I’ve been remiss since the last update, way back in September last year, but it seems that I have now caught up with the problems I bought 3 years ago. The only issue that has arisen since September was a bearing in the rear nearside wheel, replaced for a little over $500. It was the worst Graeme Cooper had seen apparently and the cause is still unknown. We agreed that it may have been from its earlier years pounding along rutted outback roads but who knows.
It went in for its B service in December, along with its pink slip, and sailed through both, other than the rear tyre that needed replacing most likely because of excessive wear due to the bearing failure. It has since sped up to the Tweed Coast and back, taken a full load camping twice and not a beat has been missed. Fuel economy dropped drastically on that long drive north, recording an impressive 8.8 litres per 100kms. Around town it is edging up towards 12 again, but it’s a heavy car and one that has driven a lot of k’s now, so it is fairly reasonable. Plans are being laid for a Fraser Island jaunt in the near future and a bit of sand bashing, so that should bring a few stories.
Once cleaned up, the Discovery 3 still looks as good as it did when new, give or take a few scratches from the odd bush that I may have rubbed up against. I wouldn’t mind sourcing a new drivers seat, as 8.5 years and almost 300,000 k’s of arses getting in and out are taking their toll on the side bolster. Someone made the mistake of buying a cheap bike carrier and its pads that should protect the tailgate somehow moved to the wrong position. This means the rear is sporting an unfortunate black metal smear across it. Now I wonder who would have done that … ahem.
I am pleased that I have stuck with Graeme Cooper Auto too whose work and advice has been unrivalled. They tell me I have a small service mid year, but a big A service after then. I’ll try to stretch that to a 2015 job. Nonetheless, it has strengthened my confidence that the Disco will remain in fine fettle for a long time to come.
Who said you can’t buy a high mileage car and not enjoy the experience? Now where did I put that piece of wood …
I’ve been hesitating before commencing this post. Why I procrastinate is simple. It’s time to consider an Alfa.
Yes I know. I want to walk home, it’s great to look at someone else’s and don’t they tend to rust like there’s no tomorrow? All things that people who don’t own an Alfa tend to say.
Well this was true at one time, but the last 10 years has seen Alfa improve its products and its maintenance issues are no worse than any other sporty car out there. All Alfa’s are now galvanised so rust is not the problem it once was, if it ever was an issue in Australia. Hot climates have tended to affect certain cars more than colder climates however, so particular parts were prone to shredding themselves, like the differential. But more on that later.
No, the real reason that I hesitate to review an Alfa is because I have never driven one. Other than the 25 minutes with Nadim in an earlier post, the closest I have come was as a passenger hurtling down a steep hill in a mate’s Alfa Sud. It took the quickest time to manage the 1 in 4 gradient replete with two almost hairpin bends, and much of the blood to my head. I remember clambering out, brushing red dust from my trousers, amazed we had survived and marvelling at the little Sud’s cornering ability. Its red line hugging 1.2 litre engine, its skinny tyres scrabbling for grip and it’s throaty 4 pot burbling away, you could almost forget that every panel was rust eaten to the core.
So 25 years later is there an Alfa out there that would be worth a second hand punt? Probably a few, but I am focusing on the 156 based GT, a car built between 2004 and 2010, and in 3.2 V6 incantation. It has the grunt, as well as the looks, to match any coupe out there.
Barely 80,000 GT’s were made worldwide, in 1.8 TS, 2.0 JT, 1.9 JTD or 3.2.V6 guise. Given the global majority tend to be the diesel, which never seem to crop up in Australia, the 3.2 V6 has the exclusive tag. It has more power, it has that throaty rasp we have come to expect from Alfa’s V6’s and it only gets better the more you floor it. It is acclaimed as one of the greatest engines ever produced.
The most expensive versions available today are the 2010 Centenary editions (in celebration of Alfa’s centenary that year). Only 100 reached Australia clad in special colours (Rosso Alfa, Atlantic Blue, Black and Ice White) and all came laden with airbags, leather, VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control), ASR (Anti Slip Regulation), EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) and ABS.
Engine: 3.2 24v V6, six speed manual
Top speed: 243 km/h
0-100: 6.7 seconds
“It’s is all about keeping up with the maintenance, e.g. oil and filter changes, cam belt changes every scheduled service”
As already mentioned, this is a world class engine that is as happy revving to 7000 rpm as it is tootling around town. But putting such a heavy engine in a small front wheel driver tends to come with a few problems. The most notable is torque steer that only exacerbates the sub standard differential. The diff has been known to fail from as little as 30,000 kms and when it does shards can pierce the gearbox, as well as the bell housing, meaning an expensive rebuild as well as a new, but rubbish diff.
