The Birth of a Legend: The Mercedes SL-Class

The Mercedes SL-Class is and will forever be a motoring icon.  It’s also one of my favorite automotive stories of all time.  A car born out of racing pedigree, transformed into road going art-on-wheels and continually re-designed over 5 generations of SL’s with each becoming a benchmark for this segment.  Though it may seem like a flawlessly executed plan, the SL almost didn’t make it into production.  

The story begins in 1951 when a war-shaken Mercedes built a stunningly beautiful racing machine—dubbed the 300SL for the 3.0L, inline 6-cylinder engine it used—with the goal of bringing Mercedes back into the motorsport arena and ultimately winning Le Mans.  Among its most notable characteristics was its breath taking shape and unique gullwing doors, both of which were the results of some incredible engineering.   The light-weight, aluminum built body was designed to have an incredibly low drag coefficient while the doors were a result of a tubular space frame chassis, which gave the car incredible strength and rigidity but made conventional doors impossible.  These characteristics, along its powerful 175hp engine allowed Mercedes-Benz to achieve its goal of winning Le Mans in 1952.  Not only did they take first and second place, but they did so with a record breaking average speed of 155.575 Kph.

Engine mounted at angle to lower center of gravity
1952 Le Mans: First and Second

Thanks to Max Hoffman—an importer who many credit with the early success of European motorcars in USA after WWII—this would not be the end of the SL’s story.  After being invited to attend a meeting with the board of directors of Mercedes in 1953, Max requested that they build a street legal version of the winning Le Mans car, assuring them that it would be a commercial success—especially in the booming post-war American economy.  He further persuaded Daimler AG management by guaranteeing that he alone would purchase a minimum of 1000 units.   Hoffman also suggested an alternate version of the 300SL, which would retain some of the iconic styling and sporty characteristics of the 300 but at a lower cost.  Mercedes agreed and the production 300 and 190SL would be unveiled at the 1954 New York Auto Show with public offerings made available in early 1955.

1954 NY Auto Show

The production 300SL would be a feat of modern engineering and a design that would forever leave its mark on the industry.  Featuring the same iconic ‘gullwing’ doors and profile as the race car on which it was based, Mercedes continued to improve upon the design with the consumer in mind.  The result was a car that was dizzyingly gorgeous.  Moreover, relying on a modified version of the 3.0L racing engine, the 300SL was able to hit a top speed of ~160 MPH, making it the fastest production car at the time.  And, the independent suspension lifted from its racing cousin meant that the beautiful body and all that power could go round corners with relative precision—a characteristic that was not shared by many other cars during this time.  

Anyone looking to buy a 300SL would need quite a sizeable check book as it would set you back roughly $11,000 at its initial offering in 1955, though the price would later be reduced to about $7,500 after achieving production efficiencies (around $95k/$65k in 2012 dollars).  That said, with only about 1400 of these ultra-beautiful automotive specimens produced between 1955 and 1957, they currently fetch anywhere from $700,000-$4,000,000 depending the car and its condition. 

After realizing the somewhat impractical nature of these ‘gullwing’ cars (they were exceptionally toasty while driving due to poor ventilation and difficult to get in and out of), Mercedes ceased production in ‘57 in favor of building a roadster version of the 300SL for the more refined, gentleman motorist.  This roadster maintained the gorgeous shape of the original 300SL but utilized a different chassis structure to allow the fitment of more conventional doors.  There were also improvements made to the engine, braking system and suspension, which gave the car enhanced performance.  This SL’s price once again spiked back up to the $11,000 mark and as a result only about 1858 units were produced between 1958 and 1963.  

Those with slightly less means can thank Max Hoffman for dreaming up the 190SL, which was a fantastic alternative to its pricier big brother.  While it shared a great deal of styling cues with the 300, the rest of the cars underpinnings were changed in order to make it more affordable and drivable on a daily basis.  Its chassis and suspension were transplanted from the 180-series, which enabled the car to have conventional doors and a more comfortable ride.  A new 1.9L engine was developed specifically for this car with an output rating of 120hp.  All of these changes added up to a price of $3,998 for a soft-top only model or $4,295 with the optional hard top when it went on sale in 1955 (about $34,500/$37,000 in 2012 dollars).  With such beautiful styling, sporty ride and such a reasonable price (compared to the 300SL), the 190 sold a staggering 25,881 units during its production from 1955-1963.  

