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Bang for your Buck: 2001 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

Mercedes-Benz has a long and storied history of building super-fast sedans going back to the 300SEL 6.3 of the late 1960s, wherein rogue engineer Erich Waxenberger took the monstrous 6.3 liter M100 V8 from the 600-series limos and dropped it into the mid-sized W109 300SEL – a car that previously had seen nothing larger than a 2.8 liter inline-6. The result was a brick of a car that performed extraordinarily well even by today’s standards with 0-60 times below 7 seconds and a top speed nearing 140mph. Famed tuners AMG (for Aufrecht and Melcher, the founders, and Großaspach, Aufrecht’s birthplace) took the 6.3 and built a bored-out killer widebody version and campaigned it throughout the late-sixites and early 1970s with great success.

In the 1980s, AMG made another big splash with their “Hammer” – a tuned W124 sedan (and eventually wagon as well) boasting a bored and modified M117 V8 in addition to numerous other alterations which all together resulted in a car capable of nearly 200mph. Mercedes in the meantime offered nothing more than the standard 3.0 inline-6. It was the AMG Hammer that prompted them to produce the rare Porsche-built W124 500E, but not until five years after the Hammer was released. AMG worked their magic on a number of Mercedes cars from the 1960s right into the 1990s, when in 1993 they formed a direct partnership with Mercedes and then in 1999 with a purchase of 51% of the company, AMG officially became part of the DaimlerChrysler family.

The Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG was the first of the W210 AMG cars to be sold stateside, as the US market never received the earlier E50. The car boasted a tuned chassis, low-profile offset monoblock wheels, full interior appointment, and a 5.5-liter M113 motor producing 349hp and 391 lb-ft of torque which wre enough to propel the car from 0-60 in about 5.3 seconds with a top speed electronically limited to 155mph. These days those early E55s represent a performance steal with cars frequently coming to market for less then $10,000 – in some cases much less. Clean cars with some miles on them start in the $7,500 range and go up from there. This example on eBay in Pewaukee, Wisconsin with a Buy-it-Now price of $8,995 appears to be a great example of a clean E55 with good history, good colors, and the power to stomp 85% of the other cars on the road.

On the outside, there is little to distinguish the E55 from the average E320 apart from the lowered stance, low-profile tires, ground effects, and twin exhaust pipes. Well, all that and the growling burble from the AMG motor. Inside, W210 E55s came with most of the bells and whistles available for the E-class at the time, including heated seats, air conditioning, moonroof, and leather (in some cases two-tone). Post-1999 cars also came standard with orthopaedically adjustable front seats and had the options of sat nav, heated and cooled front seats, CD changer, and park distance control. The ortho seats are especially appreciated as they make it possible for literally anyone to find their comfort zone. Interiors also featured a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, special wood, and AMG-specific gauges.

Those considering an E55 should check a few key areas, but by and large the cars are bulletproof well into the multiple hundreds of thousands of miles. Rust is the first weakness. W210s are strange – it seems that they are either completely rust-free or complete basket cases. You rarely seem to find cars in the middle. That said, check usual rust points such as the front fenders, rear quarters, around the fuel filler, near the front and rear windscreens, and around the sunroof. These cars tend to rust from the inside out, so a small amount of surface bubbling could be an indicator of much bigger issues. Propsective purchasers should also look for clear signs of neglect including worn wheels and dirty fluids, and conversely should really focus on cars that come with a history of regular service. All Mercedes are sensitive to proper care and feeding – more so with the AMG cars.

I owned a 1999 E55 for about a year and used it for regular commuting duties. It was actually a strange car having been delivered in Canada and then officially imported by Mercedes to the US for sale. When they imported it, they neglected to change the odometer (but they did change the speedometer) so the car actually had far fewer miles than the seller realized. It had also been a repo car, but Lord only knows what the story was there. In any case, my E55 only let me down on one occasion, and that was due to failure of the Crank Position Sensor which cost me about $300 at my favorite Mercedes specialist to replace. I also replaced the tires with a set of Kumho ASXs since the previousl owner had installed oversize tires on the rear that rubbed every time I nailed the accelerator. In all, not bad for a car whose performance can put most supercars ever made to shame.

Even for the $8,995 asking price for this car, I can think of no other car on the market that offers the same blend of outright performance, quality build, practicality, and reliability that come as neatly wrapped as the W210 E55 package. And with it’s relatively ordinary W210 looks, it’s something of a sleeper as well. The E55 is a great car to debadge and go around terrorizing riceboys in – but maybe that’s just being mean. Buy one and drive it. And drive it. And drive it some more.


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