I’ll admit, until I’d driven one, I struggled to grasp just how or why the 500e, a relatively pedestrian-looking 90s sedan, could still command sale prices upwards of $50k 25 years after its inception. However, after a few miles behind the wheel, it all starts to make sense; the automotive press in the early 1990s hit the nail on the head, the 500e is best described as a “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”. A quick look at the car doesn’t tell the whole story; it’s the background of how the car came to fruition, and the unlikely collaborative effort of two German marques that makes the 500e such a unique, historically-significant, and desirable vehicle.
In the late 80s and early 90s, Porsche was in dire straights. Their model range hadn’t seen any major updates in decades, and sales dwindled. On the verge of bankruptcy, Porsche offered up their manufacturing resources to the highest bidder. Mercedes was under market pressure to come up with a hopped-up 4dr sedan to answer to BMW’s M5, which had been ruling the super-sedan segment with an iron fist since it’s introduction in 1985. Mercedes made the most of Porsche’s vulnerable position; Mercedes contracted with Porsche to collaborate in creating the ultimate Autobahn-blaster. Mercedes sent W124 E-class chassis, as well as 5.0L SL-class motors, to Porsche’s Zuffenhausen plant and let the Porsche engineers work their magic. Mercedes executives provided very little for direction, and the execution, clearly, was brilliant. Porsche transformed the very tame W124 into a proper performance machine, fitting the car with stiffer, lower suspension, a Recaro sportline leather interior, bigger brakes, aggressively flared front and rear wheel arches, and larger alloy wheels, among other things.
This particular example, which we’ve just listed for sale, is one of only about 1500 to come to the United States. The owner, our buddy Marvin, purchased the car new in 1992 and has only added 25,000 miles over the course of his 26-year ownership. While 25,000 miles doesn’t sound like much, it was enough to come away from the ownership experience with some fantastic, quintessentially-500e stories…..
When I asked Marvin how he managed to put so few miles on a car regarded as one of the all-time-great long-haul highway cruisers, his response was priceless. He originally bought the car to be his wife’s daily-driver; she did drive it for a year or so, but after a few thousand miles she handed him back the keys and said “we should trade this in, it’s too fast!” Marvin, being a Mercedes guy and recognizing the significance of the 500e, couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it, so he went out and got her the 300e and held onto his 500e as an every-once-in-a-while driver.
The first time I drove the 500e I was blown away by the immediately-recognizable build quality. The car is rock solid; ride quality is silky-smooth, the car isn’t phased by Chicago’s pothole-ridden streets, and is dead silent from inside the cabin. Speed is effortless, gears are long, and the car truly gives the impression that it’s most at home on the freeway, in the leftmost lane, humming along at triple-digit speeds. When I relayed my initial impressions to Marvin, he chuckled and began to tell me his fondest memory of his 500e. Some years ago, Marvin went on a trip to Vail, Colorado. As he wanted to bring his dog with him, he chose to drive the 1100 miles rather than fly. He drove through the night, arriving in Vail, Colorado just over 14 hours later with his GPS indicating an average speed of 93mph….which included the low-speed miles exiting the city, as well as four lengthy stops to let the dog out, fuel up, and use the restroom. All things considered, he was cookin’!
Only now, being in his 80s and downsizing the car collection, has Marvin finally decided to part ways with his 500e. We’ve been tasked with finding the car a new custodian; with it’s one-owner history, low miles, and outstanding condition, this surely won’t be a tough sell!
Written by: Jake DePierro
Has there ever been a car that you thought nothing of until you actually got a shot behind the wheel? A car that you never would have looked twice at, but really impressed you with the fun-factor on the road? In the position that I’m in, having been afforded the opportunity to buy and sample a wide variety of classic cars on a regular basis, there are many cars that have made lasting impressions and, in some cases, wiped clear my complete and utter lack of enthusiasm for that particular make or model.
Buying & Appreciating Classic Cars
I’ll admit, for a very long time early American cars didn’t interest me in the slightest. For many years, there was no part of me that wanted to own a car of the 1920s or 1930s, or was even curious as to what the driving experience would be like. However, not until I spent some time behind the wheel of our ‘31 Ford Model A, which was actually single-family-owned over three generations, did I really come to appreciate and understand the appeal of early American cars. The Model A is a short-distance, in-no-hurry kind of car, but on a nice sunny day when you only have a couple of miles to cover, it really is a ton of fun to chug along in the rightmost lane in a car that’s nearly a century old. There’s absolutely an appeal to driving something with roots where it all started – something that allows you to compare and contrast the earliest forms of automotive technology vs the newest. There’s a beauty and brilliance to the simplicity of these cars; air, fuel, and spark, isn’t everything else a bit superfluous?
