Road Trip! Buying a Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster – And a Trip Up the California Coast
Over the past two years, friend and client, David Steingas of Wayzata, MN has talked to me on several occasions about his interest in acquiring an SLS AMG Roadster. He’d call and we’d talk about the SLS market. Where prices were, how many cars were on the market, where might prices be going, etc. Each time, as we got off the phone he’d say something like… “Keep me in mind” – “If you hear of something good” – “Let me know if…” I hear this kind of thing a lot.
By this Spring, it was different… Steingas called and said “Tobin, I’m ready, I NEED an SLS”. He was only interested in an SLS Roadster. He’s a convertible guy and likes open cars, so a roadster it would be.
Sears Imports in Minneapolis had a red roadster with a tan top and tan interior, they were asking in the neighborhood of $135,000. A little too much in our opinion, especially considering it had 15,000+ miles. Roadsters under 15,000 miles were available nationally with prices anywhere between about $120,000 and $150,000, depending upon mileage, number of owners, options (and the selling dealer). SLS coupes demand a 25% price premium (oftentimes more) over a comparable roadster, despite the fact that the coupe may be older and more common. SLS Coupes were available starting with the 2011 model year in the U.S., roadsters didn’t arrive until 2012 and more coupes were produced than roadsters.
Mercedes SLS AMG Production and Sales Numbers
Mercedes and AMG have never officially released exact production figures for the SLS. When first conceived and marketed, there was some talk of limiting the production run to a few thousand units, presumably in an effort to create an heir of exclusivity around the model. Ultimately, the SLS sold quite well, perhaps better than Mercedes expected, and production numbers rose as orders increased. In a January 2014 press release, Daimler Global Media touted record sales numbers for AMG cars during the 2013 sales year and said this about the SLS:
“The SLS AMG super sports car has also racked up impressive sales: Since the first model in this series rolled off the production line in the spring of 2010, over 10,000 SLS AMGs have been sold.”
U.S. sales of coupes is estimated at a little less than 3,000.
Interestingly, there always seem to be more SLS roadsters on the market than coupes, despite the fact that fewer roadsters were produced. My theory is that more roadsters were sold to folks who just wanted a cool Mercedes convertible as opposed to a true, iconic, ‘future’ collectible – in the SLS coupe. The SLS roadster isn’t the ‘flavor of the month’ among those who always need to have the newest thing in their garage, so they trade them in or hand them over to a consignment dealer to sell.
I searched nationally for a suitable SLS for Steingas. There is no shortage of used SLS coupes and roadsters. Over the past 18 months or so, since I’ve been watching the SLS market closely, there have always been between 50 and 100 cars available from specialty dealers and private parties at any one time. You don’t see them on the road every day, but they aren’t really ‘rare’ as we interpret that word in the collector car world.
A few different cars put in front of him were of interest to Steingas and we proceeded to the next step. Offers. Ultimately, three different offers on three different cars were made. Selling dealers declined our offers citing ‘a strong market’ or ‘a rare car’. Neither of these things are really true today, but a dealer has a right to decline an offer, who knows what factors were working behind the scenes.
Steingas eventually settled on a one owner car in Los Angeles with just 5,560 miles. We looked at all the photos and the Carfax. It was Diamond White Metallic with black and white leather interior and a tan soft top. The asking price was fair, but on principle, some negotiation was warranted. After a little back and forth, a deal was struck at $122,000 for this low mile example that had been garaged in Laguna Beach, CA with its only owner since new. A wire transfer was made and the car was his.
I don’t often talk publicly about what a specific client might have actually paid for a car, in this case, Steingas agreed to let me write this story about his experience. This is a true, real world example of how things worked out for a real person, a real car, a real price, a real transaction, so it might be of use to readers or others interested in finding an SLS (thanks David, for letting me share this information with the Mercedes-Market community).
The Road Trip
A couple weeks later Steingas and his significant other flew into L.A. with plans to drive up the California coast, to eventually end up in Reno, NV with family.
They picked up the car and headed north on Hwy 1, a great road to drive in any car, but especially fun in an SLS roadster. They stopped in Avila Beach for dinner and to spend the night. In the hotel parking lot they found a beautifully restored Morris Minor convertible, another car that would certainly be fun to cruise the twisty California Coast highway in, if you are interested in a slightly more ‘vintage’ experience.
In the morning it was up early and on the road again, heading north, towards Big Sur. They arrived in style at the Hearst Mansion for a tour. Then it was back in the car to continue north. Steingas, used to straight roads with 90 degree turns in Minnesota, marveled at the roads in Northern California and at the car in which he was navigating them. He called me from the car one morning (I had helped him pair his mobile phone to the car via ‘bluetooth’ when he was still in L.A.). “Tobin, the winding roads in this part of the country are great! And in this car, it’s amazing, I love it!”
I’ve driven those roads a few times… once in an old air cooled Porsche 911 and again in an air cooled Volkswagen Westfalia, two very different experiences, but always great vistas and fun driving.
David and Christine arrived in Carmel for their second evening stop. I had suggested they have dinner at “Casanova”, a quaint little place a couple blocks off of Ocean Avenue in Carmel, a place I always try enjoy during car week. They had dinner there and loved it, then spent the night at Hotel Carmel.
In the morning they headed north for the 5 hour drive to Reno. Towards Sacramento and eventually east into Nevada. Steingas told me that “Traffic from Carmel to Reno was interesting… a motorcycle passed us, splitting lanes at about 110 mph, regular traffic was cruising along at about 70.”
They arrived safely in Reno where they spent the night with family and flew home the next morning. I helped David arrange shipping for the SLS from Reno back to Minneapolis.
So what’s the best part of owning and driving an SLS Roadster? I asked Steingas.
“It’s really comfortable, most of the time it just feels like a regular car, but getting on onto freeway entrance ramps… 113mph at the top of the entry ramp was common, then I had to slow down to 55 or 60 to merge into traffic safely. It just never gets old, I always have a smile on my face when I’m driving that car.”
Take Aways and Future Collectibility
What can we take away from all of this? First, don’t forget to get out and enjoy your cars! Second… there is no shortage of SLS cars on the market, especially SLS AMG Roadsters. You will see roadsters with the same mileage as the subject car above listed for $25,000 – $30,000 more than what Steingas paid, so be patient, shop around and wait for the right deal, they are out there.
What about future collectibility? For many years the 300 SL Gullwing coupes were one of the only cars that were worth more in coupe for than convertible / roadster form. Not until the early – mid 2000s did collectors start valuing the 300 SL roadster the same as coupes. As the vintage rally and tour industry really started taking off, as baby boomers in large numbers started buying collector cars to enjoy, they realized that 300SL roadsters are actually ‘better cars’ than Gullwings and the values between the two cars equalized. Today, it depends upon condition and history… some coupes are less expensive than roadsters and vice versa.
With the SLS AMG cars I don’t think you’ll see the same thing play out. Prices already show that coupes are favored. I believe an SLS Coupe will always demand a premium over the roadster. The iconic coupe shape with gullwing doors on the SLS coupe ‘make’ the car for a lot of people. As a result, I might even go as far as to say that SLS Roadsters represent a serious value in the market today. They all had window stickers over $200,000 when new, so today, you can buy an under 10,000 mile example for a $100,000 discount. On top of it… the SLS, coupe or Roadster, is a GOOD car. They drive well and are much more reliable than many other exotics.
Do you need an SLS AMG?
I’ve always got a line on a handful of SLS coupes and roadsters, often from private individuals, original owners even. If you’d like to talk about the SLS market or need help finding a good example, give me a call.