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Mercedes 380--450--560 SLs



  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,664
    The 560SL is a superior car in every way, really, with many refinements, including torque compensator to the rear axle, limited slip differential, front air dam to control front end lift, new front end geometry for better handling, ABS, theft alarm, much better climate control system, warning lights for low fuel and bulb failures, much better radio/cassette system, standard leather seats with much better lateral support, new alloy wheel design and equal power to the European car.

    Aside from all that, I regard low mileage as a liability, not an asset on these cars. Lack of use kills a Mercedes, so if you are expecting the low miles to work to your advantage in terms of reliability, this has not proven to be true in most cases.

    And the issue of European origin is a serious one. Some insurance companies will not insure a gray market car, and some mechanics will refuse to work on one. Given all the fly-by-night companies who converted these gray market cars in the 1980s, who can say what snags you'll run into with parts, emission testing and safety issues.

    My opinion is that over time the 560SL will turn out to be the better buy...none of these SLs are destined to be collectible, so they won't increase in value, but the Euro cars will depreciate faster and always hold less value compared to the 560SL models.
  • wasjrwasjr Posts: 8
    I am looking at a 74 450SL owned by the classic little old lady. The car has 88,000 mi and is slightly above average in appearance and wear, with minimal rust underneath. It has been hit in the right front and the repair was poor with respect to suspension--new bushings may be needed.
    My question relates to the engine and oil pressure. When idling the gauge registers 18 lb, otherwise 45 lb. The mechanic I had look at the car says that a range that wide means that the car was not well maintained and that there are cam problems. He says the engine wear is equivalent to 180,000 mi and that a $3,000 to $8,000 major overhaul will be needed within 20,000 mi. She says that she had the oil changed every 3,000 or twice per year but she does not have service records. She is a client of a close friend and I do not think the car was neglected.
    I can buy the car for $3,000 so my main exposure is the engine overhaul. Any ideas on the reasonableness or liklihood of the mechanics diagnosis? What are the chances that the oil pressure gauge is bad? Thanks for any response.
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,664
    Frankly, the car sounds like money pit and I would listen to your can buy these cars in pristine condition for around $12K and this is the only way to buy them. I think $8,000 wouldn't be enough to overhaul the engine anyway unless perhaps you get lucky and you live in a low labor rate area...and with the body damage and rust situation, the old lady really needs to give you this car to make it worthwhile...and even then I'd worry you wouldn't come out right on it.

    The only other alternative is to buy it as cheaply as you can, and don't put a single penny in it...O wouldn't even change the oil--drive it til it drops and walk'd probably get $500-750 from a wrecker, so if you bought it for $2,000 and got 6 months or a year of fun out of it, that would be okay I think. As an investment, you'll be an old man before you get your money me on this one.
  • ataieataie Posts: 84
    well, I have to disagree a bit. I've had about 10 or 15 of these Mercedes from 220D to 450SEL and anything in between (except the SL models). some with as many as 250k miles. I did notice the same thing on my oil pressure. In the morning the pressure was all the way up, but when the engine would warm up it was below the midway point when stopped on a red light, as soon as you start moving the gauge would go all the way to the top. In all cases I had the cars checked and compression tested before buying. they ran perfect.

    so as far oil pressure, that's a new one for me. $3000 sounds like a bargain, and I haven't even seen the car. You can sell the parts and make $10,000 easy.
  • ataieataie Posts: 84
    just got back from looking at the SEC. The car is very clean, but has an oil leak. it's not the valve cover gasket, and 'doesn't' seem to be from the pan. the metal frame which runs across the car behind the oil pan is soaking. could be the rear seal, or maybe from the block itself. If you had to guestimate the cost what am I looking at. under $500 I maybe able to negotiate in the price, but few thousand, I'm not touching it.

    by the way this is the 4th 560 (3 SLs & 1 SEC) that I've looked at and so far 2 have looked pretty oily underneat. as I mentioned I've had many 450SELs and 300SDs and you basically gas and drive....... most with close to 200k on them.

    let me know your thought on the above few posts.

  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,664
    Yeah, the 300E is a pretty good bet...of course, as with all 80s era Benzes, you have to check the climate control systems very carefully before you buy, as they are poorly designed, and you can also take the factory radio/tape deck and throw it over a fence...but those are not major hassles, they just need examination.

    The problem with oil leaks is that you have to determine exactly what the cause is...valve covers? No problem. Head gaskets or main seal...oops! Big problem. A technician who has the right tool can add dye to the engine oil, and then hit the oil leak with a special light and see exactly what the source is.
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,664
    I'd prefer the 3.0 liter cars, since you really don't save any gas with the 2.6 or favorites are the 4-valve engines with variable valve timing, which started in the 300CE in 1990 and in the 300E in 1993. These are really great cars, but are not going to be collectible in any way. Buy one and USE it up and enjoy the ride.

    As usual, the weak point on 1980 on up Benzes is the climate control system/a.c. system. Play with all the setting, knobs and valves and make sure everything works perfectly. They are expensive to fix and the A/C isn't terribly effective in really hot climates no matter what you do. But mediocre climate control is a small price to pay for this great-performing car.
  • ataieataie Posts: 84
    bought the 91, 300SE with 105k miles for $11,000
    looks and runs excellent. It's amazing that it has more power than a 380SEL which has a v8.
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,664
    Great! I've been out of town so couldn't answer your questions. Sounds like a good car for you and a fair price...I was going to suggest the SE rather than the SEL, because who needs the extra weight and size...Benzes are big enough already inside.
  • ataieataie Posts: 84
    Mr. Shiftright, your expertise maybe needed at the following conference if you care to add this to your placemarks.

