Monday, August 22, 2011

The 'Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" - 1992 Mercedes Benz 500E

1992. I was driving my Fathers '79 Jeep Grand Wagoneer listening to some form of Gangsta Rap or the new rock stuff called "grunge" by those guys that couldn't brush their hair, Nirvana. It was a great time to be alive. The Camaro and Mustang didn't look a thing like their 60's counterparts, the GTI was the king pocket rocket, and German sedans were starting to come in to their own. The 80's brought some obscure German hot rods like the AMG Hammer and the M cars from BMW. The 90's however, were a little different. It wasn't enough to just have a larger motor in a sedan, like what America was about to do in the Impala SS. What you needed to create a classic in the 90's was something way out of the norm. Something that was close to the original but so far removed that it was more like an evil twin.

Enter the 500E. At first glance, it looks like the regular old W124 chassis but then there's something that grabs you. The fenders. The front ones to be exact. They are noticeably wider. They have to be. The track on the car has been widened 1.5". This is where real muscle begins and that sissy crap that the rest of the car makers in the world don't do. Most companies will throw some aero goodies and slick looking badges on a car and call it quits. Maybe they throw the larger engine in for good measure. Not Mercedes. They took a body shell and shipped it to Porsche's Zuffenhausen facility so that they could hand assemble the vehicle with the wider front and rear fenders, SL suspension and brakes, and the 32v V8 with 322hp.

Now I know that 322 horsepower and 354 ft. lb. or torque aren't big numbers by today's standards but let's face it. This car came out in 1990 when the Chevrolet Caprice made a whopping 175 ponies. Hell, the 92 Vette only made 300hp and 330 lb. ft. of torque. With such mediocre competition, it's easy to see what made this car special. Sometimes we get caught up in the horsepower wars of modern autos but we forget where we came from. This is a roots car. It's a car that is in a special line-up of vehicles. The line up that was AMG before AMG was a model designation.

I had a great time driving this car. Ya know why, because no one knows what the heck it is. My Mother in Law said it perfectly. She said, "That's some pimped out Benz you drove home, isn't it?" referring to the aftermarket Lorinser wheels that someone powerdercoated black. It's unassuming. It looks like a regular W124 to most people. 90% of the cars I drive are readily recognizable by the motorists I share the road with. Some cars garner lot's of looks, others get respect, and others, like this old school beast, fly under the radar unnoticed by the unassuming public.

The interior, one word. Classy. Seating for 4 with a rear center console. Seats by Recaro with just the right amount of thigh and torso bolster. Real wood, real gauges, real European. Looking at this interior is like looking at the interior of a 90's 911. Classic.

Wide wheels, bigger brakes, widened fenders, different suspension, a hot rod engine, and a classy interior. Sounds like I just described a custom built street machine from the Fatherland. I guess I did.

Good luck finding one of these ├╝bersedans for purchase.
They are rarer than hen's teeth with just over 10,000 of them ever being produced in the 5 years they were available. That's a fraction of how many Toyota Camrys are sold every month in this country. You know what they say though, good taste is paramount and this car exudes it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Can Jaguar make a really great car

Oil leaks. Electrical gremlins. Cooling system problems. Underpowered. Horrible build quality. Crap.

These words have all been used to describe cars from the United Kingdom. Cars that aren't known for quality or longevity. Cars that are quirky and under-powered. Then Ford came along and saved the nation's major car makers - Jag, Rover, and Aston. That relationship has since been severed due to the economic stresses in the good 'ol U.S. of A. but we were left with some decent cars from across the pond. As I sit here sipping one of my other favorites from across the pond, Lagavulin 16yr., I will try to capture the spirit of the Jaguar XK.

Quiet, serene, seamless, high tech, and sumptuous. The XK is a wonderful grand tourer with a great combination of classic interior and sexy good looks. Looking on the outside, it resembles is rowdy older brothers in the Aston household. When you open the door you have the same interior styling as the new XF with touches of XJ thrown in the mix. If you are unfamiliar, the Jag interiors are currently my absolute favorite. They give a wonderful mix of high tech, with the touchscreen navigation and heating, and old world Jag with lots of wood and leather. It's like Ron Burgundy's Ipad, you know, lot's of leather and mahogany with a touchscreen.