So, if you are considering this car, budget for a Q2 diff upgrade if it has not been done, and negotiate with the owner. Be preventative and it will save you thousands down the track and improve your driving experience drastically. Isn’t this after all the reason you want to buy an Alfa in the first place. Price wise, it’s upwards of $3000 to repair a broken diff, maybe much more if it’s chewed up the gears. The Q2 can be fitted for less than that.
Cambelt changes for the V6 were lowered from 72,000 to 60,000 miles or 5 years. However Alfa revised the 2 litre down further to only 32,000 miles/3 years, so my advice is reduce it further for the V6. If you are not sure, either walk away or budget to replace the belt as soon as possible. Change the timing belt at the same time
Worth changing this when you remove the cambelt. The original used a plastic impeller that was well known to crack over time.
One owner suggests to use the water pump from the 3.0 GTV which had a metal impellor and thus lasts longer. According to the forum member there “are no compatibility issues with this. I have found that if you use a pattern pump, some cambelt tensioning tools will not work on them. Its not a major issue and competent mechanic should be able to work around this.”
Ensure oil levels are topped up, as an engine with low oil suggests poor maintenance.
Flat spots or an unwillingness to rev may indicate a faulty air flow meter (MAF)
The 3.2 V6 has the largest stoppers in the range with 330 mm (13.0 in) ventilated discs at front. The GT comes as standard with anti-lock braking system with electronic brake force distribution and hydraulic brake assistance.
Suspension was toughened up for the GT to improve handling but the front wishbone and anti-roll bar suspension bushes can wear. A squeak from behind the dash can alert you to the change. For the rear, check the rear hub bushes and rear radius arms, for if these are faulty it can lead to uneven tyre wear.
It’s hardy but can become heavy with age. If the gear lever does not move easily across the gate you will need a pair of bushes in the pivot point on top of the gear box. Another $200 or so.
There has not been too many issues electrically but check all the warning lights come on and then switch off after approximately 3 seconds. If they don’t, you know what to do.
The tailgate can leak slightly and has a habit of squeaking in its aperture, but regular silicon spray silences that.
Paint fades, especially red into pink.
Rust can still be an issue but at least it won’t be hiding, it will be clear as day say on the roof or around the front screen.
A poor panel fit or variations in paint colour indicate there has been an accident.
The front undertray is prone to grounding as you drive over speed bumps, which is a legacy of the 156 platform.
So is it worth it? After spending less than half an hour in Nadim’s GT, I can say yes, as long as you maintain it fastidiously, it is worth it. The sound, the traction and the power delivery overcomes all and it really is a car you should try before you discount it. Like with many of the cars Rezoom reviews, if you are prepared to budget $2-4000 per year to keep the car in fine fettle, then you may become like the rest of the Alfisti, well and truly hooked.
So you’ve taken the plunge and decided to satisfy that Jag itch. You quite like the retro look of the S-Type but you need more oomph, a bit more pizzaz. It’s the Type-R you want but are not sure where to start.
It is almost advisable to find a decent specialist before you even start looking. Not only will they be able to assist you in finding a good one, they will have answers to questions you wouldn’t have even thought of. Dealers the world over have been somewhat vilified for their lack of service, so a good specialist is worth their weight in gold.
Jaguars are not cheap cars to maintain, but that can be mitigated if you are prepared to do some of the less technical service work yourself. You Tube, forums and various published books can help out with advice and ‘how to …’ guides, so this is worth considering.
However, if like me, you are afraid of causing more damage by attempting to change a brake pad or replace a bulb, then keeping fluids well topped up on a regular basis and noting the kilometres driven on a set of pads, and changing them before the discs are ruined, will save you thousands.
The earlier models built between 2002 and 2004 suffered the majority of problems. Most were electrical in nature and after a while it became clear that there was some faulty software included in the engine management systems. This often affected the transmission and gearbox and caused much of the lurching issues owners have complained about. If found within warranty, Jaguar did replace the parts and the problems died off.
The newer versions built between 2004 and 2008 had better reliability and owners, in the main, have sung its praises. However, as with any second hand car, you have to assume you are buying someone else’s trouble and when you consider this is a 400bhp, 1800kg sports car, anything that wears out simply due to use will not be cheap. So, if you are a student this is not a car for you.
If you intend to use the car on a daily basis, the biggest ticket items will be the brakes and tyres. The S-Type-R has been fitted with multi-piston Brembo brakes and in 2003 models there were reports that the rears dragged causing premature wear. The steering rack also had a tendency to squeak from this batch and the 02-03 cars in particular suffered from the ZF gearbox lurch. These issues should have been rectified but if there is any question that this may not have been done, then walk away.
