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One Year With a Broken, V12-Powered, $4,500 Mercedes-Benz S600

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author photo by Tyler Hoover January 2017

Some of you may think my recent purchases of the cheapest Acura NSX and Porsche 911 available for sale in the U.S. are just a publicity stunt for my new writing career -- and while it does draw attention, much like people rubbernecking for a car accident, the truth is I've been making horrible purchasing decisions like these for almost a decade.

Today, I'm going to showcase another bad decision, as I'm celebrating 1 year of owning my 2007 Mercedes-Benz S600 V12 biturbo. I purchased this car -- which I named the Silver Elephant -- terminally broken for $4,500. In the video, I detail the saga of bringing the Silver Elephant back to life -- and its funky features. This written article focuses more on my crazy purchasing strategy and my impressions of V12 ownership.

When it comes to buying cars, Doug DeWarranty and I have completely different approaches. DougCars are carefully researched and pondered. This is usually after an initial voting process by his throngs of adoring fans -- who tend to pick cars that are most likely to kill him, or horrible vehicles guaranteed to make his life miserable. Once Doug settles on something, he finds the nicest one available from reputable sources, often with his trademark bumper-to-bumper protection.

Doug is a smart man, making responsible, adult decisions with his purchases. My buying style is more like how it would be if toddlers were allowed to buy cars. Impulsive, impatient and idiotic.

Since my budget is limited, I tend to buy cars with the cheapest initial purchase price possible. I gamble on the car being only slightly worse than the seller describes, and it's about coin-flip odds whether this works in my favor.

I was very fortunate the previous owner of my S600 was only 200 miles away from me. Unfortunately, the mighty 510-horsepower V12 in this giant S-Class sedan had been severely overheated. After a shop quoted $12,000 to swap in a used motor, he took the car to his son, a boat mechanic, to tinker with. Understandably, this was a little out of his son's wheelhouse, so he made the decision to sell the car as-is. The car was described as being in "great shape" -- aside from, you know, the engine failure.

Initially, he was asking $10,000 for this S600 with 149,000 miles, which made no sense -- as you could easily find lower-mileage 2007 S600s for under $20,000. After a short phone conversation, where the seller continued to talk up the pristine cosmetic condition of the car, I explained the economic reality of the situation and offered $4000. He countered at $5000, and we settled in the middle.

With $4500 in my pocket, I was down there with my truck and a friend's borrowed trailer the next morning. Upon arrival, it was immediately obvious this pristine S600 was anything but.

A cracked windshield was a big disappointment, as they're horribly expensive, but also cracked was the front bumper and fog light. Overall, the car showed the same care you would expect a millennial college student to give his 1998 Honda Accord, with scratched wheels and a filthy interior. But the real horror show was going on under the hood.

The boat-mechanic son decided to assess the health of the V12, tearing down the top of the engine to investigate the damage. Parts and bolts were everywhere, with zero thought of how it would all go back together. A few parts, like the $1,000 coil pack, were destroyed during the careless disassembly.

The $4500 price was non-negotiable, as he believed this amount could be easily recouped by selling the parts off individually. This was absolutely true, presuming that he could actually remove a part without breaking it.

I fully knew the mess I was getting into, but bought it anyway. The car was just too cheap to refuse. The money changed hands and I trailered the massive sedan 200 miles home, testing the limits of my half-ton GMC Sierra.

2007 Mercedes-Benz S600

The first order of business was sourcing a used motor. No sane mechanic would ever take on this 5,000-piece German jigsaw puzzle with probably several missing pieces, so I had to find a complete drop-in motor. This was no easy task, as the turbos, intercoolers and attached electronics sell for hundreds of dollars individually -- but with some luck, I found what I needed. The used motor, with 80,000 miles, cost $4,500, immediately doubling my overall investment.

V12 minus 2

24 Cylinders

To summarize the video, where I itemize the repair process, I spent nearly $10,000 (including motor cost) to bring the Silver Elephant back to running and driving like new. I also found the source of the massive overheating event that boat-anchored the original motor. The radiator had cracked and was apparently patched with JB weld -- which eventually (and unsurprisingly) failed catastrophically. I'll give you one guess who's to blame for that repair.

Even at a total investment of $14,500, I'm still in this car for less than 10 percent of its original $160,000 MSRP. For $5,000 to $10,000 more, there are plenty of lower-mileage, well-cared-for examples for sale on Autotrader, making these cars an incredible value.

Of course, the main reason the S600 becomes so heavily depreciated is its reputation for astronomical maintenance costs-- but since fixing mine, I literally haven't spent a dime. Over the past year, I've enjoyed 5,000 completely trouble-free miles.

The silly reason I give for my good fortune is totally superstitious: With German car ownership, the key to reliability is always leaving one thing broken. Because once you fix whatever is wrong, something else will always break in its place. The trick is leaving something broken that doesn't bother you too much but is substantial enough to appease the German Car Gods of reliability.

For my S600, the part I have purposely left broken is the charcoal filter canister for the fuel tank. This part has a vent that is supposed to open when you're filling the car with fuel, but mine is stuck. This means the car only allows a trickle of gas, requiring me to physically hold the pump handle at the minimum flow for several minutes to fill up. My sacrifice to the gods has seemed to work.

So was the Silver Elephant worth all this frustration, uncertainty and superstition? On paper, it seems silly to own a V12-powered S-Class instead of a V8. The 2007 S550 V8 is only two-tenths of a second slower from zero to 60, it has all the same luxury features and it should be much cheaper to maintain.

But after a year of ownership, I have to say V12 is waaaaay worth it. I realize my opinion is worthless considering I'm an unhinged automotive masochist, but I'll make my case anyway. One advantage is the hydraulic suspension, exclusive to the V12 models, which gives an unparalleled ride quality. The other major advantage? Torque.

At 391 lb-ft of torque in the S550 V8, the motor is screaming at its performance limit to achieve a 5.4-second 0-to-60 time. For the S600, with torque reaching an incredible 613 lb-ft, the limiting factor for the 5.2-second 0-to-60 time is the car's tires -- and the laws of physics.

This same V12 biturbo motor is modified for use in the Pagani Zonda R supercar, propelling its ultralight carbon-fiber body to an astounding 2.6-second 0-to-60 time. In my enormous Silver Elephant, the tires break loose instantly against the torque of the V12 battling the massive weight of this modern luxury land-yacht. Short of putting drag slicks or rocket boosters on this thing, the laws of physics won't allow this much mass to accelerate any faster.

This makes for little quantifiable difference in off-the-line acceleration statistics, but the effortless feeling of acceleration with a twin-turbocharged Mercedes-Benz V12 is intoxicating and awe-inspiring. I've driven many cars that are faster than my Silver Elephant, but not many that feel this quick.

To celebrate my 1-year anniversary with the Silver Elephant, I'm buying it a performance ECU tune that will magically raise the horsepower to over 600 and torque to over 700. It will also raise the 155-mph speed limiter to somewhere over 200. This will take my reliable V12 and probably break things -- but if giving the car 15 percent more power gives me 15 percent more of that feeling, it'll be well worth it.

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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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
One Year With a Broken, V12-Powered, $4,500 Mercedes-Benz S600 - Autotrader