DTS.
I believe the stiffer suspension was only offered on the V6 because it never had Magnetic Ride Control (neither did the V). Looking at several years of compnine’s statistics on options, I noticed the take rate for MRC dropped from 3/4 of V8s to 1/4, probably after dealers & buyers heard complaints about how expensive the shocks were to replace. Plus, the V was available, and the CTS was handsomely restyled in 2008.
Head gaskets have not been a problem for 2004+ Northstars, R or FWD. A GM deadly sin that it took them 12 years to get it fixed.
“Head gaskets have not been a problem for 2004+ Northstars, R or FWD. A GM deadly sin that it took them 12 years to get it fixed.”
That’s what I tell people, but they don’t listen.
I was selling at a dealership with Cadillac back in those days. I recall those STS’s well and the rarity of that STS-V is real. That was still a time when few buying a Cadillac wanted such a sporty luxury car. But what a nice car! I go back far enough to recall when the very first STS was introduced. Cadillac sent us to a training at the track and they had BMW, MB and Lincoln’s for us to compare. We were amazed at the new STS that was the same as the Seville, but with a (for that time) tighter handling and sportiness not seem before in a Cadillac. It was impressive. Years later, I picked up a really clean 1989 white STS in Seattle (WA) and drove the car home to Los Angeles. I had that car for a few years and was (is still) one of the most comfortable cars I’ve ever owned.
The original Seville/STS was a promising move from Cadillac, and it did drive well.
As to the STS-V, years later, it made more sense in the era of the gen. 1 CTS-V, which was a crude and built-to-a-price car. The STS-V was much nicer, really. When the CTS-V got a big glow-up (and was upsized) for the second-gen, suddenly the STS-V didn’t make much sense. Fitting, as the STS-V was canceled after 2009 and the STS itself went away after 2011.
Side note: Cadillac did make a long-wheelbase version of this final-generation STS for sedan-loving China, which reprised the “SLS” nameplate.
The CTS interior space wasn’t enlarged in 2008, and I thought the original’s seats were much more comfortable, except for the seat-mounted belt and unavailable cooling. They put the STS’s wider suspension (to make AWD available) on the same basic body shell and flared out the fenders to make it look cool. The nose is a bit longer, too.
That is news to me, but you are right!
I always thought the CTS was more of a tweener, at least until 2014, when it grew into a proper midsize sedan. And even then, it had a cramped back seat by contemporary standards, but that could be forgiven because of the legendary Alpha platform.
Interesting idea to buy a car jointly with your best friend. That’s not something I have ever thought to do. Then again, my best friend doesn’t drive. So that could be a factor.
I’m surprised by the poor condition of the paint on the Mercedes. For crazy expensive (when new) car like that to fade that bad in 27 years is unfortunate. On the other hand, I guess it could have been kept out in the sun…or maybe was repainted at some point.
Once the “excitement blinders” came off, it didn’t appear to be a particularly well-maintained example of an R129, and only worked *because* it was an overbuilt Mercedes-Benz product. Had it been, say, a contemporary Cadillac Allanté, it would not have been in working order at all.
I look forward to more of these updates.
As for that Mercedes, you have done a lot to reinforce the fear many hereabouts have of old cars wearing that three-pointed star. And sometimes the cheapest and best thing you can do is exactly what you did with this one – sell it before you sink more time and money only to have another complex system decide that it is time for owner attention. Too bad though, as it was an attractive car.
Maybe I’ll get another, someday. But it’ll have to be more well-sorted than that one was.
Kinda wish this post came up about two months ago. Would potentially have stopped me from doing something I’m just about starting to regret.
15 cars in two and a half years? You are living my dream.
Dream, or nightmare? It depends upon whom you ask.
That Cadillac sounds fun, and the interior doesn’t look too Cadillac, which in some eyes is a good thing. But, sadly, it doesn’t look that special either, just generic with shiny (plastic?) wood.
And that Merc looks eminently recoverable to a great condition
VP Bob Lutz said essentially that Cadillac spent a fortune on premium materials to make the CTS and STS interiors look cheap. There’s a sliver of real wood encased in plastic in all STSs that have wood. A few base models were sold that have just plain aluminum, or aluminium, or something metallic. People thought the curled top of the center stack looked fake in wood (you don’t see it straight on), so it was metal from the vents up for 2008-11.
That makes sense. And while the STS-V’s interior was impressive for a Cadillac and for GM in general, it paled in comparison to that of, say, a contemporary AMG E 63, arguably the benchmark of the segment.
I always equated the STS-V’s exterior to a bouncer in a well-tailored suit. Apart from the “Supercharged” badge on each door, it’s a pretty subtle car. If you know, you know. Compare that to the later V and current V Blackwing cars, which can’t be ignored. The same is true of their German competitors. They’ve gone from fairly subdued to highly ostentatious. BMW, in particular, isn’t shy about plastering M badges and styling all over everything it makes, these days.
As for the Mercedes-Benz, and that’s the nice thing about the pre-2000s Mercedes-Benz products. Unless they’ve been crashed, they can always be restored. I just really didn’t have the time or energy to do this one justice, as I already had two project cars (which you’ll soon find out about) and was closing on a home.
These are the kind of cars that catch my eye! I test drove this series of STS with the regular V8, when I was looking for a replacement for my ’94 STS. The Art and Science exterior was okay, though I preferred the sleek look of my old STS. RWD has more prestige than FWD, but truly it didn’t matter that much, my old STS was a fine runner. But the new STS’s interior was a real let down, compared with my ’94 which had a sleeker design and all that real Zebrano wood. The new STS had aluminum panels instead. This wasn’t something that I felt was worth going into long term debt to buy.
I guess that Mercedes SLs had caught my eye since American Gigolo. I considered this generation also. I had read that old Mercedes are money pits, but of course thought that I could skirt the edge of the precipice. I went the Jag route instead and sustained a serious mauling! The leaky top hydraulics are also well known problems with XK8s. It is colloquially referred to as “the green shower” on the forums. I am curious to read about the cars that follow! Thanks for the post.
The mid 90s Eldo/Seville had a beautiful dash. Too bad about the ugly airbag.
The RWD STS had two amounts of real wood-encased-in-plastic trim most years: just the dash & console, or that plus wheel, shifter, and 4 armrests. The majority of cars had at least one. You must have looked at a base model, which was indeed bleak.