Beauty. It's what best describes the sexy lines drawn by Ian Callum that make this cars silhouette. Part Aston up front and part previous generation XK8 on the rear. All good.

This car was the base XK so the supercharged heart was not present but it's no slouch. It moves along just fine and let's face it, you don't by a Jag for absolute speed domination. You buy it for presence, prestige, and to be a little different. If you want a monster Jaguar, check out the newer XK-R with the 5.0 supercharged engine. I had the pleasure of a short trip in one lately, contrary to my video which was shot before, and I can tell you that it is my absolute favorite coupe. I would own it before an SL or 6 series. They are different, sporty, and extremely quick. The standard V8 retains all the looks and amenities, with a little less oomph, which is okay because where do you actually use all the 5.0 s/c engine's horsepower. Okay, maybe I know a place on my way home but I'll never admit it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

6'4 + Lotus Sport Elise = Awesome

We've all read the reviews, watched the videos, and cast our judgement about the Lotus Elise. I'm not ashamed to admit that I have been right there in the mix, with my horsepower figures and reasoning while riding my couch, keyboard in hand discussing the ins and outs of the Elise.

The car has been around for some time in the American market. Long enough that we've all seen one or two motoring around. Not long enough though for me to hide my excitement when I found out we bought one at auction though. To top it off, this was the extremely rare 06 Lotus Sport Elise model with only 50 being imported  to the states. It features Ohlins dampers with remote reservoirs, a cat-back exhaust (that is loud as a banshee wail), and a 5 point harness looped through the awesome ProBax seats. It also has air conditioning which actually works and was a necessity the day I drove it.

Most of you know that I am 6'4 and at that height, I am somewhat limited to what sports cars I can drive and enjoy. I have a hard time getting comfortable in a newer SL500 and a 993 is only comfortable for short trips. It stands to reason that I would never consider, let alone fit in an Elise. Well, truth be told, I never cared for the little car until I had the chance to drive one. There is a video out there of me getting in and out of this car. It's a sight to behold. Not a good sight either. I left the top on for the time I drove it as it's not an easy top to remove.

Once in the car, you notice that everything is in close reach. The wheel sits in your lap. The shifter is just off your right leg. The passenger window crank is, well, right there as well. It's a tight cabin, but hey, Colin Chapman wasn't in the mood for racing Buick sedans.

It's a stark cabin once you wedge yourself in between the frame rail, steering wheel, and the teeny tiny opening in the the cockpit. Once you're in though, it's a great fit. The floor is flat and you are sitting on it in that wonderful ProBax bucket seat that is at that perfect angle. The steering wheel is perfectly positioned and is probably the smallest wheel in current production. The gauges are a little chintzy but the darn thing is British and we all know the old adage: the Brits drink warm beer because they have Lucas refrigerators.

The first thing I do is hit the gas station. I know the car is a featherweight with a Toyota based powerplant so I get $15 and it gives the car half a tank. This makes me feel pretty happy until I realize that this means the gas tank is small, really small. No matter though as the mileage is pretty stellar for such a sporty car.

Now that the car is warmed up, I can exercise the throttle past 6000 rpm. The variable valve lift is inoperable until the engine is warmed up sufficiently but when this engine comes on, it's like an S2000 on a big diet. The noise goes from a sporty car to an uncorked race car over 6500, thanks in part to the sport exhaust. The cool part is that when the car is in 6th gear on the freeway, you can roll in to the throttle and move at a pretty decent pace. Downshift a couple gears though, and the Toyota block with the Yamaha designed head is downright quick.

I drive a ton of neat cars home. Cars that cost over $100k new some times. This car cost less than half of that new but it's the only car that the kids in my neighborhood flocked to look at when it landed in the driveway.

