Bentley Continental GT Research

bentley continental gt

So we’ve established that a Bentley Continental GT is a) very nice and b) almost affordable. Nothing much has been known to go wrong with them on a habitual basis, mechanically at least. The biggest issue for any prospective owner is really whether you can afford to maintain it.

A minor service can set you back around $1200-1500. A major service is around $3000. So these things, for us mortals, must be budgeted for. Any problems with the engine, or associated with it, may need the engine out to work on it, due to the severe lack of room in the engine bay.

The biggest issue for the early cars at least was electrical and particularly sensor related. Sounds trivial right? Well consider this, each tyre has a pressure sensor and each needs replacing every 5 years at around $350-400 a piece, $1400-1600 in total.

Spark plugs need replacing every 4 years, which means the engine needs to come out. This is best done during the major service so again this takes time and will not be cheap.

Many buyers look into extended warranties. If you are buying from a dealer or a specialist, which is probably advisable, look into either a 1, 2 or 3 year warranty. The costs  are high, but could save your bacon should anything truly momentous happen. You are looking at something like $4-5000 for 1 year, $7-8000 for 2 years and over $10,000 for 3 years.

As with the Land Rover Discovery, the Conti GT’s air suspension has been known to play up. It has been suggested to keep the car at its lowest setting when at rest, or parked for a few days. When parked up, play around with the suspension settings to keep moving parts and rubber seals in fine fettle and listen for any obvious leaks.

bentley continental gt

 

The car is a heavy beast  and one forum suggests that all that weight, around 2.5 tonnes, plays havoc with the shock absorbers. Should these go you have to replace a pair, not just one, so this can get exxy, around $8-10,000 for the two.

The Conti doesn’t like to be left alone either, as it simply wears down its battery, so drive it regularly and keep it charged well. A battery tender is probably a wise purchase and will save you enormous angst.

According to HonestJohn website in the UK, Bentley Conti GT’s had the second highest warranty claims amongst European cars. But lets face it, you’ve bought a very expensive car and after 2 years of trouble free motoring you need to replace the tyre pressure sensors. Would you fork out your own cash or use the warranty you’ve paid for? Rich people are rich for a reason, and rightly will use their purchases well. So I don’t read anything sinister into this claim.

Finally, yes this car is expensive to maintain, but bugger me, you are not forking out the original $350k, only a third of that price, and if you did have the choice between this car and a high spec Mercedes, the costs to maintain either are very similar. If the car you are considering has been lovingly looked after, there is a very real prospect that you only have to keep up with the service schedule. Mileage is low, considering, and if there had been issues, more often than not they will have been rectified by now.

 

Typical Costs

Minor Service – c.$1200-1500

Major Service – c.$3000

Front Brake pads – c.$600

Front discs – c.$1400

Don’t take my word for it ….

I have listed a number of forums and reviews below, including one from my favourite magazine, EVO, and CAR magazine’s 4 year long term test:

EVO – http://www.evo.co.uk/buying/buyingguide/288202/bentley_continental_gt_buying_guide_prices_and_specs.html

The Bentley Continental GT combines near-supercar pace with a reputation for reliability

CAR Long Term test – http://www.carmagazine.co.uk/Drives/Search-Results/Long-term-tests/Bentley-Continental-GT/

genuine everyday usability, and the ability to turn even the most mundane trip into an event.

Forums:

6Speedonlinehttp://www.6speedonline.com/forums/bentley/298579-continental-gt-reliability.html

I have 41,000 miles on the clock and the only major repair were new control arms as bushes were slightly worn. I needed a wheel alignment so to ensure everything was spot on I had the arms changed though it wasnt a must but hey its a Miss B, cant really save a bit here or there. I did have a lambda sensor and auto door close module replaced but prices were acceptable. You can search my name for the parts I had replaced at main dealers. I will still use the main dealers for oil service as I want to keep the Bentley service history (better for when the time comes to part out) but other work can use other pro shops. I got hit by the dealer once but a smarter shopper now since finding a shop capable of repairs.

Master Class Autohttp://www.masterclassauto.com/post/bentley-continental-common-problems/

With all its beauty, though, there are some common issues to note. The Bentley Continental’s Continuous Dampening Control (CDC) is an adjustable air suspension that helps deliver vehicle stability and agility. But at 5,456 pounds, The Bentley Continental GT’s curb weight can put a lot of pressure on the shocks. Many owners have experienced problems with their air suspension even when their vehicle is still at very low mileage.

The list price PER SHOCK at a local dealership can be as high as $3,200.00 NOT INCLUDING labor costs. Therefore, it is not atypical to see a full air suspension job for a Bentley Continental GT to run as high as $16,000!

