My son Bradley and I are looking for a classic four-door manual as a run-around car for him.
I mentioned this to SCMer Brad Miller, and from his vacation home in Paris he started sending me links of possible choices. One that caught our immediate attention was a 1990 Mercedes 300E-24 with a dogleg 5-speed and period D&W body kit. It had an asking price of about $19,000.
My European enabler was Matti Bohm, an enthusiast and journalist who helped me source European headlights for my Mercedes 250C. He was willing to go inspect the car for me and help arrange the transaction if it passed muster.
Before I could contact SCM’s go-to guy for 1990s Mercedes, Dean Laumbach, for an opinion, I had to get a clear picture of the cost to ship the car from the selling dealer in Göttingen to my door in Portland.
I needed a soup-to-nuts estimate for two options, either shipping to a German port and sending the car ro-ro to the U.S. and then to Portland, or in Germany putting it into a container with another car and then shipping to the U.S., then Portland. I learned that getting a complete list of transport and customs charges was like getting pecked to death by ducks.
In the end, it worked out to about $6,000 no matter which path the car took. Which made this Mercedes a $24k purchase.
According to Matti, German collectors were turning their nose up at this car because of its period body kit. But Bradley and I thought it would make a killer Cars & Coffee or Radwood ride.
Dean, however, was not so enthused. He said from the looks of it the car had been somebody’s project. He spotted some red flags, such as the car not having factory A/C car but a Behr aftermarket unit.
To pay the asking price was just “begging for a public flogging.”
The vision we had was that the car would arrive and be better than expected in every way. Although I didn’t think the price was unreasonable for a good manual 300E, the additional cost of shipping already made it more than I wanted to spend.
Suddenly I felt $30k richer. And saved from the misery of three months of anxious anticipation only to be rewarded by the delivery of a car with unwelcome surprises.
I enjoyed learning about the bits that go into importing a car from Europe and enjoyed even more being held back from the precipice by Dean.
I’ve also developed a friendship with Matti, and look forward to doing business with him at some point in the future. (He was about to make the four-hour trip before we decided to call the whole thing off.)
When looking at cars you have not seen in person, or that are being sold by someone you don’t know and trust, if you assume the worst, you generally will not be let down.
In our old car world, there’s a fool born every minute, and I feel lucky I was saved from being one of them this time.