“Call me old school but hey/ I’m a 90s baby/ In my 80s Mercedes.”
These aren’t just lyrics to the hit song “80s Mercedes” by 28-year-old country artist Maren Morris — they characterize a trend of younger generations falling in love with classic Mercedes models from the 1970s to the ’90s, such as the vintage SL roadster starring in the 2016 music video with Morris.
“Younger drivers are important to us,” said Mike Kunz, manager of Mercedes-Benz Classic Center USA in Irvine, Calif. “We have to recognize generational shifts occur — interest level changes over time. Unlike other classic Mercedes, these cars are attainable.”
Some S-Class flagship sedans of that era cost less than $15,000, or a cherry 560SL convertible coupe — that timeless timepiece of the ’80s — can be had for $30,000 with 20,000 to 30,000 miles. The SL in particular was called “the ideal vintage car” that “floods you with a sense of freedom,” the editors of GQ wrote in 2016.
There’s nothing like sitting in those springy seats, looking hood-long at the chrome star, just wafting along. There is something assuring and memorable about grabbing the large steering wheel, sliding the shifter through its gates, gliding over rough roads and feeling the secure thunk of the doors.
Usable 190- and 300-Class compact sedans cost well under $10,000 while being virtually indistinguishable from the 560SL behind the wheel. Wood consoles and large orange-tinged gauges look the same. Museum-quality coupes and roadsters can bring $60,000, but that’s minor money by classic Mercedes standards. So, what makes those ’80s Mercedes models special?
“The absolute solid build quality,” Kunz said. “The 300 Diesel gives the impression it will outlive you. These cars are well-supported, not exotic in any sense. Especially if you’re a beginning collector, they’re safe choices.”
Those clean designs from the ’80s have aged gracefully, maintaining front-row status at valet stands. Unlike most 30-year-old classics, these cars are still used as daily drivers for daily enjoyment.
Take Rubin Howard, 17, media director for the Toronto section of the Mercedes-Benz Club of America. He’s amassed a collection that started after his father passed away. His mother knew Rubin had been eyeballing a 1972 280SE 4.5 sedan and took him all the way to Santa Monica, Calif., to get it.
“My mom promised the guy it would go to a good home,” Howard said. “But then, when we arrived, my mom was not so excited. As is typical of older cars, the turn signal stalk was worn and the car had little blemishes. My mom said, ‘Rubin, I’m not buying this piece of (junk).’”
“We are 5,000 kilometers from home, the car is in great shape – a two-owner car, and I started crying. It was heartbreaking,” Howard said. “She said, ‘Whatever, we’ll do it.’”
Howard’s collection added a 1984 300TD turbo diesel wagon with over 600,000 miles and a 1986 560SL with 60,000 miles. There’s also a 1992 500SEL sedan. Prior to these, he had a 1984 380SL with 300,000 miles and low-mileage 1987 560SEC coupe.
“I prefer cars with high miles that are well-kept,” Howard said. “I sold the SEC because it was almost too nice.
“My grandfather had a 450SEL 6.9. I was fascinated by their history and what it would have been like to drive cars like this when new.”
In 1984, Geoffrey Howard postulated in his book “Mercedes-Benz S-Class” what these cars would be like old: “Statistics of Mercedes-Benz cars in service predicted an average lifespan of at least 20 years, which meant the 1979 car would still be on the roads after the turn of the century.”
And then some. Andrew MacKenzie, 17, of Albuquerque, N.M., purchased a 1991 300 SDL with 138,000 miles for about $4,000 and has traveled 40,000 miles since.
“My dad bought it about 10 years ago — wanted a diesel,” MacKenzie said. “It was my first car, and I still drive it to work at a German auto shop. I buy parts from them, fixing it up, gaining a lot of knowledge.
“Some parts are expensive, but Mercedes diesels are some of the most reliable cars on the planet. It’s better if you can learn to work on them yourself.”
These cars are also well-respected among a cohort that has driven almost everything: Automotive journalists like Nick Kurczewski, 39, who owns a 1990 420SEL that’s christened “Pug Benz” after his dog, Merlin.
“It’s the first car I’ve owned in 15 years,” Kurczewski said. “I really wanted something special but did not want a play toy. It had one owner from new — came with all of the paperwork back to 1990. The anti-lock brakes work, it has two airbags, and feels like a normal car. Merlin likes the car a lot — maybe it’s the springiness of the seats.”
These were some of the most expensive cars of their day and came without touch screens or stability control or advanced driver assistance systems.
“It was $55,000 new, which is like $110,000 today,” Kurczewski said. “I paid $8,000 and it had 191,000 miles. It’s not good on gas and requires premium — gets about 20 mpg. It won’t dart in and out of traffic, so it’s more about winding it back and relaxing.”
But loving a classic Mercedes is not all sunshine and good times.
“Be very comfortable with the paperwork; it’s easy to fall in love, but pay attention,” Kurczewski said. “They will break, parts can be pricey, but lots of shops do good work. Stay on top of the little things and you’ll be fine. Every three to four months, set aside $400.”
If you’re looking for a daily driver, Kunz recommends the W123 E-Class that ran 1976 to 1985. If it’s a diesel, make sure you are fine with the sluggish performance. But what if you want to invest for the long term?
“The SECs are becoming collectible,” Kunz said. “Because of its production run, from 1971 to 1989, the R107 SL offers a broad spectrum of cars. I prefer the ’72, ’73 cars or later cars. A good assessment of these cars is they will be very valuable in the future.”
Whether buying for love or money, these cars are desirable by younger drivers like Maren Morris, who views hers as much more than just a car:
“She’s my teenage time machine/ Just keeps getting sweeter with age/ She’s classic through any decade.”
Casey Williams is a freelance writer.
- Mercedes-Benz AMG Hammer
- Mercedes SL – Ben Barry drives the 1980s R107 SL
- 1965 Porsche 911
- 2007 BMW 335i Coupe
- 2016 Detroit Auto Show Hits, Misses, and Revelations
- 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show Hits, Misses, and Revelations
- Porsche displays Mission E electric saloon at Frankfurt
- Porsche Mission E electric saloon revealed at Frankfurt
Classic '80s Mercedes models appeal to new generations have 1085 words, post on www.chicagotribune.com at May 3, 2018. This is cached page on Health Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.