There is so much that I really like about this story.  First and foremost would certainly be how the production car came to be.  It was the vision of an incredible company with one purpose and the mission one man who saw its potential as a production car.  Both parties put a lot on the line, Mercedes for producing a “less than practical” car at a ridiculous price point and Max for agreeing to order 1000 of them before Mercedes even agreed to produce it.   It also shows how great ideas can come from anywhere.  Max had his fingers on the pulse of the market and thus really was able to understand why this car would be such a success.    Lastly, I love how this car was not ruined by the production process.  So often we see breath taking concept cars that captivate the hearts and minds of consumers, only to be destroyed in its transition from concept to production car.  I understand that car companies must make a profit and to some extent consumer products need to have a hint of practicality but sometimes we must be guided by our senses and visceral reactions; we need to build stunningly beautiful, amazing and impractical things.  All in all, I pray nightly that I might one day be graced with the opportunity to drive either a 300 or 190, for they truly are a beautiful part of motoring history.

As I mentioned above, this is only part 1 of the story so check back for part 2: 1963-1971 and the SL Pagoda.

Video: Fantastic Volkswagen Commercial

I work in advertising.  I love cars.  When the two of my passions meet, its great.  Moreover, when its done right, it’s like a bacon flavored ice cream: the perfect balance of two amazing things to make one awesomely fantastic thing.  

VW: "We pluck the lemons so you get the plums"
To start, I have chosen a spot from a company that really seems to do automotive advertising right, and has done for quite some time: Volkswagen.  Consistently since the dawn of their first print ads (shown right, Credit: DDB), they have portrayed their cars in a fun and unique way, which has given the brand a very distinct personality.  This in turn has led them down a very successful path, one filled with staggering sales numbers and a slew of large acquisitions.  Now, I’m not going to say that the advertising is solely responsible for their success because we all know that good advertising will make a crap product fail faster.  Truth be told, the lion share of Volkswagens success is attributable to their management, engineering and quality, but the rest of is because of excellent marketing - a portion of which is advertising.
I came across the spot posted below, once of VW's more recent ads and think it’s fantastic, take a look……

First, credit to Deutsch LA and the N.A. Marketing team at VW because this is just a fantastically executed piece.  Not only is it fun and engaging but it takes an attribute that is certainly not that unique in the automotive industry—keyless access—and injects a bit of that VW personality.  Given the clutter (i.e. amount of advertising you see each day), in this segment and the industry as a whole, it can be challenging to develop communications that achieve both branded AND functional message recall.  Meaning that its really tough to get people to remember that the car ad they had seen was for Volkswagen AND about their keyless entry system.  That, ladies and gents, is successful advertising. But like their success, the spot above wasn’t a fluke, or a one hit wonder.  As I mentioned, they have consistently put out great advertising (with a few lulls here and there).  

I close with a few of my favorite VW ads below for your viewing pleasure.   As always, thoughts are welcomed.

Mid-Way Through the Grey Lady's Restoration

As many of you may have read in my post To Restore or Not To Restore: That Is The Question I decided to restore.  To summarize that post I took my car for a check up/oil change when I was told that I needed a new set of tires in order for the car to continue to be drivable - it wasn't exactly the response I was expecting.   Given that a decent set of tires were going to run me $900 and there was already a bevvy of other things that needed doing, I had a think on whether or not I wanted to put any more money into the car or just buy something new.  Ultimately I decided to just go for it and fix all of her problems, and its one of the best decisions I have ever made.

With that said, I dove head first into the process and have had a blast so far.  If you're an auto enthusiast and have never had a "project car" you're really missing out.  I personally never anticipated that spending money in this way could be so much fun (OK, maybe I did but I sure didn't know HOW much fun).  Day after day, with every new part, I get to see my beloved Grey Lady transformed back into her former glory.  So lets start with a refresher look at her before picture and a recap of the issues...

