Intro: More is better.
There are many ways to convey luxury in an automotive context, but the ones who have re-written the rulebook are the crafty and understated engineers at Mercedes-Benz. They believe that luxuries are an expression of the ridiculous amount of features your car possesses. And the S600 is the embodiment of that vision of luxury.
A traditional luxury car has heated seats. An S600 seat is heated, ventilated, massaging, with automatic air-powered bolstering that hugs you like an ex-girlfriend that realizes she was wrong.
Other luxury cars usually have V8 engines. S600? A V12. With a turbo. And another turbo. An S600 does have a speed limiter (I'm guessing to give its competition a chance), at 155 MPH. However, if you ask Mercedes really, really nicely, they'll take it off for you, and here's the result:
With enormous tuning potential, it can out-accelerate single turbo Toyota Supras. This is a hell of a car.
Part 1: You had me at "craigslist"
Late at night, it's often hard to vet classifieds because the people that wrote them are likely asleep. The viewer must then ask themselves if it's worth it to write a text at 3:30 in the morning and risk catching the seller in the grumpiest of moods, or end up being the first person they reply to in the morning. This was my dilemma.
I found a 2003 Mercedes-Benz S600 for sale locally on craigslist, while looking for an interesting flip. What attracted me was the price - $7500. On a bad day, these were worth $10k in the current market. It was a far cry from its original $140k price tag, and I knew that if there were any expesive fixes (read: any at all), I'd be in over my head, but I decided to indulge my curiosity with this one. The ad said it needed some "work", and there was no picture associated with it. And it was an hour away.
I wasn't shy about contacting the seller before the sun had a chance to rise, and I was met with a "I'll contact you in the morning". When I got the details, I was even more intrigued and decided to take a trip with a friend. After doing a history report on the car's VIN which revealed no shady history and hearing from the seller that the car belonged to a wealthy elderly man that recently passed away, I was on my way.
After the trip in which I nearly drove to border of Pennsyvania, I finally got a first-hand look at the car. Here's what I found:
The Merc's body work was nearly perfect, save for a slight bit of damage with the rear bumper where it was obvious that the driver didn't heed the car's screaming parking sensors and ran into something. Not really too much of a cause for concern, but I had no idea if it was a dealbreaker for me, as I thought most meticulous Mercedes-Benz buyers wouldn't take kindly to a blemish. The car also had some chrome Lexani 20" rims that were probably relevant at the time the car was still in production, but were past their prime by a fair stretch, like a 63-year old chain smoking casino singer working the graveyard shift.
The interior was dirty, yet salvageable. The Napa perforated leather seats had no wear on them, and did things to my backside that may or may not have made me question my sexuality. The massaging function worked as a function of the air bladders that provide lumbar and bolster support, and simply pulsed slowly. This car also had the ultra-rare 4-seater option that had fully adjustable rear seats with all options ticked. The options on this car were maxed out harder than an S600 owner's credit card on an out-of-warranty repair. Brand new this car cost someone around $145,000, and the asking price for it used was less than 5 percent of its original cost. If this is an indicator of a down economy, I love down economies.
The Check Engine light was on, and when I read the codes with my trusty OBD-II scanner, it revealed that the car had an issue with one of the coilpacks.
While a regular (read: poor person's) car's ignition coilpack can be around $100 and works on a single cylinder, one for a Mercedes S600 works on 6 cylinders at once and costs $2000, new from Mercedes. This was troubling, but I figured that I'd take it for a test drive in any case, since I didn't want to waste the metric ton of fuel my S500 devoured getting there.
Quick aside - I have a theory that the more cylinders a car has, the better its starter sounds. A 4 cylinder Honda engins tarting sounds positively asthmatic, while a Mercedes V12 sounds like it was made with future materials. It has a mechanical whirr ending in a satisfying rumble that felt like an event. It lets you know that pressing the "Engine Start Button" was indeed serious business.
After the orgasmic starter motor did its thing and brough the 5.5 liter V12 to life, I noticed something odd: nothing was rumbling, grumbling OR stumbling. It wasn't misfiring, and I could barely feel the engine at all - the only indication that the car was even on was the RPM needle at a number other than zero.
And then I drove it.
Here's how you drive an S600 in 4 easy steps.
- Accelerate to 60 mph.
- Press gas pedal firmly to the floor.
- Decelerate from 150 mph
This car isn't fast, it's surprisingly explosive, like anything from Taco Bell without the hilariously unfortunate consequences. It's a luxobarge that massages your back and roasts the rear tires at 50 mph as if it was its civic duty to do so. The V12's exhaust note had a muted but noticeable rage in its higher RPM range and the power delivery was absolutely unrelenting in a way that could enable its unsuspecting driver to get a very, very expensive ticket without actually trying. From a dig, it actually felt a bit faster than the manufacturer's posted figures, which did make sense considering its peak 590 ft-lbs of torque was delivered at 1800 rpms and my butt dyno was freshly calibrated the previous week.
