Taking the Leap

In late July of 2013, I took the leap. I bought a very late model 1995 Mercedes-Benz E320 Cabriolet, a car I'd been looking for over the past couple years. The mid-90s cabriolet version of the W124 series Mercedes was an easy choice. It's a droptop that's handsome, made with classic Mercedes build quality, produced in small numbers, and even affordable right now.

Photo from Daimler-Benz archives
My experience is with Mercedes from the 1960s, so this was quite literally new territory for me. The car I purchased is a gorgeous example of this model, but like anything approaching the end of its second decade, it needs attention here and there to take its owner to the next level of anal-retentive self-satisfaction. And since I have a tendency to obsess over getting the details right, I'm just the man for the job.  

First, the specs: the vehicle is a late 1995 E320 Cabriolet manufactured in November of 1995, making it one of the very last from this series bound for the US. It is finished in black (040) with a cream beige (265) leather interior and black soft top. These cars came loaded (leather, air, auto trans, decent Becker radio, etc.), so the only option on this example is traction control (ASR, in Mercedes parlance). At one point, it also had a telephone. It does not have the optional factory CD changer nor does it have the optional lumbar support. Like all US-spec E320 Cabriolets, it is fitted with a 4-speed automatic transmission.

Overall, the car is in very good condition. In fact, I'd say its appearance is quite striking. It has glossy  original paint, original body panels, good chrome, freshly painted wheels, beautiful bumpers and cladding, new rubber..... all of the major items are very good. It's clear the previous two owners were very conscientious. Only two panels have been repainted, but the work is not up to my standards. (More on that later.)

Mechanically, the car is quite good. The motor is strong and behaves exactly as a Mercedes M104 motor should. No smoke, no leaks, no oil consumption, stable temps, plenty of power. It even has working cruise control and a/c. Records show the wiring harness and head gasket were even addressed (known weak points on this model) and regular maintenance was performed at authorized dealers in NJ and Florida.

Photo from Daimler-Benz archives
Nonetheless, this is an original 18-year old car, so it is showing its age in places. Examples include the soft top that shows typical fraying and some damage from bird droppings. Same with the interior. Beige interiors did not stand up to UV well and this car spent a good part of its life in Florida and it shows if you look closely. (In fact, every car I looked at had spent part of its life in Florida.)

In short, it's a hobbyist's dream car. It looks good and has nothing terribly wrong with it, but it still has enough issues to address to keep someone busy. In the next year, I should be able to make the car pretty close to a #2 condition vehicle. In other words, it will be a car that will have little to no glaring flaws in the interior and exterior (including undercarriage), an extremely tidy engine bay, and will drive flawlessly. It's my goal to take something good and make it great.

Here's what needs attention by category:

  • driver-side outer bolster is worn
  • center console vinyl is coming unglued
  • armrest is worn
  • surround for tilt button on side of driver's seat is missing
  • door panels on both sides have holes from cup holders previously installed
  • varnish on the wood at shifter and in the center of dash has hairline cracks
  • wooden rolltop door on center console is damaged and does not lock
  • lid on vanity mirrors on both sunvisors broken
  • rear view mirror glass is chipped
  • overhead courtesy light unit cracked and chipped
  • headlight knob is cosmetically flawed/worn
  • rubber covering on impact bumpers in trunk have decayed
  • worn spare tire
  • dirty/neglected toolkit
  • front right speaker damaged
  • headrest adjustment knobs missing on both doors
  • headlight wipers need replacement
  • will need new exhaust. Previous tech butchered factory system and bypassed resonator
  • needs new front struts and strut mounts
  • front left damper showing cracks
  • new transmission filter needed
  • needs new steering damper
  • wrong antifreeze installed
  • evidence of poor paint work on passenger-side fender
  • evidence of poor paint work on driver-side door
  • worn soft top
  • undercarriage needs TLC 
I'm a pretty fussy guy, so there are many more little things that I plan to address, but these are the main items that I will be chronicling in this blog.