I’ve finally purchased a quirky car to match my obsession with quirks and features. It’s a 1999 Mercedes-Benz G500 Cabriolet, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a convertible version of the Mercedes G-Wagen. It’s also as ridiculous as it sounds.
First, a little background on what this vehicle isn’t. It isn’t a Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet, which is a modern convertible G-Wagen that costs over $1 million. People confuse the two, but I don’t have that one. At all.
It also isn’t an aftermarket conversion. Although a lot of people have asked me if I converted this G-Wagen to a convertible by myself, or paid someone else to do it, the reality is that a convertible has been part of the G-Wagen lineup ever since it debuted in the 1970s. However, the convertible was never sold in North America, so most Americans are unfamiliar with it — but, indeed, it exists.
So let me tell you about mine. The early G-Wagen convertible models have manual tops, which you have to pull off by yourself in some cumbersome process. But beginning in 1996, Mercedes installed an automatic top in the G-Wagen — and so, with the push of a button, the top goes down. It’s actually more than the push of a button: the thing has to be in park, with the parking brake on, and then you have to mess with a couple of latches first, but after that, the top goes down. Needless to say, it’s not something you can do in traffic.
One special thing about my G500 is that it’s a “500” model — meaning it’s equipped with a 5-liter V8. For Americans, this won’t be a big deal, since we never really got the G-Wagen any other way. But compared to other G-Wagen models, this is important, because most of them — especially from the late 1990s — used diesel 6-cylinder engines, which don’t have the grunt of the V8. But mine has the grunt.
Of course, that also means it has the fuel economy to accompany a V8 — and, indeed, it isn’t pretty, earning about 13 miles per gallon. But while the mileage isn’t good, the emissions profile is: Since this G-Wagen is less than 25 years old, it had to be fully federalized to be legal in the U.S. — and mine is even legal in California, which requires additional work. That means it’s one of maybe a dozen 50-state legal G500 Cabriolet models with a power top.
And how does it drive? Pretty well, surprisingly. It’s quiet and comfortable on the road, both with the top up and down, and it allows for actual, rational conversation with your passengers, unlike certain other convertible SUVs. It’s smooth and it ends up being shockingly quick, on account of the fact that it’s got several feet of G-Wagen less than the normal G-Wagen. And it has great climate control and some nice amenities — like heated seats — that make it surprisingly usable.
Of course, it’s probably also the most capable off-road G-Wagen, on account of the fact that it’s shortened compared to the regular one — so if you combine the triple locking differentials with the shortened wheelbase, you have a capable and usable off-roader — if that’s what you want.
It isn’t, however, what I want. I want a fun cruiser that can go off-road in a pinch. I want a quirky, special car, and I want something exciting, and this checks all the boxes. It’s ridiculous, of course, and not particularly attractive, but I don’t mind — it’s fun, and now, it’s mine. And I’m excited to enjoy it as much as possible in the coming months and years. Find a Mercedes-Benz G-Class for sale