It's an exotic looking and acting car. It has an attitude that is far nastier than cars twice its cost. Sure, it needs another 50 ponies and some wider rear tires to counter the lift-throttle oversteer but that's what the Exige is for. Could you buy a used 911 C4S, SL55 AMG, or Corvette Z06 for the mid-$30's pricetag? Yup. Can your neighbor. Yup. Can he buy a Lotus Sport Elise. Nope. With only 50 imported in 06, he's not ever going to find one.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Mercedes Benz ML430 for sale

I am selling the ML430. Below is my Craigslist ad:

00 Mercedes ML430 SUV in Bordeaux Red with tan leather interior. I bought this vehicle 7 months ago with the thought that it would fit my 3 kids in the back seat. They fit fine, but the new baby seat is presenting some challenges with room so I've purchased a different vehicle and this one has to go. It's been a great vehicle with absolutely no problems. Before I purchased it, the vehicle had a major service and some repairs. The work performed was a new transmission valve body with transmission flush, a new crankshaft position sensor, new front and rear brakes, and full synthetic oil change. Before I bought it, the vehicle was a certified pre-owned "Star Mark Mercedes" which means that most of this vehicles life was spent under warranty. This means that no repairs were neglected. I put brand new Pirelli Scorpion tires on it 6 months ago and it will have another full synthetic oil change before it is sold. The AC blows cold and it has all the amenities you expect from a Mercedes. It has leather, power front seats that are heated and both have memory, navigation, 6 disc changer, running boards, roof rack, and many more nice options.

This is a walk around video to show every aspect of
the car.

If you have any questions, please call at 541-292-6111. I work in Portland and live in Salem so call to set up a time for me to show it to you. You will not be disappointed.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Family Truckster, Swedish style.

I've always been a fan of the Volvo turbo wagon. Ever since the early 80's when I saw my first 240 Turbo wagon, I've been hooked. They've always shared a soft spot in my heart. When the 850 T5R came out in 95, I couldn't wait to get one. I wanted one so badly. The way they looked with their 17" wheels (large for the time) and low stance with that aggressive front bumper really pushed all my hot buttons. Add the higher horsepower 5 cylinder turbo engine and I was sold. Too bad I never had the money at the time to get one.

Then Volvo answered everyones requests and finally brought a high horsepower all wheel drive manual transmission optioned wagon and sedan to market with the S60R and V70R. Well, they answered almost all the requests. We wanted something that was high performance. Something that showed the potential that the aftermarket has known for a long time, that Volvos can haul more than soccer balls and kids. Unfortunately, the 3700 pounds made the 300hp seem fairly optimistic especially with a quarter mile time of 14.4.

The automatic version of this car was particularly uninspiring to drive. I mean, don't get me wrong. The interior is excellent. No one makes a more comfortable seat than Volvo. The fit and finish is always top notch and there are plenty of cubbies to store things along with Big Gulp approved cup holders. The variable dampening suspension isn't a bad thing either. Go from "Advanced" to "Comfort" and you feel the difference easily. When I say uninspiring though, I mean it with all the niceness I can muster. When you build a car that's supposed to be special and all it can muster is a quarter mile time that's the same as an 03 Altima 3.5SE, it's not special enough.

The version I drove, however, was drastically different. This particular car was helped in the hot rod category by the Volvo Ninjas at IPD. The car sports a TME cat-back exhaust and TME ECU upgrade. It's also a 6 speed and let me just say, don't waste time with the automatic in this car. It's a tragedy and should never have been made. The manual though, is a mover, especially this particular one. I found myself wanting to race whoever pulled up next to me just so they could go home and post on their Facebook status that they got their butts handed to them by a grocery getter.

These cars are affordable now and pretty reliable. It's worth every penny for the exhaust and ECU upgrade and given the value price of the car used, it's worth the addition. In fact, I can say that I wouldn't own one of these without the upgrades. It's as drastic as Heidi Montag before and after plastic surgery.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Does BMW mean "Boring Motor Works"

This Drive Time finds me making a video double up of 2 different cars. Both of these vehicles are from one of the finest automakers on the planet. Both are extremely well appointed. Both are from BMW, The Ultimate Driving Machine. Well, maybe if you are driving to church on Sunday. Sure, these cars are wonderfully engineered, driver oriented machines that handle well and, in case of the 750i, are really nice cars. All that aside, I just didn't get that fire in my soul like when I drive certain cars.

The 750i is a really nice car. Super nice. Like, so sweet that it could give you a cavity. It has heated and cooled massaging seats, doors with closure assist, and more wood than my dining table. That doesn't mean it's an enthusiast car. I believe, that even though the 750i is a great handling full size sedan, it's no ballerina. Unless by ballerina you mean fat breakdancer. 