As someone who frequents automotive-related webpages and forums, I’ve heard over and over, “Miata is always the answer.” For those “What car should I buy?” type questions, Miata seems to be the default do-it-all solution. I’ve never really taken that seriously though; as someone who hadn’t, until recently, owned or even driven a Miata, I took those suggestions with a grain of salt. As I was raised on German cars of the 60s and 70s, I had a hard time imagining a relatively modern Japanese economy car really being enough car to scratch the itch. Until last year that is, when we at CCC bought our first Miata, a ‘92 Black & Tan with just 6k miles from new. I was sold on it from the first lap around the block. For me, as someone who has spent a lot of time in Triumphs, MGs, and Austins, I saw the Miata as a surprisingly refreshing modern take on the classic British roadsters that I hold so dear. The Miata offers a similar short-wheelbase, low-driving-position, wind-it-out-to-find-the-power driving experience, but with cushy suspension that doesn’t rattle your bones on bumpy surfaces, a reliable motor that’ll start right up no matter the temperature outside, and airbags that at least provide the illusion that it’s a safe ride. That Black & Tan ignited a first-gen Miata marathon, as we promptly went out and bought three more after getting our first taste. Now when I see “Miata is always the answer” thrown around online, it’s tough to fault the thinking.
Owning A Classic
One of the many highlights of having the opportunity to drive a wide variety of cars is getting to see how different cars evoke responses from different kinds of people on the road. For example, let’s say you’re driving a ‘69 Camaro around town. You’re sure to get a handful of thumbs-up from passerbys, but they’ll more than likely all be from middle-aged guys. But if you’re driving something like an early Volkswagen Beetle, you’re basically in a thumbs-up magnet. With iconic classic cars like the Beetle, you don’t just get responses from one specific age group or gender, it’s anybody and everybody. Little old ladies walking their lapdogs will point and smile, even toddlers waddling down the sidewalk alongside their parents will take notice and make a fuss. While the Beetle doesn’t really excel in any particular area as far as the quality of the driving experience, the tremendous positive response it garners makes it an absolute blast to drive, ride along in, or even just to be around. It’s hard not to smile in the presence of an early Beetle. In a hurry? You’d better not stop at a gas station, because you’ll almost certainly be locked into a long, nostalgic, Beetle-related story from the person at the next pump over. Part of the charm of being a buyer and owning a classic car is being able to share the appreciation for the car with other people, and no car makes that easier than an early Beetle.
Releasing your classic car into the wild is never easy. More often than not, sellers experience an immediate sensation of regret. Yes the influx of cash is a nice little boost, but that’s fleeting; even when a car has been little more than a headache, it’s tough not to become at least a little attached. Now imagine a car that you’ve owned that was near and dear, a car that you never should have let go of. A car that when the transporter showed up to deliver it to it’s new owner you thought, “One day. One day I’ll find another.” Now imagine having the opportunity, years later, to buy back that very classic car, and in even better condition than when you left it. Our new buddy Edin, who just bought back “his” ‘74 Eldorado Convertible, had the opportunity to do just that. As he puts it, “It was meant to be.”