The issues:
  1. Numerous engine problems (stalling, trouble starting, poor idling)
  2. Rusted, hole-filled exhaust system
  3. Sunroof wouldn't open (this picture was taken about two days before it crapped out)
  4. Fog light housing broken
  5. Worn tires
  6. Radio antenna broken
  7. Misc. rubber grommets deteriorated
  8. Bumpers scratched to hell
  9. Windscreen cracked
  10. Paint in disrepair
  11. Wheels were curbed and peeling paint
  12. Center console wood was cracked and in poor condition
  13. Front window switches broken
  14. Tape deck broken
  15. Hood insulation was peeling
  16. A/C not working
  17. Cruise control not working
  18. Front leather seats cracked and torn in places
So the first thing the car needed was engine work and new tires.  Since I was going to be fitting some new rubber, I decided to spring for some new rims as well.  Thanks to Benz-World's for sale/classifieds section I was able to track down a set of original 15" AMG Aero's (post-merger) in silver with polished lips.  It was through this forum that I encountered my first Mercedes W126 enthusiast, Malcom, who very kindly offered to drive the wheels I was buying all the way from Mass. (to avoid shipping costs).  I thanked him profusely and his response was, "any excuse to get in my W126 and go for a bit of a road trip."  A true gentleman, thanks Malcom!

That said, these really are the most stunning wheels on a W126 body and might be the nicest AMG wheels all together - with the exception of the illusive AMG/OZ 3 piece wheels, which might as well be made out of gold because they are so bloody expensive.  I chose 15" because I really wanted to maintain the integrity of engineering and the ride quality.  Believe me when I say that I could have slapped on a set of 18" wheels, which do look a bit cooler but ultimately could have compromised the ride quality.  Looking at the below pictures compared to the one above, you can easily see the improvement.  These wheels really made a tremendous difference and gave the car a much more aggressive look.
New wheels the day I got them
First day after being fitted

Another shot of the front end

Service #1
At the same time that I had the new tires/wheels fitted and balanced I also had the following done/installed:
  1. Full fluid change
  2. Brake system overhaul with new rotors and pads
  3. A new hydraulic actuator pump 
  4. A exhaust system 
  5. A new fuel distributor 
  6. New control arms/bushings.  
This service made a huge difference.  It ran cleaner, stronger, tighter, more efficient and it came to a safe stop.  This also gave me a renewed vigor for some of the less pertinent items, which would be next on my list.

I then splurged on a new antenna, rubber grommet (for around the base of the antenna), wood panel (around the shifter), window switches and new fog light housings.  These things were simple enough that I planned on fitting them myself.  Some pictures below...
Old fog light surrounds after I'd taken them off my car
New fog light surrounds on the car
B/A side by side of the wood panel
Old wood panel still on the car
Old (left) vs new (right)
Old wood panel, bottom portion to show cracks
Center console without any panel
New wood panel installed
As expected, these small but necessary parts made a big difference.  The wood panel really classed up the inside, the new fog light surrounds were a tremendous improvement and the antenna meant I was able to pick up radio stations again. 

Service #2
The next few big things that I wanted to take care of was the driver side door lock, cracked windscreen and sunroof.  The lock before the repair meant that I continually had to lock and unlock the car via the trunk (those familiar with these cars know they have a vacuum system, so unlock any lock and the whole car unlocks).  Although it wouldn't seem like this would be a big deal, it was a huge pain in the ass.  The sunroof is also something I could live without, but when the roof is operable it makes the car feel so much bigger and enjoyable.  Same with the windscreen, though cracked it was still possible to see through, but it looked like sh*t.  So I bit the bullet and ordered a driver side door lock (custom cut to the VIN) and windscreen via Mercedes-Benz and booked the service to get them and the sunroof taken care of.  While I don't have any B&A's of these, trust me when I say that these 3 things were my favorite fixes, what a difference.