*It is important to note: these types of suspension products must be done in pairs (front/rear). So you can’t just replace one!
Maintenance Tips
• When parking your vehicle overnight (especially if for more than a few days) set the adjustable air suspension to the lowest ride setting. This can help alleviate pressure on the air suspension and potentially increase their lifespan.
• Test the adjustable air suspension regularly. Maintaining movement in the suspension ensures flexibility in the rubber materials and help prevent the pneumatic parts, valves and sensors from failing due to lack of use.
• Listen for air leaks coming from the shock area and check for warning lights on the console. Addressing these issues early may help prevent additional damage to surrounding parts in the vehicle.

I am a Bentley Service Advisor. The Bentley Continentals are great cars, but can have expensive repairs if required. I definitely recommend getting a car with a Bentley Extended Service Program. This can help limit out-of-pocket expenses should anything go wrong. Otherwise, I have clients with 60K-90K miles on their GTs/Flying Spurs and they are running fine. Just keep it maintained properly.

I love mine and drive it 2-3 times per week and on all long solo trips. It is fast, classy, luxurious, and dependable. The navigation is not the best, but everything else is first class.

I have had no other issues in the past few years with it and it has only had to be in the shop for regular service.

I had to replace all my tire sensors, but that did not cause any other failures on the car. It only meant I got an annoying message that my tire pressures. No big deal really. I am now over 40k miles after 5 years driving it and drove it just yesterday and it is still an amazing car. Running costs have been lower than with my Ferrari that I drove 1/10 as much

Edmundshttp://www.edmunds.com/bentley/continental-gt/2005/consumer-reviews/2/

 85% satisfaction rating

Alfa Romeo GT Research

Should you buy … an Alfa Romeo GT?

Price when new: from $79,990 
in 2006

Price March 2014: $11,990 – $35,000

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.IMG_4766

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.

Mechanicals

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”

IMG_4772

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.

Tony Dron, from the UK’s The Telegraph, wrote  great article explaining more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/carreviews/2744796/What-a-difference-a-diff-makes.html

Belts

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

Water pump:

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)

Brakes:IMG_4756

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:

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.

Clutch:

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.

Internal:

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.

External:

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.

Conclusion

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.

Forums:

http://www.alfaowner.com/Forum

http://www.ausalfa.com

http://www.alfaworkshop.co.uk  – brilliant resource, even gives ideas, parts and prices

http://www.alfaclubvic.org.au/forum

The Alfa Workshop – http://www.alfaworkshop.co.uk/alfa_gt_guide.shtml

 

Alfa Specialists (Sydney, NSW):

  • Automoda Service Centre, 85 Queens Road, Fivedock NSW 2046

Phone: +61 2 9744 7112

http://automoda.com.au/

  • Max Oddi Automotive Alfa Repairs Pty Ltd

29 Moore St, Leichhardt NSW 2040

Phone: (02) 9552 2054

  • Alfamotive

81 Railway Parade Marrickville

02 9519 8501

http://www.alfamotive.com.au

 Spares:

EB Spares in the UK, who offer excellent, reliable service

http://www.ebspares.co.uk/news77.htm

http://www.ebspares.co.uk/alfa_147/Q2_diff_for_6_speed_manual_cars/

By: Gabriele B. - CC BY 2.0
By: Gabriele B.CC BY 2.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jaguar S-Type-R

I want an XFR. I really want an XFR-S. And, as an earlier post suggests, I’d also go for the new XJR, not because it looks better, which I am in two minds about, but because it can better accommodate the family. Just.

Of course trumping all these would be the new F-Type-R, or the FTR as some would have it. But for that I would have to choose only one in the brood to accompany me, and that sounds like a recipe for much shouting and gnashing of teeth.

By now no doubt you’ve noticed the common thread. I seem to have a fetish with the modern Jaguar range. Is it because of my English heritage? Am I a sucker for punishment? Are they just over-priced gadgets that ultimately spend more time leaking on your garage floor? Do they break down as soon as you look at them once the warranty expires?

Jaguar S Type R

There was a time when all the above was true, particularly during the 1970’s and early 80’s. You needed your wits about you to avoid an example made on a Friday for instance, much like a Dagenham Dustbin (a name given to a Ford built from that Essex town on the last day of the working week).

But things have improved since then. The current crop from Coventry can only be said to possess rude health with only the spectre of depreciation hanging around their collective neck. Unfortunately for me, they are not depreciating quickly enough, propped up as their prices are by Australia’s luxury car tax and all the pricey Euro brands ripping us off over foreign exchange (see my blog from last year).

So what to do? Where can I get my Jaguar fix at a reasonable price? The X-type doesn’t really do it for me, especially since I can get a Mondeo for a much better price and it’s essentially the same car. The XK is wonderful but impractical. The XJ X300 and X350 are fantastic, but I don’t think I am ready for one of those yet. So I am left with the S-Type and its contrived styling nod to the old mark 2.

