October 25, 2012
The price of everything and the value of nothing
Yesterday, removing leaves and pine needles from the engine compartment of my car, I got to thinking about how much I like it.
It's a 1988 Mercedes-Benz 420 SEL, purchased new in June of 1988 with my personal check for $58,000.
Full disclosure: I got my first car in 1976, when I was 28 years old and had lived in L.A. since the age of 18 without a car and done just fine.
Nevertheless, life demanded that I be able to drive places to practice medicine — I worked as a locum tenens family practitioner and G.P. for practices large (Kaiser) and small (one doc who wanted to take a vacation).
These jobs were located all over the L.A. basin and there was simply no way to get to and from them on a daily basis without a car.
I found a used Buick Skylark convertible in West Hollywood via the L.A. Times Car Classifieds, back then a treasure trove of vehicles.
I paid $500 cash money and drove away from the guy's house thrilled as can be.
It was white, huge, long and wide, very much like an aircraft carrier on wheels.
My girlfriend called it "The Thrasher" — apt.
That car lasted a couple years, till a little old lady not in Pasadena but Santa Monica t-boned me after running a stop sign on San Vicente.
I drove the car with a smashed-in driver's side door for another year or so — it's amazing how much space other drivers gave me when they saw me coming, heh — and then got tired of climbing into the car over the fused-shut door.
So I got another $500 car, and that was followed by another, and another, and finally by 1988 I was driving a black 1969 Lincoln Continental with suicide doors that cost me around $500 when I bought it used in 1985-86.
It weighed over 5,000 pounds and drank gas so thirstily that when you were driving really fast you could almost see the gas gauge going down.
Gradually all the little motors that back in the late 60s made the car the flagship of the world's automobiles stopped working, and I ended up sitting in a very weird driving position, where the many moving seat parts were when the last little motor stopped working.
Then pieces started falling off the car.
Though it still ran fine, I figured that there must have been a reason they were there in the first place.
And so I went from the outhouse to the penthouse and opted for the big Benz, a 4.2 liter V-8 powerhouse.
A wonderful car, now well into its 25th year of service with moi with just over 160,000 miles on it.
Drives like buttah.
It's like wearing your favorite old ratty bathrobe and soft slippers, sitting in it and cruising the highways and byways of my Podunk town and the U.S. of A.
It does 100mph without blinking — not a shake, shimmy or shiver.
But I don't do that very often.
Just often enough to see that I still can.
The car weighs over 4,000 pounds, serious steel and German overbuilding.
Last week I happened to look at the side of the driver's door frame and saw the array of plates and signs pictured up top.
Somehow I'd never once looked at them in a quarter century of getting in and out of the car.
The one in the middle (below)
got my attention is a serious way.
SRS stands for Supplemental Restraint System and is Mercedes' bespoke system of integrated sensors/seat belt tensioners/air bag.
FunFact: When I bought my car in 1988 only Volvo and Mercedes offered air bags — no American car did.
And Mercedes only offered it on the driver's side, not putting one on the passenger side till 1989.
But I digress.
Did the SRS notice mean that if I'd had a head-on collision since 1998 — 14 years! — my airbag wouldn't have worked and I'd be dead?
I called the local Mercedes dealership and scheduled a visit to have things checked out.
Turns out when they sold the car in 1988 no one knew how long the SRS would work so they arbitrarily said to replace it in 10 years.
In the decades since, it's turned out that if the system has never been used in a crash and the sensors check out, it's good pretty much indefinitely.
My electronics and sensors checked out perfectly.
I thought maybe I'd replace it anyway but blanched at the cost: $1,800 installed.
I'd rather spend the money somewhere else and take my chances with the original equipment.
Famous last words?
I sure hope not.
October 25, 2012 at 01:01 PM | Permalink
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i case someone steals your hood ornament - helpful hint
Posted by: sherlock | Oct 31, 2012 5:00:23 AM
Money well spent. My mom, the world's *worst* driver, bar none, had a little 1980s E190 that she bought because it had airbags. She plowed headlong into the side of a van at something well over 30 mph and walked away (as did the van's driver).
Posted by: Scott | Oct 27, 2012 11:36:54 AM
wish i still had my dads 58 Mercedes - went through too many fences
Posted by: sherlock | Oct 26, 2012 7:02:49 AM
That's a real panzer you've got there. When you see one of those things in your rear view, rocketing down the A5 at 150+ mph, you tend to get the hell over to the right - quickly!
Posted by: Rattlesnake Jake | Oct 26, 2012 3:23:26 AM
I had an 86 Acura Legend that had a driver's side airbag.
Posted by: Marc | Oct 25, 2012 9:40:30 PM
SAAB was the first to make seatbelts standard equipment, back in '58.
FWIW, the airbags are deployed by chemical explosives. You can't test for contaminated explosives (until they either fire or, MISFIRE). Likewise, the fabric that makes up the airbag may have deteriorated and it cannot be tested in situ.
On my SAABs there are two explosive systems at work in a frontal collision. The first one that fires is a seatbelt tensioner (roughly the power of a .22 LR round) and a few microseconds later the SRS charges detonate, deploying the airbags (roughly the power of a 3" shotgun shell, magnum load).
You're not getting any younger, but the drivers arround you are.
Have it serviced. My SAABs had their 10 year service and are approaching their 20 year service. Our mechanic has a SAAB 9000 with 850,000 miles on it and he replaces his SRS, too.
We don't want BOJ ending up DOA.
Posted by: 6.02*10^23 | Oct 25, 2012 8:00:39 PM
My Aunt gave me a 1996 Lincoln Continental years ago.
I did not want a Lincoln because of my experience
of replacement parts and their cost for "luxury" cars.
Solid, so comfortable, still stylish, and a bitchen solid silver paint job.
It's become a good friend.
Posted by: JoePeach | Oct 25, 2012 6:58:02 PM
You look me on a trip down memory lane. I remember that Buick-Skylark and when you bought that magnificent Mercedes. I seem to remember that you also bought a small, sporty Benz at some point.
Posted by: lorna carlin | Oct 25, 2012 1:28:43 PM
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