So after having all of that done I had a major cleaning session that lasted a full weekend.  I'd recently watched a video done by Larry Kosilla @ AmmoNYC  of him doing a full paint correction/restoration job on an old Porsche.  In the video he shows how to do it, in a very easy to follow way, step by step way and so I decided to give it a try.  I followed his instructions and the results were truly fantastic (side note: if you haven't watched any of Larry's videos I suggest you check his YouTube Chanel Drive Clean or see his company's website, AmmoNYC).  I also shampooed carpets, cleaned and conditioned the leather, treated the rubber seals, de-gunked the engine bay, polished the chrome, treated the windscreen...the list goes on and on.  The bottom line is that The Grey Lady went to the car spa and I paid with two shoulders and a headache, but it was totally worth it.  Here's a shot I took just as the sun went down on that Sunday evening.
The Grey Lady
After all said and done, she's looking and running a lot better.  Though I'm not nearly done with my restoration, I put a lot into the engine and mechanics of the car so far.  I've also made a some small cosmetic repairs that have gone a long way.  I liken these cosmetic changes to a beautiful woman with horrible teeth.  While the smile in the grand scheme of things isn't EVERYTHING, it detracts so heavily from everything else that the total package ends up not being not nearly as impressive.  But fix those teeth and it makes a HUGE difference, well I've fixed the teeth and then some.

I've still got quite a ways to go, and unfortunately the remaining repairs are still high dollar investments (A/C system, cruise control, leather for the front seats, stereo head unit and new bumpers).  But as I mentioned above, I've been having a blast doing this and every dollar has been worth it. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the months ahead and finishing up this project.  As always, I welcome any comments about my project.  Also, if you have a particular project car/restoration you've worked on or even dreamed about, I'd love to hear about that too!

Video: AMG Hammer

I generally find myself stumbling through one of my favorite autoblogs, The Smoking Tire, and as a result have come to know the YouTube channel /Drive.  After fumbling through a few videos on I came across this one...

Any true Mercedes fan, or auto enthusiast over the age of 25 knew exactly what car this post would be about just by hearing the title "AMG Hammer."  For those who don't, its essentially a super tuned E-class that cost around $160,000 in 1987, which adjusted for inflation is around $300,000.  With a price tag like that, its little wonder that there were only about 30 examples of these amazing autos built.

Watching the video, its not hard to see the excitement plastered all over Chris' face and its pretty simple to understand.   He got to drive one of the rarest and most exciting factory maintained/owned AMG on the planet.  To give a bit of perspective Chris has a new Ferrari 599 GTB, which he bought after trading in his Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0 and he spends his life reviewing the best and most exciting cars.  So for him to say that this is a "heavenly experience" is really saying something.  He also notes this car as being in his top ten driving bucket list, and one that he would choose to drive, over any other car old and new, from the UK to LeMans.

Though Chris makes some very critical comments of the car, I can say that as an owner of a Mercedes of that era, hes right.  The transmissions take a lifetime to downshift and the accelerators are just without any feeling.  But that's using today's cars as a comparison and at the time this was the pinnacle of the automotive world.  Another point that I felt Chris left out of his video, is that the Mercedes of these era weren't exceptionally quick off the line.  Where their performance came into play was when you were doing about 40 MPH and you floored it.  This 40-whatever MPH blast is a truly special feeling, unique to these Mercedes'.   It is even rumored that the Hammer would go faster from 60-120 than a Lamborghini Countach, that's pretty incredible.

All things considered, I had to share this video.  As soon as Chris gets in the front seat of this car, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face either, I was excited for him.  This car really is a special piece of history, for AMG, Mercedes, hell, for the industry as well.  I've put up a few pictures of the Hammer below, just to get your drooling...

As always, any comments are welcome!

A Sunday Evening Drive

So a while back I posted an article about What To Buy With $15k.  For all intents and purposes that article was about following your dreams and buying the less practical car that you have always wanted instead of a more practical, brand new car.  This is another spin off of that.

So often you hear people talking about the new Lamborghini, Ferrari or Porsche, as if those are the be-all and end-all in the automotive world.  I'm not saying I wouldn't enjoy one, I certainly would, but I do want to challenge a misconception that a lot of people have, old and young.  The misconception is that there is a strong correlation between a cars price/popularity as the satisfaction one gets from it.