I used to like it but as time wore on, I found it aged badly. However, out of all this uncertainty someone decided to do what Jaguar used to do best. They focused on driver enjoyment. They increased the power output with an all new 4.2 supercharged V8 engine, replacing the old and more troublesome 4.0 litre jobby. They added more weight and feel to the steering and attached a new 6-speed ZF gearbox that transformed the car into a true M5 challenger. They beefed up the styling making what was once rather an effeminate shape that, from the rear, looked as though its pants were falling down, into something far sportier. Its stubby derriere now shouted testosterone and aggression. They built the S-Type-R.

My only issue with it at the time was that Jag dumped the manual clutch option entirely but those who drove it, seemed to forgive this indiscretion. Its ride and stopping ability coupled to its rear wheel driven playfulness made up for it. Quite simply it was the best car Jaguar had made for a long time.

jaguar s type r in black

Initially offered for sale in 2002, the car had a make-over in 2004 and this seemed to improve the car’s little nagging problems, mostly electrical. Generally considered to be robust and durable, certainly from 2004 and when compared to earlier model Jags, it seems to me that the boys who were planning the XF and what we see on sale today, had a large hand in its production.

Though it was no slouch, hitting 100km/h in 5.3 seconds, it wasn’t as quick as an M5 and, arguably, neither was it as focused. But, where as the M5 would rattle your teeth over anything other than smooth tarmac, the Jag had the ability, through its active suspension, to waft you around at cruising speeds and then hunker down when you really felt the urge. And when you did, you’d be treated to 80% of its 553Nm of torque from a mere 1500rpm. At 3,500rpm you’d be pushed hard into the seat as the supercharger took hold and the cabin was bathed in its distinctive whine. Some loved the noise, others less so, but with 400bhp (281kW) on tap you’d be hearing it quite often. But that is part of its character and you don’t buy a Jag if you don’t want character.

Over 15 months the S-type R proved to be a terrific all-rounder. The about-town stuff and the long-distance hauls it would take in its stride. The seats were superb, the ride taut but never crashy, refinement high. It was a heavy car (1800kg) and it felt it, too, so even with 400bhp you had to really prod the engine to make it fly. But fly it did, and few things on the road were quicker. I thought I might tire of the slightly whiny supercharger, but I didn’t mind it at all; and I came to love the wonderful V8 woofle … – Peter Tomalin evo Magazine

You also got exclusivity. Far fewer were bought compared to an M5, maybe for fear it would breakdown. Except they didn’t, well perhaps a few of the earlier models, but the facelifted versions from 2004 are awash with praise from the forums and, ultimately, a realisation of expectation, which is what it is all about, I guess.

jaguar s-type-r interior

Today, you can pick up a 2002 model from as little as $24,000 but that would come with over 150,000kms, and almost certainly expensive wear and tear. But double that and you can get a 2005 model with just over 50,000kms on the clock. Originally priced at around $169,000, that is a hefty reduction and you can probably knock off another $5k or so by using the research on this site.

As ever, make sure it has a full service history. Ask about any transmission issues, especially any lurching (see Research by clicking the link below for more information). Its ZF gearbox, though excellent, had been prone to electrical problems when new, but these would have been diagnosed and rectified by now. This was not solely a Jag issue either. BMW had problems with the gearbox and it seems that it was simply a software glitch.

Every forum I have read urges all owners to find a trusted repair and service centre. Not every mechanic understands these cars and it is definitely worth joining forums and asking the question of its readers. Dealers have been known to be less than accommodating, so a specialist can often be the way forward, especially for cars getting on in age.

Find a good one, and you may never look back. It is old school Jaguar but in a good way, and I think evo’s Mr. Tomalin says it best about his long termer;

Just because it’s taken Jaguar bosses 30 years to realise that people still like priapic sports cars, don’t take it out on the S-type R. It’s not just a very good car, but a very good Jaguar.

For more research and a list of useful forums, go to http://wp.me/p3rCxt-ho

jaguar s type r
By: Jaguar MENA

 

Mercedes CLS 500 (C218/219)

Mercedes CLS 500 – The best looking Merc?

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.

Mercedes cls500

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.

110728123546IMG_1425

Mercedes SL500 R129

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.

Courtesy of www.mbclub.co.uk

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.

2572926305_4bb7a828aa_o
Courtesy of flikr.com

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.

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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.

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Courtesy of www.luxury4play.com

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.

imagesOther 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

When:

Monday 21 Oct 2013 at 7pm

For $5k more you can find an example with half the kms

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Courtesy of www.benzworld.org