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Classic Velocity Blog

A Lesser Model

Classic Velocity

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In case study #1 on compromise, The Substitute, we covered settling for some other brand of vehicle when you could not find or afford what you wanted. In case #2, we explore settling for a lesser model of the brand you want for the same reasons.

I wanted a Mercedes 190SL. I was not crazy and did not long for a Gullwing, but at the time, the 190SL was not on a tow rope being pulled into the stratosphere by the 300SL and variants. It was downright cheap in comparison. I searched and searched, but the only ones available on the east coast could be delivered in milk crates. I went to look at a decent one in Maryland, but the guy wanted $15K for it, which at the time might as well have been $50K. Another great deal in Pittsburgh was gone 4 hours after being listed. Now there were plenty of pristine examples around for upwards of my annual salary, but not a lot of “drivers” or “complete car, just needs assembly”. After a few months, I was making no progress.

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Alongside all of the 190SL ads were those for the other SL variants. 230SL, 250, 280, 300, etc. These were more plentiful, and I began to pay more attention to the ads. I dug out my Mercedes reference books and began to learn more. The “Pagoda” cars were very elegant, were an evolution from the 190SL, and had that classic roadster look. I was drawn to the 250SL because it had low production numbers, and had worked out the kinks in the 230SL.

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The 250SLs did not surface very often, and they seemed to be in two categories; Basket Case, and Pebble Beach Winner. Since I was in the market for neither, the search dragged on. Then the 230SL surfaced. It was in good shape body-wise, was running, and had a new soft top. It was 12 hours away, but seemed to be a very good buy at the price. After many pictures via email, and many conversations with the owner, I decided to leave a small deposit, and drive there prepared to consumate the deal or drive 12 hours back with the empty trailer. The car turned out to be only a little rougher than advertised, and needed some suspension and engine TLC. More negotiation on final price ensued, and I loaded the car on the trailer (these cars are not light!).

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Due to relocation and other events, the car sat for a while in the garage before getting any attention. Now the vintage Mercedes world (at least in the US) is not like the vintage BMW or even the vintage Porsche world. There are not a lot of beaters and daily drivers showing up at the MBCA events. Nor are there a lot of hotted up cars or V8 conversions. OEM parts rule, and correct restorations are the lingua franca of the empire. As a result, parts are readily available, but very pricey in many instances. After spending more coin than I wanted to at a few parts houses, and a lot of hours in the engine bay and under the car, the car looked pretty good, if not completely original. It also drove pretty well. Despite the sporting look, this car was 100% touring car, and did not want to be hurried. 

Despite the car's beauty, it just wasn't a 190SL, and while that car was even more ponderous in performance, it would have been ok. It is similar to my admiration for the Porsche 356A and B, or the VW Bus. It is ok for them to be non-sporting, because their appeal is elsewhere for me. Ultimately, the 230SL didn't have enough appeal to be that heavy and slow, and it could never become a 190SL. I inquired about the value of the 230SL on a forum, and got a few responses. One suggested a surprisingly good price, while another was an interested buyer. A few weeks later the car was sold for a good price to an overseas buyer who wired the asking price no questions asked, and had a carrier pick up the car to take it to Baltimore's port for shipment. If I price my labor at oh, say..., $1.50 per hour, it is actually one of the few vehicles that I didn't lose money on.