Now, unlike the other article I wrote, this article is not about daily drivers.  Because for the most part, if you want a reliable car, and not have it spend all its time in the repair shop eating a hole through your wallet, you need to pay for some level of quality and be at least a little bit practical (my least favorite word when talking about cars). Now, if were not talking about your daily driver, there is a little bit more flexibility. With that said....

I recently went out for a great Sunday evening drive in the car pictured to the right.  The weather was absolutely glorious and it was just perfect to go for a cruise along the coast.  My vessel: a 1954 MG...REPLICA, whom we affectionately refer to as The Duchess.  And yes, you did read that right, the beauty you see posted to the right is a replica, a kit car. It's essentially a mid-eighties Ford Pinto that has been given a custom body to match the styling of a much more expensive, rare and exciting automobile.  For those who don't know cars (which is a little ridiculous given that you are reading an AUTO BLOG), being seen in this car is like going on a date with a damn good Kim Kardashian or Ryan Gosling look-a-like. Everyone stares, most people wave, a few people approach and I can't help but smile.

The best part is, this car, in its current condition would retail for about $6-7,000.  That's not a lot of money for something so special.  And to be quite honest, it has horrid acceleration, worse brakes and fake pleather seats, but this car is a blast to drive.  It gives you a feeling that I cant actually describe in words or provide an accurate analogy to.  Given that I had a perfect SAT score for analogies, that's saying quite a lot.  Its an ethereal feeling that that only a real auto enthusiast will get.

But more than the feeling above, which is the primary reason I love this kit car so much, it has an added bonus that takes into account its value.  As I was driving along I pulled up next to a new(ish) Bentley Continental GTC.  The driver looked over and did a bit of a double take, then preceded to give me an approving nod, the "I dont know you but I respect you" nod.  Now, my car is worth 1/40th the value of that Bentley, yet you could see a bit of the envy in the face of the guy who was driving it.  This was almost like the time when you were 6 and your mom's home made Batman costume trumped the rich kid's exclusive, limited edition, expensive store bought Batman costume because the other rich kid in the class had the same one.  All of a sudden you are unique and more than that you were also economical at the same time. 

Now, I'm not writing this to hate on those who can afford a Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0 or a Bentley Continental GTC, because to be honest, I wish I was one of them.  I just wanted to show, maybe even inspire, those enthusiasts who aren't satisfied with their daily driver and yearn for something more fun to drive on the weekends.  To say that there are some fantastic cars out there that offer up a unique and fun driving experience and don't require a second mortgage to afford.  Maybe its not the your dream car, maybe its nothing more than a Ford Pinto in disguise but that doesn't mean it cant bring you a ton of joy.

Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what your driving or saving up for as your weekend car.

Koenigsegg Factory Tour

I first came across the video (posted below) on one of my favorite automotive blogs, The Smoking Tire.  Its a video tour of the Koenigsegg factory and if you are anything like me, then the next 30 minutes will be more exciting than the Victoria Secret fashion show.

As I watched this video, I was in absolute awe.  Talking about how it all started, Christian Von Koenigsegg says, "I was 5 years old and I saw this norweigin animated stop motion movie about a bicycle repairman who built a fantastic racing car up on a mountain top in Norway.  I said that's what I'm going to do when I grow up.  And when your 5 years old you don't really think about fiction or reality, its kind of intertwined."  You know the kids that would say "when I grow up I'm going to be a rocket scientist," then they grow up and become a process server or something?  Welllll thats not Christian Von Koenigsegg, he said I want to build amazing cars, and he did just that, and some.

All you have to do is watch and you can see the passion he has for cars bubble up to the surface, like when a kid tells you about his favorite comic book.  The difference is that Christian's actually lives it.  There is a part in this video at around 9:00 when he talks about a redesigned door hinge that took 1000 hours to concept and design.  The sheer amount of detail, blood, sweat and tears that Christian (and the rest of the staff for that matter) put into building these cars makes you almost feel like you're not actually a car enthusiast

Brown-nosing aside, he founded the company in 1994, when he waas 22 years old?!?!  Christian then partnered up with David Craaford and eventually launched the first road legal street car in 2002.  Since then, they have continually grown, churning out more and more of the most exciting cars on the planet.  Last year, they manufactured about 100 cars and with the cost of their cars in excess of $1 million, that's pretty damn good.  I know I said I was done brown nosing but when talking about Koenigsegg, its hard not to.