When one classic car enthusiast meets another, there are a few conversations that occur straightaway. The given first question is of course, what do you drive? Without fail, that conversation is bound to transition into a recap of previously-owned cars. Within this recap there is always one constant, everybody has at least one car that they painfully regret parting ways with. This regret could be for any number of reasons; maybe it’s something sentimental like it was the car you had when you met your wife, or maybe it’s something more tangible, like having owned a car that was trimmed in an uncommon spec, something that you know you’ll more-than-likely never have the opportunity to purchase again. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, every enthusiast has a sob story of “the one that got away.” Read more
As classic car dealers, we’re constantly browsing online listings here at CCC, and we see many cars presented as “100% original” and “true survivor”, but really, how many of those cars are truly unmolested, original cars? From my experience, the answer is very, very few. Bone-stock, unmolested cars are exceedingly rare, and that’s a big part of what makes this ‘68 Caprice Estate Wagon so enticing. Read more
It’s taken a couple decades of being involved in the automotive hobby, but I’m beginning to see the logic in the “purist” approach to classic car ownership. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good modified car. In certain circumstances, I do think a handful of subtle mods can really set a car apart in the best of ways. However, it’s hard to argue the fact that cars left their respective factories in a certain spec, that spec being exactly the way that the manufacturer intended for the cars to look and feel. While I’ve long been an advocate of tweaking cars to truly make them your own, the older I get and the more time I spend around original, “collector” cars, the more I find myself gravitating towards the ones that are factory-correct throughout. I used to struggle to wrap my head around how buyers and owners of classic cars could resist the urge to do simple mods like increasing wheel size and reducing ride height, but these days I find myself admiring an owner’s choice to stick with their small wheels and cushy sidewalls. For example, the other day I found myself entranced by a BMW 635csi; oddly enough, the part of the car that I felt really brought the whole look together was the fresh set of Michelin Defenders wrapping the original BMW bottlecap wheels. A creative, clever, or individualistic wheel and tire choice? By no means. But as an enthusiast and a driver there’s absolutely an appeal there, as that wheel and tire combination creates the illusion that the car still provides the same driving experience as it did in the early 1980s. This appeal carries more weight with certain cars than with others though, as the desire to experience a car in as-the-factory-intended spec is at its strongest, at least in my eyes, with cars that have gone down in history as truly great. When I think of what cars really bring out the purist in me, cars that I’d only own in “correct” spec, there are a couple examples that immediately come to mind.
BMW e28 M5
There’s no question that BMW was at the top of its game in the late 1980s. The overwhelming majority of those in-the-know regard the e28 as the best of the 5-series, the e24 best of the 6-series, and the e30 best of the 3-series; all were nearing the end of their production run in the late 1980s. With such a fantastic lineup, I think it’s safe to say that we can trust BMW’s judgment at the time. The e28 M5 was only available in North America with one option, heated front seats. Car buyers had no other say in the spec of their car; BMW ordered that the e28 M5 should be painted jet black, have leather seats, and sit on 16×7.5” alloy wheels and as such, didn’t allow customers to deviate from that. So now, on the rare and tremendously exciting occasion that I encounter an e28 M5, it MUST be exactly that spec. If not, you better believe I’ll question the sanity of the owner. If the factory cared enough to only allow the car to be sold in one particular spec, there has to be something to it.
This car NEEDS 15” Campagnolos wrapped in Goodyear Arrivas. With them, the car looks decidedly Italian, but the Nascar-esque white-lettered Goodyears hint that it’s not quite an Italian car. This factory-correct wheel and tire combo suits the car perfectly; the overarching appeal of the Pantera was, and remains, Italian looks with American usability. An elegant, Italian-built body backed up by an American powertrain; this ethos is carried through to the wheels and tires. Campagnolo wheels for the aesthetic appeal, contributing an element of fine Italian design, and purposeful, tried-and-true Goodyear rubber for maximum usability. A decent set of Arrivas is damn near impossible to come by these days, but for a Pantera to really be a Pantera, it’s gotta have ‘em!
Call me lame, call me boring, but there’s a very real allure to a classic car being presented in exactly stock form. If you were to tell me that I’d feel this way now some years ago, I’d call you crazy. But now, having been around the block a few times, I’m coming around. I’d even go so far as to classify myself as a purist. As the purist mantra goes, trust in the factory; there’s a reason the engineers did it the way that they did.
Written by: Jake DePierro
It’s no secret that nostalgia is a primary driver of the market for classic cars; folks purchase certain classic cars because of a special tie they feel to that car. There’s far more to that attraction than just the aesthetics striking a chord; everybody wants to re-live the “golden era”, the limited-responsibility days of their youth, and what better way to do so than with a time-capsule-like vehicle of that period. Maybe the purchasing decision is driven by a pursuit of the feeling of when you took your first girlfriend out in that sporty little coupe, or maybe it’s a more primal gravitation towards a particular vehicle, like say, the same car that you were carted to elementary school in. Whatever the reasoning behind enthusiasm for a particular classic car may be, one thing is for certain, nostalgia plays a pivotal role in the purchasing habits of classic car enthusiasts.
