Here at Totally That Stupid, we are huge fans of cheap convertibles. There are few better conveyances than a fun, inexpensive car with no roof throughout all four seasons, just as long as there isn’t liquid water falling from the sky.
From our individual Days One to high school and those weird years we called our 20s and 30s through literally today, the convertible bugs we carry with us – having bitten early and hard – were allowed plenty of time to germinate and flourish. It’s like a really friendly tapeworm, but with fresh air and a clutch.
The first cheap convertible I bought with my own lunch money was a 1987 BMW 325i. It was a terrible car upon arrival, but with a massive injection of elbow grease, used parts, and very dangerous and/or flammable chemicals, it became a wonderful northern California wine country ride, blending in beautifully with the locals.
Remember the film Sideways with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church? Giamatti’s character drove a 1987 Saab 900 convertible, which was tired at the start of the film and absolutely mangled by the end. Sideways dropped in theaters right around the time the 325iC dropped in my lap. Whereas Giamatti’s character was based in San Diego and frequented the Santa Barbara county wine country, we lived in the San Francisco Bay area and haunted Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
That BMW and those adventures are a story for another time, especially since I recently found some before and after photos of what was affectionately known as Die Fliegermaus (loosely, “The Flying Rat”). The point is, cheap convertibles you don’t care that much about are fantastic. You can park them anywhere, with the top down, and people generally won’t mess with them. If the sun beats on the interior, or the dashboard gets dusty, you don’t care so much. As long as it runs reliably (enough) and is (relatively) safe, you’ll be wearing a smile.
Which brings us to the 1992 Mercedes-Benz 500SL you see here. Originally sporting a sticker of $97,500 (a bit over $178,000 today), this North Carolina… peach is offered today at a rock-bottom $1,900. Car guy math says that 1,900 of today’s dollars against an adjusted-for-inflation $178k is the thinnest of whiskers over 1% of the original purchase price. That’s basically free!
And that’s a good thing. While not completely unfortunate-looking, there are definitely bumps and bruises and large swaths of missing leather to attend to. There are some chunks missing from the front bumper, but overall the cosmetics don’t actually look as bad as they could. No air conditioning? No problem. It probably just needs a charge anyway, right? Drive with the top down, to reiterate the message.
One has to wonder if the current owner discovered there was a folding top issue when the roof suddenly ground to a halt, or when hydraulic fluid starting oozing from the sun visors onto his Dockers. Either would be exciting at a stop light as the rain started.
But no matter. In the year and a half I owned the 325iC I put the top up twice: once driving home in the rain, and once more for the single bath it received. You could either adopt the same philosophy in this 500SL or just install the hardtop that appears to come as a sweet parting gift.
Mechanically, it’s got a replacement engine, because some previous sot apparently cooked the original mill. Shame that mill doesn’t appear to have any oil pressure at hot idle.
But there’s a distinct lack of duct tape on the intake tubes, and we always take that mean a conscientious and perhaps even mechanically sympathetic owner. “New tires” and “many new mechanical and suspension parts replaced” and “original paint” will maybe surely warm any potential buyer’s shriveled heart cockles. And if you don’t like black, the seller claims to have a red 1990 500SL on offer as well.
For the record, we’re trying really hard to not make this series all about Jaguars or Mercedes-Benzes. But if the shoe fits, and damn if there aren’t a lot of sub-$2,000 examples of each at any given time in every market around the country.
As this 500SL illustrates, depreciation and neglect are the twin mistresses of a great Cheap Heap of the Week.