Here’s Everything That’s Broken on My Cheap V12 Mercedes SL600

I’ve certainly proven to be very good at buying broken cars, but fixing them hasn’t always worked out — especially with 12-cylinder cars. I’m actually a total failure at this recently, since I failed to revive my badly broken 2004 Bentley Continental GT and lost interest in my 1991 BMW 850i — but I’m hoping my latest V12 purchase, a 1997 Mercedes SL600 for only $5,000, will be different. Still, just listing all the issues is a challenge — and the first day of wrenching didn’t go too well.

The first great mystery of mechanical failures involves the soft top operation, which only halfway works, as it quits moving with the top fully extended vertically like it’s trying to become a sail. My mechanic, the Car Wizard, bypassed a switch, allowing the top to finally continue its operation — but then it failed to latch, and refuses to retract again. It’s going to take some serious wizardry to figure out what’s going on there.

I actually got my delicate model-like hands dirty working on the brakes and suspension — well, actually, just one brake and suspension. The brake pads and rotors were very worn, which was giving a warning light and making a horrible noise. But the real challenge came with the suspension. The SL600 has hydraulic shocks, which provide fantastic ride quality, but something was off with mine. The shocks felt a little stiffer than they should, and since the level in the hydraulic reservoir had dropped, I suspected the accumulator balls had failed — something very common to Mercedes of this era. At first, I couldn’t find them, but the wizard pointed me behind a little access panel. From there, I mostly managed to complete the job. Unfortunately, the one accumulator, pad and rotor took me the entire afternoon.

Still, some good progress was made. My AC system revived easily with a simple recharge, and we discovered the oil leaks were coming from a simple hose, as well as an easy-to-replace steering stabilizer shock. I’m sure there are a few other mechanical problems I’ve forgotten, or have yet to discover, but there are also plenty of cosmetic issues making my $5,000 SL600 look like a $500 junker.

I easily scrapped the remnants of the disintegrating hood pad away, but the other problems will require a body shop to fix. The left side of the front bumper is holding on solely because of duct tape; the inner supports and front wheel-well for that side are completely gone. I’ll have to source those bits from the junkyard — probably along with some side-mirrors, since the glass is strangely turning black and unusable. There are also some weird dings along the passenger side door, but thankfully, I think this SL600 will clean up very well.

I’ll probably end up swapping the wheels with something period correct as well, and maybe make the exhaust a bit louder, but the long list of other issues needs to be taken care of first. Hopefully, it isn’t long before I make another post about this car, bragging about all the progress that’s been made, as I really want to break my losing streak with V12s. Wish me luck!

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