Generation Shift: Redefining ‘Classic Mercedes’
(This article, by Dave Tobin, originally appeared in the March / April 2022 issue of the Mercedes-Benz Club of America’s ‘Star Magazine.’ It also appeared in a number of regional MBCA publications in 2021 including the ‘Desert Stars’ – ‘Twin Cities’ and ‘Finger Lakes’ Section’s local newsletters).
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from MBCA Finger Lakes Section President Don Klug asking my thoughts on how our local club might appeal to younger members, specifically, MB owners in their 30s and 40s, people just like me. It’s a question that I’ve been trying to answer for the past 10 years. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that there is no simple answer to that question. Attracting younger Mercedes enthusiasts to the MBCA is a process and, I believe, it can be done.
In my brief response to him I mentioned a trend in my own business of buying and selling vintage Mercedes at Tobin Motor Works that I’ve seen developing over the past few years. He suggested I write an article about the subject based on the points in my email, so here we are.
I’ve been observing a serious ownership shift of older Mercedes, mostly cars from the 80s and 90s, from older enthusiasts to much younger ones. As each car was shipped off to its new owner, I strongly encouraged them to join the MBCA with a link to the website and a paragraph about what the Club has meant to me. I didn’t write about parts or new car discounts or the Star magazine. I wrote about personal connections, experiences and real friendships forged with other club members. I know at least 4 of them joined. Here are some examples of this trend, all cars sold by Tobin Motor Works, very publicly, on bringatrailer.com so there is no issue with talking about the prices.
1992 500 E
Sale Date: February 2021
Sale Price: $50,000
Odometer: ~ 62,000
Buyer Age: 29
Previous Owner Age: 78
Buyer Location: Illinois
The 500 E is, perhaps, the ultimate collectible Mercedes from the last quarter of the 20th century. Limited production, production involvement from Porsche, a factory performance sedan that flies under the radar. Part of the appeal is the fact that it’s so understated, not unlike the 6.3 from the late 60s.
Tobin Motor Works purchased this car from the estate of a long time MBCA member and car enthusiast in Minneapolis in November 2020. It was a one owner example that was purchased new at Feldmann Imports in Bloomington, MN. The car was inspected and necessary maintenance, about $3,000 worth, was carried out by Huber’s Imported Autos of Golden Valley, MN. All fluids were changed and the rear SLS suspension system was replaced.
The $50,000 winning bid is a strong price for this car, but not outrageous, another $4,000 – $8,000 wouldn’t have been a surprise. Because this car was acquired from an estate, unfortunately, there were no service records with the car, which probably held the price back a bit. Shortly after buying the car, I contacted the service manager at Feldmann Imports, a guy I used to worked with, as that’s where I got my first job in the car business back in 2008. He politely explained that he couldn’t provide me with any service records. I later learned, from the new owner, that he contacted Feldmann Imports for the car’s service history. He must have spoken with a sympathetic service advisor, because he was supplied with a print out of all the individual service records they had on the car.
1993 500 E 6.0 RENNtech
Sale Date: August 2020
Sale Price: $59,500
Buyer Age: 38
Previous Owner Age: 78
Buyer Location: Tennessee
While a stock 500 E is a capable performer, there are always those owners who want that little something extra. Various firms offered Mercedes tuning in the early 90s, one of the best known is RENNtech. This particular 500 E had receipts totaling over $58,000 in performance modifications that were performed at RENNtech in Florida in the mid 1990s. Today, there is a segment of the enthusiast community, many of them younger, who seek these cars out specifically.
This car was consigned by its St. Paul, MN based owner to Tobin Motor Works in the Summer of 2020. The car was shipped to TMW in New York where the car was prepped for sale. The owner acquired the car directly from RENNtech who acted as sales agent for the previous owner in 2015. Between 2015 and 2020 my client spent almost $20,000 on various maintenance items and upgrades.
The $59,500 high bid on bringatrailer.com was a couple of thousand dollars less than the sale price of the last 500 E 6.0 RENNtech modified car that appeared on BaT about 9 months earlier, with twice the mileage. The owner was pleased with the price, we both agreed that it was ‘market correct’ on that particular day, but it wasn’t an exceptional result. The pool of buyers for modified cars such as this is small, so small in fact, that the under-bidder who missed out on the other car about 9 months earlier, was the high bidder on this car.
