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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Search for my next car: A Testament to Durability- The 1986 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL

It has been a while since I've posted a review on the quest for my next car. To be honest I haven't really even looked at any new cars lately. I've been playing around with the idea of purchasing an older used car and doing away with car payments all together.

Now for most people this would be a pretty simple ordeal. There are tons of great used cars available for an affordable price. One could be sensible and pick up a nice used Honda Civic or Toyota Camry.... But, of course not me! I have been playing around with the idea of purchasing a Mercedes-Benz 560SEL/SEC for years. These cars have always epitomized the pinnacle of Mercedes build quality in my opinion. For me purchasing an older car couldn't just be something cheap and sensible, it would have to be something I would feel passionate about driving. A car I would wake up every morning and look forward to glancing at the over polished shiny paint sparkling in my garage. For me all the quirks of an older car make it seem more human... The aggravation of expensive repair bills seem daunting.. but those perfect moments when a classic old Benz is running like the day it pulled out of Stuttgart would make it all worth while!

As I mentioned before this search has been years in the making. In particular the 560 SEC coupe is one of the cars I always dreamed owning. The market for 126 (official chassis number)Mercedes is a strange one. 560 SEC's can be had for as little as $1500 for a beater, all the way up to the high 20K range for a 6.0 AMG car. The tricky part has been finding a middle ground for a nice dependable 560 SEC that isn't going to break the bank. I wouldn't rule out the 4 door SEL version if I found the right car, but these cars seem to run the gamete as well.

Just so happened I ran across an add for a 1986 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL at a local used car dealership. After a quick chat on the phone with the sales manager I went to check this car out knowing only a few things.... One it was white over Blue... Two it had high mileage. As I arrived at the dealership I noticed the old gal sitting proudly up front among cars half its age. As described the Car was white over blue (the quintessential Florida car mind you) with chrome period correct rims with gold plated Mercedes stars (Blah!!). The sales manager I had spoke with then met me by the car and handed me the keys and stated "take it for a spin.. it hasn't been started in a few weeks, but should be fine." This did concern me as I preceded to check over the car for any rust and other imperfections. As I sat down in the cushy drivers seat, I noticed the odometer read 196K+ miles. The little flaws this car showed were really starting to make me want to just walk away now. Interior wasn't awful, but it did show wear of a 21 year old car with close to 200K miles on the clock. The only thing running through my mind was "this car needs a ton of work."

By this point I figured I might as well take it for a drive and to my surprise I turned the key and with one crank, the old girl came to life! Within a minute or so of letting the car warm up, the AC was blowing cold air (a must for these cars, as AC repairs can be very expensive). All warmed up and ready to roll I proceeded to pull out of the dealership. Now before I go any further, I must say the road I tested the car on was just perfect. A newly paved 4 lane strip of road with minimal traffic and a 55mph speed limit. Merging into traffic at about 40% throttle I immediately noticed how powerful the 5.6 liter engine was. With close to 200K miles on it this engine ran like a top! Now this is a very large, steel, heavy car and I really expected it to handle like a late 80's Lincoln Towncar. This was definitely not the case! Although the seats are very bouncy and soft, the car has a very stiff suspension you can tell is tuned to handle well at high autobahn speeds. Driving this car about a mile then shooting a U-turn it felt very nimble and I all but forgot how big this car actually is. After I made the turn to head back towards the dealership it just so happened a very impatient gentleman in a new Cadillac Escalade (no comment) proceeded to get right on my bumper and fling his arms all about for me to speed up. Who am I not to conform! I stood on the throttle and with a large puff of carbon smoke all over his pretty new pearl paint the old Benz took off like a rocket! This car pulls hard at rolling speeds and 30-60 went by in an instant!

Once back at the dealership I gave the car another once over and did notice some blue smoke sporadically puffing out of the top of the engine. All in all I think this particular car needed thousands to make it right and I will continue my search. With that in mind it still stands as a testament to near perfect Mercedes build quality! Nothing about this car felt "old." It was powerful, handled well, stopped like any modern car, has an incredible safety record, and all the bells and whistles you find standard today. This is a car I could drive everyday, and even though it is 20+ years old it still looks as prestigious as any new 100K super luxury ride! If the right Mercedes 560 comes along, it just may be my next new (used) car.

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