    Maintenance #1295 (General Mercedes Questions)
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,664
    Okay, ataie, thanks for the tipoff, I'll check it out!

  • ecjrecjr Posts: 1
    I am looking for this car. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • bigbozerbigbozer Posts: 22
    Mr. Shiftright: A guy on my street has a "for sale" sign on a 1981 Cream 380 SL here in Sacramento, CA. The car has done 135K miles and looks ok from the outside (no dings or accidents). It has both tops in good condition. He is asking $12,000 for it. Of course I will have it checked (incl. the dreaded A/C) out by a qualified mechanic, but do you think the price is too high for the year and mileage? Kelly's Blue Book days only $7,425. I noted what you said about the 380 SLs bieng like a Chevrolet Impala! I once had a 1960 Impala convertible. Straight line boulevard cruising was great (the girls used to stare) but at near top speed the rear would begin to rise, and the car had terrible road holding! Any advice you care to dish out would be most welcome.
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,664
    The price seems high, yes, because the 380SL is the least collectible of all the V-8 is slow and ponderous, but it looks nice and rides well, and has the typical MB build quality.

    I'd say if the car checks out perfectly and looks terrific, that $10K would be all the money in the world. And take it for a long test's a pleasant, solid car, but a sportscar it ain't!
  • Mr. Shiftright, What do you thing about the 1997 SL 500 Aniversary addition. Will it have any increased value later or do you think it will be just like any other 500SL.
  • MrShift@EdmundsMrShift@Edmunds Posts: 43,664
    As a rule, "Anniversary Editions" do not, in and of themselves, make any difference in value over time, unless the car itself is also appreciating as a collectible. The AE edition cannot turn a depreciating or stagnant car into an appreciating one, is what I mean.

    It's hard to predict how a car will eventually turn out in the collector market. Probably, like most luxury cars currently in high demand, the price will stay high for one or two years until the supply increases or the next nifty model comes out, then the price will drop just like any used car, eventually bottom out in 10-15 years, and then, if there's collector car interest, it will start to rise again. Look how long it has taken the old pagoda roof 280SL to finally start rising in value...even now, the car I paid $11,000 for in 1971 can be had in very nice shape for about double that $22,500...not a screaming investment by any means, but better than the poor soul who bought most other 1971 luxury cars. And some restored 280SLs have broken $30,000.

    So I'd say there is no immediate prospect for appreciation in value for the 500SL, no. Best thing, if you don't have money to burn, would be to buy a 2 or 3 year old one with low miles and let someone else take the big depreciation hit.
    There's some delayed gratification in that plan, but if it suits you, try that.
  • Maybe what you're seeing is "asking prices", but why anyone would pay $5,000 over top blue book for a 70s SL needing work is beyond me. Must be really ignorant of the market. $12-13K is PLENTY for these 350/450SLs in very decent condition all around.

    ANYWAY, that being said, the priciest of the older style V8 SLs is the 560SL (upwards of $20,000) but it is easily the best of the pre 1990 SLs. The 560 is better in every way than its earlier predecessors. While it is just as ponderous to drive, (for a two seater) it is NOT a slow car like the earlier ones, and mechanically much better, too.

    You've got to be very careful with the earlier SLs...the engine, for instance, is worth more than the car, so if the engine fails, you can throw the car away, literally. It's an easy $10K for a rebuild.
  • c43amg7c43amg7 Posts: 32
    I also have thought about a older SL (I have a '98 C43 AMG), but on doing a bit of investigation was a bit surprised to see what seemed to be relatively low horsepower (ca. 230) for the size of engine in the 560 series (the AMG power-to-weight equation is addictive). Mr_Shiftright: would appreciate your comments, and as to whether there are economical and relatively easy (or worthwhile) upgrades for the 560 engine to boost that horsepower.

    On an allied point, the 560 sedans and coupes seem a relative value for their selling prices-- Mr_Shiftright, any opinion as to model years (are the earlier '86s and 87s to be avoided?) and mileages (stay under 100M?) to consider--realizing that the later the model and the lower the mileage the better, but also the higher price. Where in your opinion does the price/value curve yield the best deal?
  • I think the 560SL is plenty fast for a big heavy coupe that it is. It doesn't need a power boost, it's got enough to deal with as it is. If you drive a 560SL properly, using the automatic as a manual shift, you can make it perform admirably.

    As for the 500 series sedans and coupes, they don't really have much collector value either, but now that they've depreciated, it's a nice ride for not a lot of money. That being said, they aren't immortal, and even a Mercedes with 150K on it is a tired car, whether it looks like it or not. I'm always amused when someone says "it's got 150K on it and the mechanic says the engine is like new"...well, then, when DOES the wear start, or will it run for one million miles :(why not, it never wears out, right?).

    My point is that these old 500 series cost a helluva lot of money to repair, so you have to balance the selling price, mileage and the odds of having future trouble. To me , a car with say 200K on it is nearly worthless. You should never be paying good money for a car like that. Sure, 100K is a reasonable upper limit for an older Benz. There's bound to be life left in the car at that mileage. At 125K I'd bargain hard, at 150K I'd probably pass unless it were so cheap I could part if out for the selling price.

    What you want (what we ALL want) is that clean, reasonably low miles car that has not been messed up by inept paint, bodywork or poor maintenance. There is no such thing as a Mercedes "fixer-upper". They are all "fixer-downers".
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