Now $1 million may seem like a lot to pay, why you could have a fairly decent sized house almost anywhere in the USA or maybe even support a small African village for a few years, but think about what you are getting.  Their latest offering the Agera R is constructed entirely of carbon fiber and is the only production road car to utilize an aluminum honey-comb structure.  This car currently holds 14 world records, and it is pretty damn close to perfect.  The sound that comes out of those tail pipes is so impressive that I might have found a new religion, or maybe this car is just the re-incarnation of Jesus.  Its just unbelievable.

I've posted another video below of a stock Ferrari 458 Italia drag racing vs a Koenigsegg Agera R.  Now, a 458 is no slouch, and a car that many would dream of driving so that we may experience its staggering performance.  BUT the Agera R absolutely destroys it.  Its the difference between a really, really, really fast car.......and a Koenigsegg Agera R.

I truly think, and this is a big statement to make, that this car may be the #1 choice for my "I want to drive" bucket list.  The performance, the exclusivity, the styling, the sound, it really just has it all.  If anyone else disagrees with me, leave a comment and let the world (or just my blog) know what would be the #1 car on your "I want to drive" bucket list.

The $15,000 Question...

2012 Ford Fiesta
So you have $15,000 and your planning on getting a "new" car.  If your looking to buy something brand new, then your options are somewhat limited.  You'd probably be looking at a handful of less than exciting cars.  Don't get me wrong, I think that Ford is one of the best domestic brands and that they build a fantastic car.  That said, the Ford Fiesta (starting @ $13,200) is about as exciting as an orthodontic retainer.  You could also have the Smart Fortwo (starting @ $12,490) that goes 0-60 11.5 seconds, which is about the same amount of time it takes the average teenager to go through puberty.
2012 Smart Fortwo

The fact of the matter is that there really isn't a lot to get excited about in the sub-$15k category.  The best of the group would be the Hyundai Accent (starting @ $14,485) as it is the best looking and most well equipped for the price.  But that's rather like being the winner of a backwoods beauty contest in Alabama.  You may be get the crown but is it actually an honor?
2012 Hyundai Accent

After you get over being depressed about how your life's achievements to date can be reflected in a sub-compact car that will barely accelerate onto a highway doing half the speed limit (and that's if the on ramp is downhill) you wonder, is there hope?  The answer is yes.  That's because the used car market is incredibly saturated at the moment with fantastic cars at great prices, that is if you know what you're looking for.  And, no, I'm not talking about buying a 2004 Chevy Malibu instead of a 2009, I'm talking about cars that you do (or should) actually want to drive because they are great cars.  And in the current market can be purchased for an even better price. 

Because I know many of you are probably thinking "BS," I'm going to prove it.  Below I give a few examples of an SUV, a Mid-size, a Luxury Sedan, Sports Coupe and Convertible that can all be had for less than $15k.  And while my choices are somewhat subjective, anyone with a bit of automotive gusto would probably agree. 

The SUV: 1994 Range Rover Classic SWB (Mileage: 77,500)

The car shown above is for sale in New York for $12,000 (yes, I said $12,000).  If you're in the market for an SUV, you are looking at one of the best classic SUV's hands down, one that shaped the modern SUV market.  In fact, Range Rover's are such good SUV's that to this day people still take these trucks, modify them slightly and use them as their off road toys because they are invincible.  And those who still use them as a daily driver will talk about their comfort and grace, in addition to the acres of glass that surround you making you feel like royalty on display.

Want something newer...

The SUV #2: 2004 Volkswagen Touareg (Mileage: 66,500)

This Touareg is for sale out of Texas for a measly $14k.  What your really getting when you buy a Touareg is the same chassis you would if were to buy a Porsche Cayenne and it is an all-around great car.  Good acceleration, fair off-road performance, low maintenance and something that you wouldn't be completely embarrassed driving.  Its got sat nav, a V8, heated front seats and a list of other options that that simply make this a great car.