1997 CL 500
Sale Date: December 2019
Sale Price: $14,500
Buyer Age: 38
Previous Owner Age: 88
Buyer Location: Indiana
The W140 / C140 body style seems to have been out of favor for a long time. I often hear older MB club members talking about how they don’t care for this style. Well, there is a whole new generation that’s glad older folks aren’t interested, because they are, and good examples can still be found for not a lot of money. To kids who grew up in the 90s, the W140 was THE big Mercedes sedan and the C140 coupes were even rarer and more expensive. They lusted after them when young and now they’re in a position to buy them… and they are.
This was a consignment from one of my very favorite customers. This was the last Mercedes he ever bought before he passed away. He was in very poor health when he bought it, but I think buying another car and having it to ‘sort out’ was what kept him going. He couldn’t do much other than talk on the phone, so he was ordering parts, directing the tech he had working on the car to do this and that. He was the kind of guy who even bought wiper blades by calling Tom Hanson at the Classic Center in Irvine, CA. He paid close to $18,000 for it and spent another $6,000 or so on various maintenance items. Nobody said a C140 is a ‘good investment’ although, it may very well prove a good investment for the new owner.
The high bid of $14,500 was market correct, maybe a touch light. The values of such ‘new’ cars is heavily dependent upon the odometer, although, people ought to pay more attention to the service and maintenance history than to the odometer in my opinion. The price my consignment client paid for it, at a specialty dealer in South Florida, was outrageous, but they had what he wanted and he was happy to pay that price. W140 and C140 prices are still very reasonable in today’s market.
1971 300 SEL 6.3 AMG
Sale Date: December 2019
Sale Price: $70,000
Odometer: ~25,000 (TMU)
Buyer Age: 46
Previous Owner Age: 85
Buyer Location: Minnesota
The oldest car on the list and the most unique. This car was purchased in Germany in the early 80s, by an Indianapolis based German ex-pat master technician who worked at World Wide Motors in Indianapolis for 35 years. No ordinary 6.3, and what made it so special… this car had 4 or 5 pages of receipts from the early-80s from AMG in Affalterbach, all in German, detailing the extensive mechanical and cosmetic modifications that were done to this car upon the orders, of what my consignment customer described as, a ‘German Playboy.’ A bored and stroked engine, transmission modifications, a velour Recaro interior, vents cut into the fenders, all chrome trim removed and painted black, the list goes on.
This is a polarizing car. BaT would only accept it as a no reserve offering, period. Half the people who look at this 6.3 throw up and believe that it’s an abomination, the other half drop their jaw and drool, either way, it leaves everyone with their mouth open. There is an entire group of enthusiasts, many of them younger folks, interested in ‘pre-merger’ AMG cars… those cars modified by AMG before AMG and Mercedes were officially working on joint projects, together. This is perhaps, the ultimate ‘pre-merger’ AMG car. Long term ownership, fully documented and because it’s not something from the 80s, but a true, classic Mercedes that harkens back to AMG’s roots and the ‘Red Pig’ that ran at the 1969 24 hours of Spa with very similar modifications.
At a high bid of $70,000, this car held the record for ‘most expensive 6.3 ever sold on Bringatrailer.com’ for months… which is, frankly, strange, because there are plenty of 6.3s that cost more than $70,000, they just don’t wind up on BaT. As a general rule, I don’t think BaT is a good place to sell a 6.3, for a variety of reasons, but it was the place for this one, but not without some serious nerves. The high bid was only $26,500 with about 10 minutes left to go in the auction.
What’s most interesting about this one is that BaT was a last resort, because they would only take it as a ’no reserve’ sale… they didn’t believe it would reach the $35,000 reserve I requested. The car had been on the market for months with little interest from anyone. I had advertised the car on Hemmings.com over the Summer for $69,900, it appeared in the November / December 2019 issue of the Star magazine for the discounted price of $66,900, nobody called.
The new owner explained to me on the phone, right after the BaT auction ended, that he buys pre-merger AMG cars from all over the world and he never imagined something like this, a 6.3, a real, classic Mercedes, modified by AMG, even existed. He went on to say that he wouldn’t have lost the auction. He was going to win, whatever it took, he wasn’t going to stop bidding. This was the 45th car in his collection at that point.