The STR, as they say in America, does have a tendency to chew through tyres, with 18inch wheels shod by 275’s on the rear and 235’s on the front, they will not be cheap, so factor those in every 25-30,000kms.
Less so in later models, but wiring issues from the front loom had been the cause of a number of power issues, but over time all cars should have been modified
The all-new (at the time) ZF 6-speed gearbox was marvellously smooth and speedy, but did have its fair share of gremlins. Other auto-makers such as BMW also reported issues, so this was not a typical Jag problem. Again many cars on the road today will have had the problems ironed out by now, but to keep the box in fine fettle it is advisable to change the oil and its filters every 50-60,000kms. Jaguar dealers will tell you the boxes are sealed for life, but don’t believe them. Your specialist will know better.
Check all hoses in the engine bay and replace when you get it serviced. Blown hoses can be the cause of many problems and knowing how new they are makes you better prepared.
Equally, check the date on the battery (there is one and it’s in the boot) and ensure you replace that well before the end date. STR’s consume a large amount of power so get the best you can afford.
Check all electrics including windows, central locking and alarms as they have been known to have problems. There are some natty little tips on some forums to learn as there are few hidden tricks the car is set up for. There is even a hidden compartment if you pull out one of the cup holders.
Check the seals around the bootlid and make sure nothing is leaking or feels damp. As the battery is situated back there, water can become the bane of your life and ruin your beautiful Cat.
And finally, you are not buying a diesel so don’t expect any more than between 10 and 13 litres/100km in fuel consumption. Of course, the more spirited your driving, the lower that figure will be, and rightly so.
I have a problem with Mercedes drivers. Well one in particular, the driver ahead of me on the Pacific Highway just south of Griffith, who has purchased a Mercedes CLS 500 but refuses to explore its depths of acceleration. Rather, he prefers to pull out when an overtaking lane arises and sticks at the same speed as the car he is apparently attempting to overtake. The words ‘city’ and ‘wanker’ escape from my lips and I try to cover them up with a cough before my youngest daughter picks them up.
These drivers enrage me. Why in hell do they even bother pulling out if they simply want to keep at the same speed? Equally, why do the drivers of the cars he is trying to pass decide to speed up when the brief two lane carriageway arrives, only then to decelerate when it ends? The lane width is the same and is designed for cars to drive at the speed limit people, not 5 to 10 km/h less, but on the limit.
I have to calm myself by stuffing yet another lolly in my mouth and open the window to get some fresh air.
I’ve never really liked the look of Mercs though. Well except for the Pagoda roof SL. And the 300 SL Gullwing. And the 300 SL Roadster. And the 500 SL. So, at risk of sounding all Python-esque, apart from the SL’s then, they always seemed to be rather boring looking, old man type cars. Square jawed, wonderfully made they have been but for overweight businessmen.
Then in 2004 something wonderful happened. The designers in Stuttgart must have just returned from a lengthy, boozy holiday in Italy, or possibly France, and drunk on wine penned the CLS. And it took an American to do it too, for as the story goes, the original concept was meant for a Dodge model, not a barnstormer from Baden-Württemberg. Luckily someone nicked it off the Yanks before it was named the Gillette, or some such nonsense, and the most attractive Mercedes in years was born. A curvaceous coupe that, after having a five litre engine shoe horned into it, was given not two but four doors. Who had ever heard of such a thing? A coupe with space for two extra passengers and a way to easily and graciously get in and out of it, as long as the rear passengers were under six foot that is. You see, that wonderfully sloping roof does have its draw backs, but who cares when you’re driving it.
Initially two engine variants were offered; the 5 litre and an entry level 3.5 litre, but soon a 3 litre V6 diesel was added and then the mad men at AMG got hold of it and added the 55 and the simply bonkers C63 to the range. However, we are concerned with the 500 here, simply because of cost. No doubt we would all plump for the AMG if we had a lazy $75-120,000 available (at today’s second hand prices), but this site is concerned with affordable cars, so the miserly 500 V8 it is then. And honestly speaking, does a second slower up to 100 km/h really make that much difference? They are all limited to the same top speed so let’s assume it doesn’t. The 500 will sprint to 100 in a mere 6.1 seconds, reducing to 5.4 a year or so later with a new 5.5 litre engine. The AMG’s would do it in 4.7 and 4.5 respectively, so come on who is counting?
