Lots of people bring back mementos from their vacations. Many buy postcards, while some others collect custom spoons from all the interesting places they’ve visited. I have a tendency to come home with cheap cars. I don’t see anything wrong with this behavior, and I’m sure everyone will agree with me once I’ve explained my latest purchase, which I’ll use for a trip to Monterey Car Week: a 1995 Mercedes-Benz C36 AMG.
After selling my 2000 Mercedes-Benz ML55, it felt weird not having a funky AMG in the hooptie fleet. Once I knew my LS-Swapped Porsche 911 wasn’t going to be finished in time to drive out west for the Monterey festivities, I decided to search for something out there. The California climate preserves cars incredibly well, so it’s always easy to find something enticing — and since 50 years of AMG is a theme for many events during car week, I certainly wanted to join the fun. This very special AMG is just the ticket.
If you don’t know the C36 AMG, it holds an interesting title: It’s first mass-produced AMG. Before combining forces with Mercedes-Benz, AMG started its life as a bonkers racing team — then they started selling bonkers body kits and performance accessories. AMG kits totally transformed conservatively engineered Mercedes models of the 1970s and 1980s into crazy-looking high-performance-autobahn burners — it was like morphing Mr. Rogers into Hulk Hogan. Of course, AMG built plenty of cars before 1995 (the most notable being their "Hammer" series), but these were mostly one-off custom builds for customers with very deep pockets.
The C36 was different. AMG started "officially" collaborating with Mercedes-Benz in 1990, and the C36 is the first mass-produced collaboration between the two; a car that wasn’t just offered in the aftermarket as a tuner vehicle but officially sold through Mercedes-Benz dealerships. Following the success of the C36 and other AMG models that quickly came later, DaimlerChrysler purchased a majority stake in AMG by 1999.
Despite being a mainstream production car with a fairly modest price compared to earlier AMG offerings, the C36 wasn’t just a badge special with a few token improvements. Just about every mechanical component of the "W202" C-Class was extensively modified, or replaced with top-shelf Mercedes parts. The inline 6-cylinder engine was bored and given a longer stroke, dramatically increasing horsepower and torque. The transmission came from the legendary 500E, and the brakes were borrowed from the V12-powered Mercedes SL600. The suspension and steering was stiffened up just enough to feel sporty, but still preserved the legendary Mercedes ride quality.
The visual improvements of the C36 are subtle, with a mild body kit, a suspension drop and AMG wheels — but it made the car look absolutely gorgeous. Looking at this car’s discreet-looking, boxy and chiseled features pleases my eyes much more than the over-styled, often blobby-looking offerings of today.
I purchased my C36 through a Bring a Trailer auction. Turns out the seller, Rick, is a fellow automotive journalist, with a podcast called Clutchkick. It has 210,000 miles, and I was the high bidder, at $5,600 with fees. The biggest selling point was the extensive service records dating back to 2000, which show that all the common issues these cars suffer from have already been addressed — including the replacement of the biodegradable wiring harness and (very recently) a new head gasket. Of course, being an old Mercedes, it did have some issues.
Rick was kind enough to pick me up from the airport in the C36, and as we drove back to his place, I began playing with all the accessories. I immediately noted the AC didn’t work, as the climate control was stuck blowing full heat. Thankfully, I had seen this problem many times from owning several vintage Mercedes models, and just a few love-taps on the heater valve under the hood revived the climate control system. This is likely a temporary fix, but at least the eventual heater valve rebuild is a fairly cheap and easy repair.
The other issue is a little more serious, as I noticed the engine has a surprise oil leak from the timing-chain cover. This is surprising, as all of this was torn apart for a major engine reseal less than 10,000 miles ago. Being a stand-up guy, Rick offered to compensate me the cost of the repair totally unsolicited.
After the inspection and paperwork, Rick continued playing the good host and took me around to see the sights of San Francisco. For this Kansas boy, the California traffic is always maddening, but I had a great time cruising past the "Full House" house and capturing some gorgeous shots by the Golden Gate Bridge. My C36 still has a long journey ahead, and I’m hopeful this 210,000 mile car that I’m just getting acquainted with is up for the trip. Wish me luck! Find a 1995 Mercedes-Benz C 36 AMG for sale
Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.
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