Does it feel nimble, No. Does it handle well, yes. Does it feel as planted and flat handling as an S55 AMG. Not a chance. In all fairness, there is no M7, but then again, that's not my fault. It's BMW's and maybe they should join the full size luxury performance sedan class like our friends at Mercedes and Jaguar. It's a sweetheart in the economy department though. It really does get decent mileage for such a large car. It moves out of its way decent enough but again, it's not in the realm of an AMG or Jag R, which is disappointing given the abilities of the M Division. 

The 530xiT on the other hand, was lamer than a paraplegic without a wheelchair. Sure it's a wagon. Sure, it has all wheel drive. Did it have a ton of options, yup. Was it as inspiring as Oprah. Only if by inspiring, you mean slit your wrists. What a boring car. I literally have driven Tauruses with more excitement. No joke. It's a very nicely built car with good chassis communication and a good engine but let's face it. A Mazda 6 or Accord have a good engine and good chassis. The experience is what was lacking in this car. I literally got so bored that I decided to fill half my video with a talk about the horsepower benefits of Motley Crue. Sorry BMW, but if you don't give me an M7, I will hate you forever. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Born from jets or just plain different?

Saab is probably the most misunderstood red-headed stepchild automaker in the business today. Maybe it's the whole "key in the center console" bit or possibly the fact that the car has to be in reverse to remove said key from its awkward location. Maybe it's because the decision to put an engine in a car backward with the belts facing the firewall, a la the original 900. Maybe it's the way they look like a pregnant rollerskate cruising down the highway. It could be because there are few qualified shops to repair them, even if you live in a metro area. The dealership support isn't much better. Heck, they don't even know who owns the company from one week to the next. Spyker has promised to change things with their takeover and having looked at the new 9-5 recently, I see they are at least making an effort to push out some product.

For whatever the reasons, the 9-3 is a quirky little "hot hatch" that has some weird endearing charm. As I slide in  to the comfy cabin, I switch on the massaging and air conditioned seats and set my destination in the navigation. I set the suspension setting to sport and then plug in my Ipod.........WAIT. What the heck. None of these things are here. What kind of car is this. Where's the amenities at? Where's my massaging seats dangit? After the shock of sitting in a normal car, I realize that this is a pretty decently equipped car for the time that it was produced. A hatchback with power windows, auto climate control, and heated seats is all one really needs. These are the "bare necessities" nowadays.

So at this point you are asking me, "why the heck are you driving an old Saab?" It's simple really. I work with all sorts of cars from a wide range of years. I try to chose cars that are interesting and newer but sometimes, there aren't many cars to chose from and the blog goes on. I chose this car because it doesn't fit in. It's not normal. One of these things is not like the other.....

The reality is this, the car is fun to drive. It brings back memories of the inexpensive fun cars of times passed. It makes me think of GTI's, Mazda 3's, CRX's, and all the other fun pocket rockets that I have loved over the years. Think about this, a hatchback is useful, a 4 door is super useful, a turbo engine is a "fun-time" requirement, and nimble handling is paramount. These are the characteristics that make up the 9-3 2.0T and its older and more neurotic brother, the Viggen. They are what take all plain-jane commuters to the edge of coolness. Not quite the super cool AWD cars from Japan or the rear drive horsepower monsters from Germany but a great package. A complete package. A fun package.

With Saab, there is a weird, nerdy Nordic brotherhood. I was driving home and 10 miles away from home, I pass another 9-3 2.0T on the freeway. It's as clean as a whistle with a retiree behind the wheel. He get's it. He knows the secret the Saab possesses. As I pass, I give him the universal head-nod of approval to let him know that I think he's got a clean Saab and I approve. He responds with a 100mph fly-by. I end up catching up once his pace slows and we drive in tandem for the last leg of my commute. As I leave the freeway, he opens up the throttle and takes off. That's one thing a Saab turbo can do. It can move. Not big V8 fast. Not by a long shot, but definitely faster than most of the turbo 4's out there, even to this day.

Saabs are weird, their owners weirder, and the shops that work on them, well, don't go there. Saab has a loyal following, and I get it. I get why. They just fit that niche of a fun and economical car that has utility at the same time. That's the classic "hot hatch" definition if I've ever heard one.