The vehicular experiences of those early, formative years have a heavy hand in sculpting a persons automotive taste and preferences, and in turn, future purchasing decisions. This subject is especially topical for me, having just treated myself to a “new” car, a ‘79 BMW 528i. Only the 4th 528i ever produced for the US market, at that. I absolutely adore the car, not because it’s the best looking or most exciting car to drive, but because I’ve desperately wanted one ever since I was a kid, having seen my dad’s daily driver, an ‘80 528i, pull into the garage at 6pm every day when he got home from work. I distinctly remember seeing that angular front end and protruding, unmistakably-BMW kidney grille and being so fascinated, just enamored with how different it looked than anything else I had seen on the road. I actually remember being upset with the family dog for taking a bite out of the driver door panel one day. Any other little kid probably would have laughed at seeing their dad get agitated like that, but I shared the frustration. Come on Louie, don’t you know this car is something special?! This personal history I have with the e12 528i makes my recent purchasing of the car seem logical and justified, even to someone who may think it’s the ugliest car on the road. Regardless of anyone’s personal opinion of the car, they’ll absolutely respect that it holds a special place in my heart, as another car likely does to them. Because of my ties to the e12, it’s able to occupy a place in my heart and mind that even a far more “desirable” car could not.
Having been in the business of buying and selling classic cars for some time now, I’ve seen first-hand how heavily not just nostalgia, but also the backstory and ownership history of a car can factor into purchasing decisions. Many buyers find it extremely important, a make-or-break even, to know that the car they’re looking at was once near-and-dear to it’s owner, or at least has a story-worthy past. Even if a particular vehicle isn’t exactly to their fancy, there’s an innate desire to continue that love and enthusiasm of previous owners, almost like the vehicle is owed it. While I see both nostalgia and backstory play a role in just about every sale, there have been a few examples in these last few months, which I’ll dive further into now, that have really made me smile for one reason or another.
1971 Volkswagen Westfalia Campmobile:
A couple months ago we received a call from a local gentleman who was looking to sell his ‘71 Westy on consignment, an unfortunate occurrence, as the bus had just undergone a full restoration and was only being sold as a result of a divorce. The owner told us that he had always wanted one, having been a child of the 70s and having identified somewhat with the counter-culture movement of the time. Now, years later, he decides to treat himself to his dream car. He tracked down a minimal-rust example in his desired original colorway, Pastel White over tan interior, and sent it to a Westy specialist to have it gone-through in its entirety. While the bus was being disassembled and prepped for paint, the restoration shop found a handwritten letter hidden underneath the carpeting. The note provided some excellent insight into the history of the bus; the previous owner, a woman in Colorado, had crossed the country in “Daisy”, as she had named it, several times. She had attended hundreds of music festivals, and even lived in it for a period in the early 1990s. She hid the note underneath the carpet knowing that if it were to be found, it would be during disassembly. “If you tear her down for parts, please know that there is sunshine in every piece. If you restore her, please let me know. She deserves it.” The note was signed off on with a name, date, and an email address. As the note was dated 2004, we figured that the email address was likely out of commission and we’d just get an undelivered notice if we tried to reach out. I gave it a shot anyway. Low and behold, a day after sending a handful of high-res photos and a walk-through video, I get an ecstatic reply. Caps lock, exclamation points, the whole deal. She even attached a fantastic photo of the bus back in the early 1990s, at home in Colorado.
I can only imagine the feeling of hearing that her beloved Daisy got a new lease on life. I know if I were to get a similar email about the 2.0L Porsche 914 rust-bucket I drove in high school, I’d be off-the-walls excited. A Chicago-based woman ended up buying the bus from us, and she said that the backstory was half the reason she followed through with the purchase. She already had two Westys sitting in her garage at home, so obviously had no real need for a third. She just saw the listing, read the story, and knew she had to have it. The story struck a chord with her and sometimes, that’s all the justification needed to pull the trigger.
I would say that the backstory of this car is short and sweet, but really, “sweet” doesn’t feel like quite the right word.
Me: “Marvin [owner], how the hell did you manage to only put 1400 miles on this thing?”
Marvin: “Well, I bought it new in ‘76. Drove it for a few weeks….ehh, not for me. These cars are crap. So I parked it, right here where you see it now.”