The car's Active Body Control (ABC) Suspension tried its best to keep the car flat in the corners (keyword: tried), and actually made the car feel lighter than the S500 I rode in on, despite being heavier by nearly the combined weight of the cast of Precious. It redefined my concept of fast and it did so by supplying me with endless luxury made possible by the gift that keeps on giving - depreciation.
I decided to take a chance on this gem and offered $7k, which was fair considering the issues the car had. I paid the seller, took the car, and enjoyed a mini-road trip with my second Mercedes S-Class (take THAT, high school guidance counselor!)
Part 2: The "S" stands for savings!
If I had any chance to make money, I needed to act quickly and make a list of what this car needed. My tentative list consisted of:
- Fix mechanical issues
- Fix the glove box locking mechanism (doesn't close)
- Fix faulty parking sensor from previous impact with bumper
- Change the small-time-drug-dealer rims
- Clean interior and exterior
First order of the day was to fix the mechanical issues. Here's the funny thing - there weren't any. The check engine was on, but the car ran great and didn't miss a beat for the demanding week that I drove it. I checked the ECU codes again and had a realization: the codes that I was reading weren't current codes, they were stored. The previous owner had changed both coilpacks but didn't have the light reset for one reason or another, so the car was sold at a deep discount. Imagine, some poor guy's last experiences in life was paying a $3000 bill from Mercedes. I hope that wasn't what did him in, because that would mean me, the cheapest person on the planet, buying the car would qualify as the definition of a greek tragedy.
I cleared the codes and no pending codes came up in a few hundred miles of driving. I daily drove it because WHY THE HELL WOULDN'T YOU?!
I also scanned the car with STAR Diagnosis to check all of the 50+ systems in the car, and everything checked out as if it was new. I made sure to check out the ABC suspension, as that was one of the most expensive fixes on this car if it had faults.
Fun fact: The ABC Suspension on the Mercedes S600 is hydraulic and operates at a pressure of 300 bar, or 4351 PSI. If this system leaks in a pressurized area, the stream would be about twice as powerful as a conventional power washer.
I may be glazing over this, but this was a HUGE relief. A mechanical issue on this high-maintenance of an motor would have made me lose my shirt, pants, and possibly my favorite kidney.
The glove box I fixed by simply buying a spare on on ebay, undoing 4 torx screws and swapping out the locking mechanisms.
To fix the parking sensor, I ordered a new OEM Bosch parking sensor and installed it by prying the panel and plugging it into the existing wiring. Worked like a charm, and cheaper than a bad date.
It was at that point I had to deal with those gaudy chrome dubs the previous owner thought was fitting for the car's elegant style. Since I owned an S500, I had rims that I was planning on putting on when the body modifications were finished. However, since I got the rims, I decided to go a different route. I had a set of 19" Brabus Monoblock VI rims. They were staggered, looked great on the S-Class, and cost me a grand total of $540 with tires (I found them locally). They needed a bit of refinishing, so I elected to clean them up and Plastidip them.
Just like the Porsche 944 S Plastidip job I did, I cleaned the wheels with 90% isopropyl alcohol and layed down 4 coats (1 light, 3 thick) of Aluminum Plastidip, then covered it with 1-2 coats of Glossifier.
To clean the car, I elected to use the same methods I've used for all my flips:
- Dishwashing Soap
- Spray Bottles
- Mr Clean Magic Eraser Pack
- Leather Conditioner/Cleaner
- Microfiber towels
- Invisible Glass (Ammonia free)
- Bissell Little Green Machine
I washed, clay barred, polished and waxed the car using these products:
- 2 buckets
- Dishwashing soap
- Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash
- Meguiar's Clay Bar
- PC 7424XP w 6" backing plate
- 3 pads for agressive cut , medium cut and fine cut/polish.
- Collinite 845 wax
- Microfiber Towels
I also followed these tutorials, made by Larry Kosilla at AMMO NYC and /DRIVE:
Part 3: I can't believe I get paid for this.
After all work and detailing was completed, here was the culmination of all my effort:
I put it up for sale on ebay with a Buy It Now of $13,500 and almost immediately got serious interest and sold the car within 3 days for $12,000. Here's the rundown of costs for this flip:
|2003 Mercedes S600
|Brabus 19" Rims||-$540.00|
A $4400 profit for driving one of the most insanely surprising and underestimated cars I've ever experienced. This is what I live for.
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