I received an email recently from a gentleman named Dennis King. He told an interesting story of a ‘barn find’ R129 SL 500 La Costa Edition he discovered (well, maybe a ‘car port find’ – but you know what I mean). He wrote in after reading a Mercedes-Market article about this rare R129 special edition, just 30 units produced. I asked him if he’d be interested in writing up the story of the car he found to share with the Mercedes-Market community. What he sent in is below. A special thanks to Dennis for taking the time to write this story, share these photos and allowing us to share it with the wider Mercedes-Market community! – Ed.
I’d just sold my 1993 500E to a buyer in Poland on Bring a Trailer and I was looking for another Mercedes-Benz to keep for a short time, to enjoy, and sell for a profit when the time was right. I was flipping thru Facebook marketplace and found a teal green SL 500 for sale.
The ad had some poor quality pictures, but I liked the fact that it was a 1997 model which meant the last year for the M119 engine with 4 valves per cylinder and the first year of the 5 speed 722.6 automatic transmission in the R129 chassis. I also notice that it was a Sport package car and the AMG alloys were still present. I messaged the seller and asked for some more pictures as well as the VIN so I could run a vehicle build sheet online. I guessed the car had either grey or tan interior given the green exterior. When interior photos arrived from the seller, I was taken aback. Turquoise and black seats with matching steering wheel and teal shift knob with a strange logo. I then ran the VIN and determined that this was a designo built car in Viviante green (also known as Calypso Green), the garish interior was original. This was interesting indeed so I Googled “green SL500 with green and black interior. An article on Mercedes-Market came up and right there, was a picture of my car.
Actually it was a picture of one of Walt Anderson’s LaCosta Edition cars in an article by Dave Tobin. Now I was getting excited. That’s a great moment for a car hunter, when they feel they just stumbled on to something special. A literal barn find. I read the Mercedes-Market article and all LaCosta related info I could find. I contacted the seller to arrange a time to view the car and determine if it made sense to purchase the car.
My wife and I made the trip thru the best parts of Willamette Valley, Oregon wine country, which happens to be where we live, to the sellers home. Once there, I immediately noticed the SL, abandoned in the carport, covered in dust and neglect. Around the carport were blackberry bushes and tall grass. Two more years and this car would have been forgotten.
My wife and I meet the seller and he opens up the car. The interior is just as raucous in real life as in pictures, if not more. The star that is missing from the grill is on the passenger seat. The alarm LED is on solid red and the car doesn’t start. Then we address the exterior. It’s so dirt covered that it’s hard to see what condition the paint is truly in. I ask for a wet towel and begin to remove dirt.
What I found was worse than I expected. The clear coat was peeling in many spots, my heart sank. This was a car that I was hoping to clean, fix and sell online for a decent profit, all while helping an enthusiast find a rare SL. The paint was a deal breaker.
I’ve been in the Auto Industry for 25 years and I’ve been working with European cars, exclusively, for some time now. I know what it costs to repaint a car to look top notch. It’s not a dime less than $10,000 and usually more.
I can’t justify that risk. How can I guarantee that I make a return on this investment? The car doesn’t even start. I thank the seller for his time and tell him I will be in touch. In my mind that meant that I’d probably text him later to decline a purchase. It was just too much to risk on a non-running car.
On the way home, my wife and I discussed the car. I said that it probably didn’t make sense. It needs a complete repaint to make it correct and it has to stay the original color given the rarity of the special edition. She tells me that if I can get the car for an undisclosed price (you’ve got this much in your checking account, I promise) that I could have it to keep as my own. She said, “This is a car you keep for 20 years or more, it’s special.” That’s why I married her.
I set up another visit to see if I could start the car. After trying some tricks with the factory security module, it still didn’t start. Because of the poor paint and its inability to start, I had my ammo and made my offer. After about ten seconds of deliberation, the seller obliged and I set a date to tow it away.
I towed it to the dealership service department where I am the service manager. After installing a used security module it still didn’t start. Luckily, I had a spare base module to substitute and I installed it, after that, she started. After multiple oil changes to remove any old oil, I set out to clean the vehicle. I’m very fortunate to be affiliated with multiple detailers that work where I work. After a bit of work, she still needs a complete repaint but she’s looking a bit better. I’ve fitted new tires, fixed a few trim items, and hopefully, will have it painted once the new paint booth is installed at our body shop.
A few details about this LaCosta; it’s one of 15 fitted with HID headlamps. The CARFAX says it was a corporate lease that wasn’t officially registered until 2000 when it had 13,000 miles. I believe this was a Mercedes Benz promo vehicle and one of the two that weren’t sold through California Mercedes dealerships like the other 27 (28 if you count the one given away at a charity auction). This car bears the “SPORT” badges on the front fenders, unlike most LaCosta cars, that have a badge reading “LACOSTA EDITION” in that spot.
My future plans are to continue to maintain and enjoy the car. A repaint and new rear section of the soft top are high on the to-do list as are some mechanical maintenance items like engine mounts and a steering component refresh. She’s got 96,000 miles on the clock and I’d like to keep it under 100k if possible, but I do love driving the R129. The best part is that the license plates that came on the car are standard Oregon issued plates, but the randomness of the plate number is what is interesting, “FLY129.” In the 90’s, this car, with this interior, would most certainly be called “fly” in hip hop slang. Every suburban kid listening to hip hop that saw this car would’ve definitely attributed the adjective “fly” to this car. The interior is very “fly” indeed. This is definitely one “Fly 129′.