Power everything came as standard, as did expensive low profile tyres. However, parking sensors were only an option, so it is important you source a car with these included because you will need them. The angles of the car slope in such a way that it is difficult to ascertain where bumper stops and scrapes begin. It is also very much a four seat car, so families of five have no chance, so bear this in mind. Yes, rear passengers may not have much of a view, due to the high waistline and large seats and head rests in front of them, but tell them to desist with their moaning and enjoy the cossetting ride and comfy armchair provided.
But what is it like to drive?
Based on the E-class platform, Top Speed tells us that “Stuttgart widened the E-Class’ track, lowered its center of gravity, fitted larger wheels and brakes, and gave the CLS’ variable assistance rack and pinion steering system a faster ratio.”
Autocar at the time said it had “effortless torque and relentless acceleration.” It’s “slick seven-speed transmission kicks down a couple of ratios under full throttle, [and] you could be forgiven for thinking AMG has had a hand in the V8’s development. A near-perfect transmission and 530Nm of torque give the CLS relentless acceleration from any speed.
So it drives well then. Though this is no sports car, it is a grand tourer but Mercedes ensured it could take the corners as well as any car of its size and then many that are smaller and perceived to be more nimble.
For cars registered between 2005 and 2008 prices range from an amazing $39,999 for a vehicle with around 135,000 kms on the clock, up to around $60,000 with a mere 45,000 kms. If you bought a new one today, you would have to fork out $230,000 so for a wait of between six and eight years you can realise a 75% discount. Most available in Australia have driven just under 100,000 kms and are priced around the $45-50k mark.
So what’s wrong with them?
In a few words – not a lot. Though the CLS was based on the E-class, luckily it does not share its rather dubious reputation for reliability. The forums are low on noted problems and high on praise. However, as with any car so heavily electrically assisted, my Landie included, these things can go wrong in time, so switch on everything, press every button and test to see everything works.
There have been some reported issues with the automatic gearbox sticking in gear and at one point the CLS was recalled for possible faulty brake pedals, a loss of engine power, airbags not deploying as they should and the odd fuel leak. The brake issue was traced to faulty wiring within the Sensotronic control unit, and there was a faulty crankshaft sensor on cars built in 2006 and 2007 that led to the power loss. However, these issues should all have been dealt with at the time, so it is unlikely you’ll find them 7-8 years on.
So all in all, if you have a spare $40-50k and don’t take a look at one of these beauties, you should have your head examined. That is unless you are of the ilk of the aforementioned driver on the Pacific Highway, in which case, you should be shot at dawn for even considering it. Go buy yourself a Holden Barina, for then at least you’d spend more time at the service station getting it fixed than taking up valuable road space.
Mercedes SL500 – Teutonic luxury that stands the test of time
“Nice car mate,” shouted the fluorescent vested workman outside the pub.
“Thanks, it certainly is,” I said, muttering it’s not mine as I walked past.
We laughed. He, because he probably thought I’d stolen it, for how else was a 22 year old able to get around in such luxury. Me, because he hadn’t noticed the German plates and therefore had not realised I was the passenger.
It was 1991 and summer had befallen the UK, all two days of it and just happened to have coincided with a road trip from London to Southport and back again to attend a wedding.
The car was a brand new Mercedes SL500, silver and utterly gorgeous. Black leather interior, roof down, music blaring, marvellous.
What could have been better? Well the chance to drive the thing for one, but to no avail, my girlfriend had promised her father and he had made sure she knew that no-one else would have been insured. Being German, of course she followed the rules. Looking back, how could I blame her? Or him? Would you let a youth, an English youth at that, and one you barely knew, drive your $200,000 plus machine you had just bought across another country with your daughter in tow? No, I wouldn’t either. It’s amazing he let me in it in the first place or even let his daughter take it.
He was a large man and so fitted the car well, for SL’s were designed for rich men like him. He also fitted a soft tail Harley, something he asked me to procure for him, as it was cheaper for some reason in the UK. But his trust did not extend to his silver arrow obviously.
We drove the length of England and back, a round trip of some 700 kms. A paltry distance to most Australians but the time it took was not. The norm with any trip in the UK, then and now no doubt, was that with every wonderful motorway minute at speeds above 80, 90, 100 mph, you more often than not spent ten in a long, snarling traffic jam, caused most probably by some caravan wielding maniac or a hoon who couldn’t understand braking distances.
Sounds atrocious doesn’t it. Not a bit of it. I climbed out after hours in that roomy, slippy passenger seat feeling as fresh as when I first entered it. At one point we encountered another SL in maybe the third jam of the day and, like Torvil and Dean, we mesmerised our fellow road users with the dance of our soft tops opening with electronic synchronisation.
The piece de resistance came along one, amazingly lonely straight when my willing driver drove her svelte foot into the carpet and we watched 150 mph come up in barely more than 20 seconds. I was entranced.
