Update 3/3/19: Sold for an impressive $20,300!
Last month I did a quick history lesson on the W163 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class and how it came to be made in America. One of the most interesting pieces of the ML story also involved another aspect Americans love: wildly fictional movies. If you are looking at this car, you probably know what I’m talking about. Somehow, Mercedes got in contact with Universal Pictures during the filming of The Lost World: Jurassic Park about using the then pre-production ML in the film. Somewhat ironically, while Ford Explorers had replaced Toyota Land Cruisers used in the Jurassic Park novel, in Lost World it would be the Explorer now being replaced. Somehow, a deal came together and suddenly you were watching a couple of ML320s with a bunch of added on armor roam around a fictional world full of dinosaurs. One of the stars of the film, Jeff Goldblum, was given a free ML320 as part of the deal and the craziest part is that he actually used the ML as his daily driver for over 15 years. He must not be into cars that much.
Unlike other vehicles from the Jurassic Park franchise, the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Explorer, you would never see someone hack up a ML320 to replicate the version from the movie. Probably that’s because it wasn’t very smart to totally destroy a luxury SUV just to pay tribute to a film that was considered a letdown compared to the original. Fortunately, prices of first-generation MLs have hit play money type levels and someone in California took the plunge into full movie mode. Now it is up for sale and ready to be passed on to the next person who constantly wants to be stopped to answer questions about it in the grocery store parking lot.
”Conceived in Germany, Born in America.” That was one of the tag lines used for the Mercedes-Benz W163 ML-Class when it was riding the new wave of luxury SUVs that roamed the earth back in the late 90s. Thanks to a $250 million subsidy package from the state of Alabama, the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) production plant had the honor of producing the W163 starting in February of 1997 with sales beginning later that year in September. How were they received? Well, in addition to being nicknamed the ”Bama-Benz”, you also had less flattering names like ”The Alabama trash can.” Truth be told, the majority of the people who bought these new could care less about things like quality and reliability because they all looked and acted like the mother from the movie American Beauty. The fit and finish were just average and the interiors would make the designers of Mercedes-Benz interiors in the 60s and 70s sob tears into their Weihenstephaners. Nevertheless, Mercedes sold a boat load of these things because the grille star was big enough to be seen from your neighbor’s house across the street.
Today, the first-generation ML chugs along with battle scars and so much rust you think it was intentional, like when the few in the Volkswagen crowd started doing it for scene points. No one actually seeks out and wants to buy a W163 now, especially the early ones with the two-toned body cladding, given how cheap other used luxury SUVs have become over the years. Although today I ran across a survivor that seemed spared from all the upper-middle class abuse a luxury SUV can take and actually is quite endearing in a strange sort of way. This 1999 ML320 up for sale outside of Philadelphia has just 68,000 miles and isn’t a destroyed wasteland when you open the doors. Thing is, does anyone actually want to pay for this?
A few weeks ago I checked out a hilariously ostentatious 2014 Mercedes-Benz GL63 AMG that literally could do almost everything. As head-shaking as the GL63 is, that thing just gets lost in the sea of all the super SUVs out there with 500 horsepower and 325 wide tires that get used, abused and discarded to the Buy-Here, Pay-Here lots of the world right as the warranty runs out. We can say that about a lot of these SUVs all the way back to one of the first super-SUVs to start this power war: the ML55 AMG. It has been a few years since I’ve taken a look at one, but the short of it is AMG borrowed the M113 5.4 V8 from the W210 E55 and somehow squeezed it into the short snout of the W163. They added some different bumpers and them some 285 wide tires to keep this thing from flipping over. It did 60 mph in under 6 seconds and was generally pretty stout outside of the common issues that plagued all W163s. Over 15 years later, these are becoming relatively rare thanks to just a few thousand ever made and well, the W163 not exactly being the most well-built machine ever. This 2002 up for sale in Florida seemed to dodge a life of abuse thanks to the just 16,300 miles on the odometer. Is it time to maybe think about snagging one of these?