Video | I Bought a Broken V12 Mercedes SL600 for Only $5,000

My compulsive buying disorder with cars is well-known enough that I get constant emails from people trying to sell a car. I guess they think I’m the only person dumb enough to buy their basket case — but most cars are easy to pass on due to their condition or faraway location. Still, I don’t think any car guy would say no to a V12 Mercedes SL 600 for only $5,000. I certainly couldn’t.

I actually knew this 1997 SL 600 really well, since I sold it to the current owner 4 years ago when I still had my dealership. He stopped driving it after the AC quit working, and let it mostly sit for years — long enough for the battery to drain and the hydraulic suspension to collapse. Before I arrived, he threw in a fresh battery, and after idling for a while, the suspension finally rose for the occasion — but after sitting for so long, it clearly needed work.

Condition-wise, it had not deteriorated much since I sold it to him, except the front bumper is held on by black duct tape. Like so many others, he caught it on a parking lot curb and nearly ripped it off. The passenger-side wheel-well liner detached from the bumper as well, and rubs on the tire during sharp turns. As I said before, the AC wasn’t working, and I suspect the hydraulic suspension accumulators, which fill with fluid when the shocks compress over bumps, need replacing as well. This would explain why the front suspension collapsed in the first place, as well as the fluid level being low.

None of these are serious issues, and at $5,000, I clearly have room to fix them and come out way ahead — but there is one more big problem. The soft-top struggles, and eventually fails to completely close — which could require replacing the entire soft-top hydraulic system. At the dealer, the cost of repairing this could easily match my purchase price — but thankfully, I have my mechanic, the Car Wizard.

After paying for the car and marveling at my latest purchase, I immediately hit the road up to the Car Wizard’s giant new shop in Newton. We put the car up on the lift, which didn’t show many surprises, and he was actually excited to get another top hydraulic job. It’s actually one of his specialties, and he’s done several of them by removing all of the top cylinders, sending them off to be rebuilt, and then reinstalling them. This can all be done with the Wizard’s hands for less than $2,000.

With the top and the other issues sorted, I can get the cosmetic issues taken care of, and then have a really amazing car for under $10,000. I could certainly flip it for a nice profit, which is what the old Tyler would have done — but given the hoarding tendencies I’ve developed, this might be a challenge. Either way, I’ll take this very rare win on an old V12.

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