Twenty two years later, what can we expect. Those wonderfully straight lines and huge proportions still look as good. However, the rich men, like my ex-girlfriend’s father, have moved on to newer models and well before any problems arose. So we should be treading carefully as there is probably a gap of some ten to fifteen years since the smart money left. Cars like these are never cheap to maintain and so a fully loaded log book is a must, otherwise buyers are staring down the barrel, a gold plated barrel. Or are they?
Mercedes over engineered these cars to some incredible degree. This was pre-Chrysler days remember, and before that period of poor workmanship and crappy parts that almost lost the marque its bullet-proof reputation.
The grill slats, for instance, were made from spare titanium jet fighter engine blades. Incredibly aerodynamic and lighter than plastic, yet stronger than steel. The soft top had rain gutters to channel water to the rear rather than letting it drip down the sides. The hard top was made of aluminium and so weighed a mere 33 kilos. It had two, yes two, reverse gears. The first could propel you to over 75 km/h, which is fast enough but the second took you to 135. Simply select the “W” for winter mode and off you go, backwards.
The car was at the cutting edge of electronic wizardry. ABS, traction control, automatic roll over bar and automatically adjusting seat belts. It had fully independent suspension, front and rear, and though this sounds the norm today, you would have been hard pressed to find any of these things 22 years ago. It even has airbags, which were simply unheard of back then.
Under the bonnet you get a fuel injected, double overhead cam, 32 valve, 5 litre V8 that produced 320 bhp or 240 kW, and 450 Nm of torque. When new, it could drive all day at the limiter, 155 mph (250 km/h). It hit 100 km/h in around 6 seconds and 160 in under 15. Not bad for a car that weighs a fat man short of 2 tonnes.
But you do need to check a few things before you run to the bank, sell your soul or rob your children’s college fund. It’s not cheap at the pump. Expect 15 litres per 100 kms if you are lucky.
Only use a specialist for maintenance. They will be more expensive than your local guy, but the trade off will be worth it.
Make sure the oil pressure gauge reads ‘3’ most of the time. It can drop to 2 or little less when it’s hot and idling, but otherwise it needs to be ‘3’. If it is low when on the move, give it back and continue searching.
The spark controller for the ECU system can be expensive to replace, so ensure you service the ignition and replace the 4 coils and distributors reasonably regularly. It will work out cheaper.
Oil starvation can cause problems to the camshafts, and seeing as we are talking about a car that has done up to 100,000 kms or more, expect to change hoses and pipes as they will crack once disturbed. If this hasn’t been done before, walk away, you’ve met a lazy owner.
The transmission fluid needs to be changed every 60-70,000 kms. Don’t listen to Merc dealers, as they were told this wasn’t necessary, but according to long standing owners, this has proven to be a top tip to keep it in fine fettle. The oil should not look burnt or brown, if it does you are back to the lazy owner again. I’ve read that transmission systems can go at 160kms, but you may not have to replace it, it may just be a problem with the speed detector gear. It is a little plastic part that is not too expensive. If there is any hint of a slip between gears whilst driving take it as a warning though. Also go for a drive with the roof down and listen for any noises coming from the rear.
Any warning lights on the facia, as you would expect, suggests problems. Check the roof works, and make sure the fabric is in good condition. It should take less than 20 seconds to extend or retract and should fit snuggly in its compartment. Check there is a hard top, and if there isn’t, don’t bother. They all came with one, whatever anyone says, and they will be more than $12-14,000 to replace. By the way, the hard top will only unlatch with the ignition on.
The roll bar must work, you will find it handy in a serious crash, and if it is stuck in the raised position the roof won’t work.
The steering can feel a little wooly and this can be worn steering dampers, but these are not too expensive to replace. Make sure there is no warping on the discs and replace the rotors when you service the brakes, never turn them.
Rust is a lesser problem in Australia, but check the boot panels near the battery box, the leading edges of the front wings and the jacking points. The last one is often over looked as they are covered with a plastic protector and owners may not be aware there is a problem.
Other than this lot, these cars were built to last, and if you find a fastidious owner, chances are you have a well-maintained car to look at.
And finally, the price.
As mentioned these were in excess of $200,000 when new. But today, you can get a great car for around $25k with less than 100,000 kms on the odometer, and between $15-20,000 for higher mileage. Budget around $2-3k per year in maintenance and you have a car that will make you look like a rich man, a fat German rich man if you are so inclined.
Where can I find one:
Shannons are auctioning an 1992 Mercedes SL500 with 213,000 and a reserve of $15-20,000
Monday 21 Oct 2013 at 7pm
For $5k more you can find an example with half the kms