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.