The key to success was a transparent representation of the car with hundreds of photos, good videos demonstrating the incredible engine and exhaust sound of this one of a kind 6.3 and the integration of the long time owner’s ownership story.
To reiterate the point that I always try to make to people, about the importance of documentation, without the 4 or 5 pages of receipts from AMG Affalterbach, this probably would have struggled to reach that $35,000 mark.
1993 300 E
Sale Date: August 2019
Sale Price: $15,650
Buyer Age: 40
Previous Owner Age: 87
Buyer Location: Texas
I like to say “A remarkable example of an unremarkable car is still remarkable.” To many, a W124 E class is just a 4 door sedan, and it is. This chassis was the workhorse of the Mercedes line up from the mid 80s through the mid 90s, fashioned into a wagon, sleek coupe and high class convertible. True survivor W124 sedans aren’t easy to find anymore and that’s why this car was remarkable.
Another consignment from my interesting and eccentric client in Pennsylvania, he had purchased this car from Pierre Hedary a few years earlier, after Pierre sorted the car out. It was as fine a W124 sedan as I’d ever seen or driven. As mentioned earlier, odometers have a lot to do with the value of cars of this vintage. 59,000 miles wouldn’t be considered low for an E 320 convertible, but it is considered low for a sedan.
The high bid of $15,650 surprised the owner as much as it surprised me. I figured this was probably a $12,000 – $13,000 car, the bidders on BaT thought differently, and they’re really all that matters. I remember the phone call with the new owner minutes after the auction ended, “This is my first classic Mercedes ever, heck, it’s my first Mercedes!”
I’m not sure I ever thought of a W124 E class as a ‘classic Mercedes’ until that moment, what’s important though, is that somebody else did.
1984 300 TD
Sale Date: October 2018
Sale Price: $18,750
Buyer Age: 39
Previous Owner Age: 87
Buyer Location: Rhode Island
The first consignment I received from my customer in PA. I had initially visited him, to see this very car, before I moved to New York, when I still lived in Minneapolis. He had purchased the car a couple of years earlier from a Mercedes tech who runs a shop in southern California. Typical of this engineer and pilot, every system of this car had been sorted and it was cosmetically clean. It was not an original paint car, I figured out with my paint meter and a sharp eye, as it had been represented when he purchased it. Never the less, diesel wagons were really hot in the market during the Summer of 2018 and have continued to come on strong since.
Again, the high bid of $18,750 surprised us both, at that time, that was a huge number. Black with Palomino interior proved to be a sought after color combination and Tobin Motor Works’ usual transparent representation, hundreds of photos and various videos put potential buyers at ease. My client would have been happy with $14,000. When the bid reached $15,000 he called me and was ecstatic, text messages came in every few minutes demonstrating his delight until it finally ended just under $19,000.
This was the buyer’s first Mercedes purchase ever. He explained to me on the phone that he had always admired ‘classic’ Mercedes wagons and he was finally in a position to buy one.
As you can see from the ages included with each anecdote above, younger enthusiasts are interested in older Mercedes, especially those cars they can identify with from their formative years. All of these purchases were really meaningful to the buyers, some of them, first time ‘classic’ or Mercedes buyers or both. And remember, they all paid BaT’s 5% buyer’s premium on top of the high bid prices listed above, and all of these cars were shipped to their new owners, adding to the final cost.
I expect to see continued interest in cars of the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s from younger enthusiasts. I also expect to see them look toward older cars, eventually. As they learn more about the Mercedes-Benz brand and its history it’s only natural that they will show interest and probably start buying choice, older models like the Pagoda SL, W108 / 109 sedans and, surely, for those who have more discretionary income 190 and 300 SLs.
These younger enthusiasts are interested in Mercedes cars, that’s clear. I managed to convince at least 4 of the buyers mentioned above to join the MBCA, but retaining them is the real trick. A ‘$55 magazine subscription’ or a ‘new car discount’ isn’t enough to keep this generation (or probably any other) around. Once they join, it’s the club’s job, our job, your job, to provide a relevant and engaging club experience that enhances their enjoyment and ownership experience. If the next generation is to take up the reins and carry the MBCA forward, the club must kindle the same passion in them as the cars they’re buying.