Tuner Tuesday posts usually focus on cars that have been turned up a few notches by aftermarket companies, but for some time Mercedes-Benz did all the magic internally. Indeed, if you go back to the 1920s and 1930s, Mercedes-Benz had a habit of taking the largest motor they could reliably produce and sticking it in their luxury cars. Such was where the legend of the 500 and 540K specials came from, but while the War postponed many further developments Mercedes-Benz were back at it in the W109 300SEL 6.3. Apparently not satisfied by that factory hot rod, engineers conceived its replacement with an even larger 6.9 liter V8 – mind you, in the midst of an international fuel crisis. Churning out 286 horsepower from the now legendary M100 V8, the 450SEL 6.9 was effectively a land-bound aircraft carrier and about as powerful. Long ignored by the market, the 6.9s have heated up over the past few years as large classic Mercedes-Benz models have become increasingly sought after and the rare 450SEL with the big motor is a solid draw. Today I have two examples to consider – a desirable European version and a less powerful and not quite as attractive American-spec car. Which is the one to choose?
One could argue, pretty convincingly, that the E36 M3 is the best value if you want an M car right now. Good examples can still be found under $10,000, parts are plentiful, and there’s a huge selection of examples to choose from. But for me, the best value has to be the E34 M5. First off, if you’ve never seen a used advertisement for a second-generation M5, you might have missed that these supreme sedans were the last of the handbuilt M models. If you hate movies, you might have missed that a M5 was also an unsung hero in the cult classic Ronin, even if it couldn’t get away from a Citroen and the S8 was more memorable. If you’ve been living under a rock, you might not know that it’s father – the original M5 – is currently on a fairly steep appreciation curve. Yet the second generation M5, while considered a bit softer than the E28, was a potent sleeper nonetheless. And for me, it’s the ultimate M car; not because it’s the fastest, prettiest or most valuable; but because it expresses the ethos of what made BMW great. A Spartan warrior wolf in taxi-cab clothes, the M5 combined literal race-bred technology into an easily digestible package; it was a pleasure to drive fast or slow, it was reasonably reliable (and especially so considering the performance envelope), and yet unlike Porsche Turbos, Lotus Esprits, Chevrolet Corvettes or any other “sports” car that offered similar performance, it was a stealthy package – it was the adult choice. In 1991 if the M5 was graduating high school, it would have been Valedictorian and voted “most likely to succeed”, but it would have gotten my vote for “most athletic” and “prom king” as well – it’s that good. Despite these superlative qualities, a reputation second to none in terms of quality and driving experience, the E34 M5 still hasn’t caught on as a market darling:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 BMW M5 on eBay
There are some car listings that just make me sad, and this S8 is one of them. I fear that I may be missing the bus on getting just the right S8, because while the prices continue the gentle depreciation slide they’ve been on over the past decade, that means that they’re ending up in less-than-careful hands. In many of the cars I’ve owned, I’ve wished that I was maybe one or two owners closer to the original sale, because I’ve spent so much effort trying to undo what the previous owner did or repair things they left undone. A simple oil leak can easily turn into a multi-thousand dollar repair in some cases if left unattended, and when you’re talking about an expensive, complicated car like the S8, there can be multitudes of possibilities for where you can run into trouble. But even excusing that mechanicals on a 12 year old car get old and need to be replaced, then there’s the physical wear – generally, the second and third owners of cars seem to care much less for their condition than the original owners did. Let’s take a look at the cost of ownership on this 2003 S8, and why I’m sad: