In Retrospect

It's been one year. Am I a year wiser?

It's been about a year with my Cabriolet, so it's as good a time as any to take stock of what I've learned and to ask myself that unavoidable question of whether I'd made the right choice. If I had it to do all over again, would I purchase this car? And for that matter, would I still want a mid-90s Cabriolet? In retrospect, what is the smartest strategy for finding a good one? What have I learned?

As we embark on those first glorious days of summer, the first question is easy. After just a few  drives this season with the top down, the motor making that distinctly Mercedes exhaust note that is just this side of sporty, while cosseted in the bank vault-like body of this substantial vehicle, the answer is definitely yes. I look forward to those days when I can take a leisurely drive with the family and the weather is far more important than the destination. This is no mid-life crisis roadster; it's a proper 4-seater with all the requisite creature comforts. (Yes, the family would answer in the affirmative as well.)

I find the car a kick to drive, I love the bark of that M104 motor, and I think it's a beautiful, cohesive, timeless design. It's straight and curvy at the same time, with lines that are clearly a modern interpretation of the old Mercedes silhouette. Modern but not mod-ish, as German restorer Klaus Kienle recently said.
Lining up for the ferry to Long Island from New London

What I've learned is that here in the US, these relatively rare cars are concentrated in two states—California and Florida. If I were in the market today, that's where I'd look. In particular, I'd look at Florida. It's closer to me here in New York, and it's full of older people who don't drive as much as Californians, so it stands to reason the cars are more likely to be garage queens. Yes, there's U-V damage and salt water from proximity to the ocean, but for the most part, these cars were pampered, as you'd expect with a $90K purchase.

Today, the mid-90s Cabriolet is a steal. Mint, low-mileage examples can still be found under $20K, and models with over 100K can still be extremely nice. The classic rules apply for anyone in the market—look for an accident-free car with no rust and lots of maintenance records. Condition trumps mileage. And do not obsess over one color. Pick a handful of colors that are acceptable. Finally, know the model's weak points. In particular, the cost of a new wiring harness and head gasket should be factored into the price, if they haven't been overhauled already.

In 2013, the classic car market appreciated 28%, so the market for collectible cars is strong right now.  The mid-90s Cabriolet is on the radar of experts like John Olson, but it's still a sleeper. The message from the market: Buy and hold. And enjoy.