The Mid-size: 1989 Mercedes-Benz 190E (Mileage: 95,600)

This car is for sale in New Jersey for $11k.  At 95k miles on the clock you might think that's way to high a mileage, but these cars were over-engineered and having just undergone a major overhaul this will easily last another 200k miles.  Above and beyond being a great looking 90's compact sports sedan, its a legend in its own time, Mercedes-Benz's answer to the BMW M3.  But on second thought, you're right, you should pay more out of pocket for a brand new Hyundai Accent.  Are you kidding?!?!

Want something newer....

The Mid-size # 2: 2006 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro (Mileage: 48,000)

The above Audi is for sale in Texas for $15k and this is probably one of the best deals in the post.  For the money you get a very recent AWD car with very low mileage that gets great MPG and is fun to drive.  No, its not a sports car, but its great value for money and German engineering.

The Luxury Sedan: 2001 BMW 740iL (Mileage: 63,300)

The BMW shown here is an exceptionally clean 2001 with low miles.  Its a Florida car so there will be little in the way of salt damage to the body that you might find on a car that has lived in the North.  It is also a German highway cruise missile with a ride so smooth it feels like your floating.  This car also oozes class (even if you don't have any), and at $15k its a steal.

The Luxury Sedan #2: 2003 Audi A8 4.2 Quattro (Mileage: 70,000)

This car is another prime example of a great luxury car that you can get with reasonably low mileage and really enjoy. Its another German highway cruise missile with an incredibly comfortable ride and it lists for $14k, which is a pretty fair price.

The Sports Car: 2004 Audi S4 4.2 Quattro (Mileage: 60,000)

Ok, so I will preface this choice that although the Buy It Now price is $16k, with some negotiation I'm sure you could get this car for close to $15k.  Also, it has to be said that the S4 is one of the best value-for-money sports cars around.  Its incredibly quick, is well styled, has a V8 that makes you wet yourself, Recaro seats that hug you like your mother and its AWD.  This is personally one of my favorite mid-size sports sedans (are you beginning to notice a pattern with Audi here?)

The Convertible: 2002 Mercedes-Benz SL500 (Mileage: 79,000)

I actually own one of these, well not me but my parents do, so in fact I have a better deal, they pay for it, I drive it.  It really is a fantastic car and mine is a 1997 which is 5 years older than this one, so I can only imagine how better this one is. That aside these are extremely fun cars to drive and because Mercedes now has a new body style for the SL you can pick these up for next to nothing.

Closing Remarks

So have we learned anything?  First, buying a car is subjective and the above cars are simply ones in various categories that I really like, and have liked since I was a kid.  But I only spent about an hour looking all of that up and I found some great cars that could be had for great prices.  So I'm sure that with a bit of effort, you too could find something that you would actually want to drive that fits your budget.

Secondly, none of the cars that I picked are safe bets, because when buying a 11 year old super-luxe BMW, it will be more expensive to maintain.  And, from my choices I'm sure you have picked up on the fact that I am the least practical car shopper ever, and I accept that.  But since when is being practical, fun?

Lets put it this way, when when you were about 15 you probably dreamt of getting a Chevy Camaro as your first car (if you were a boy) or a Toyota Celica (if you were a girl, or a girly boy) and instead your practically boring parents gave you a Volvo station wagon with a "#1 Soccer Mom." bumper sticker on the back.  And if your younger selves could see you now, shopping for an Accent or Ford Fiesta, being practical, well I'm sure they would kick you straight in the shins, put itching powder in your sheets, or worse start rumors about you.

The other real point that I'm trying to make here is that when we are young we let our emotions guide us and somehow as we get older we loose that.  This doesn't just go for cars, this can be seen in almost any decision we make as adults. We focus on the smart and safe decisions, but that doesn't necessarily make them the right ones.  Yes, the smart and safe decisions have a place and are a necessary evil but people work very hard in their lives and sometimes just deserve to be spoiled a little bit.  My hope is that some of you will read this post and say "I'm going to go and buy an old M5 because I've wanted once since I was a kid."  And then actually do it.  I personally am about to dump more money into a car than its actually worth.  Why?  Because I love it, and it makes me happy.  Try doing something like that sometime, your bank account might not thank me, but you will.