We love this guy. He’s a small-business owner, has excellent taste in cars and motorcycles, and until now, at over 80 years old, has only accumulated cars and motorcycles, never sold. Sitting a couple spaces over from the 1400 mile MGB, which we’re now selling on his behalf, was the first classic car he bought new, a ‘56 MGA. That car, 1800 miles. Same story; he drove it until he lost interest, then into the back corner of his warehouse it went. Next to that, an ‘84 911 Porsche Carrera Cab with 9k miles. Showroom-perfect condition, original window sticker and dealer paperwork still in the glovebox, but stored with the top down for the last twenty years and absolutely caked in dust. I asked him why he stored it with the top down; his response, “Well it must have been sunny out last time I drove it”. Marvin is rare breed of car enthusiast, and we respect the hell out of his approach to the hobby. Every one of his cars he has ordered brand new, optioned out to his exact desired specification, and held onto all of the original sales paperwork. As he runs his business out of a climate-controlled warehouse, he knew that he could put cars into long-term storage with little more than dust to worry about as far as deterioration. His automotive preferences have clearly aligned with the market’s preferences, as all of his cars have become highly sought-after in recent years. Air-cooled 911s, early Mini Coopers, zero-mile 70s Italian motorcycles….this guy knew exactly what he was doing when he bought all these toys. He was playing the long-term game.
Tying back to the backstory and ownership history of a car adding value and making the car more attractive in the marketplace, I sure know that having met Marvin, I’d absolutely pay a premium to own one of his cars. Having documented, known history from new and a friendly face narrating the story adds tremendous appeal to a car, and in a situation like Marvin’s, truly makes you feel like you’ve done the closest thing to buying a car fresh from the original selling dealer.
1959 International Harvester TravelAll:
In most situations when we’re dealing with classic and collectible vehicles, the value is all in the originality. However, every so often there’s a vehicle that defies that norm. There are certain charms, or cool-factors we’ll call them, that more than compensate for a lack of originality. Our TravelAll is the perfect example; we purchased the truck from the family of the original owner, who had passed away earlier this year. The truck had been way out in rural Montana since new, the owner having lived on an access road splitting two national forests. To our surprise, the family of the owner neglected to clean the truck of their grandfather’s belongings prior to shipping it out; the truck arrived at our facility packed full of goodies. We open the rear hatch, and sitting next to the spare is a lasso, axe, sledgehammer, snake bite kit, a bundle of flares, and an extensive tool kit. Up front, there’s a ceiling-mounted radio, complete with decorative feathers. There’s a secondary heater mounted under the dash, along with a fire extinguisher. There’s also an old-school coffee-maker mounted to the B pillar, a handful of add-on gauges installed, and a sweet, custom sun visor attachment with compartments to hold cigarettes and sunglasses, both of which look to have been there since at least the 1970s. While the truck originally had an automatic shifter on the column, the owner swapped out the motor and transmission for a lower-mileage unit with a 4spd manual transmission. How do we know? He did all of the maintenance himself and kept a handwritten logbook of services, fuel fill-ups, and mileage increments, keeping this log in the same notebook ever since 1960. Towards the end of the notebook, and towards the end of the owner’s life, you can actually see the handwriting becoming more and more illegible.
We feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to continue the original owner’s enthusiasm for the TravelAll. And, since it has been in the dry, no-salt state of Montana since new, it is tremendously well-preserved and rust-free. This truck just goes to show that sometimes a good story can outweigh originality; since listing the TravelAll for sale just a few days ago, it has been shared all over the internet, garnering tons of praise. No knocks on the lack of originality, just pure admiration and appreciation for the authentic mid-America cowboy-cool factor.
These stories I’ve shared about the Westy, MGB, and TravelAll, while entertaining to hear about, aren’t really all that out-of-the-ordinary. As buyers and sellers of classic and collectible vehicles we see many, many cars come and go; the overwhelming majority of these cars have a story to tell. While maybe not every car’s story will put as big a smile on your face as the TravelAll, painted “Raisin Tan” and loaded with wild-wild-west gear, every classic car has a little something about it that will be significant to somebody. As a seller, it’s a matter of being able to articulate what that significant something is, and presenting it to the right audience. Because, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not always the look and feel that sell classic cars, it’s the intangibles.
Written by: Jake DePierro