I took the SCM 2004 Mercedes AMG SL 55 out for a 100-mile drive through the Oregon wine country last Saturday.
It was a glorious early-spring sunny day. I spent most of the time with the top down. The most attractive feature of this 500-hp machine continues to be its hardtop convertible. There is simply no substitute for pulling up the little lever in the center console and in under a minute, going from a tight, closed coupe to an exhilarating roadster.
While on my outing I hit the 50,000-mile mark. I already had the 50k service done at Burback Motors (only $200) and expect it will be a long time before we reach the next scheduled interval. It’s a $24,000 car and will be for the rest of its life. Or less, as the miles pile up.
I have had the nav system upgraded to something modern with a larger screen that incorporates Apple’s CarPlay. It’s a treat to say, “Hey Siri, take me to Stoller Vineyards” and have the directions pop up on the screen. Try that with the old, stock, CD-ROM-based system.
Right now, our other two front-line touring cars are the two-owner automatic 1971 Jaguar E-type V12 coupe (with 23,000 miles) and the two-owner 1991 Porsche 928 S4 auto. The latter has just crossed the 60,000-mile mark and has been fully serviced, this one by A&P Specialties here in Portland.
Of the three, the AMG is by far the easiest to live with – although it has by far the least cargo space. I suggest traveling with clothes that can be packed in canvas bags and don’t need to be pressed before wearing.
The 928 – a hatchback with fold-down rear seats – is far more spacious. However, the cockpit itself is tight by modern standards. I’m still confused by the 928, as it is not a Porsche in the sense I am used to. Its goofy center stack (four rotary dials and a button to control the a/c) are simply relics of the late 1970s era in which it was conceived .
I’ll be driving it on the four-day, 800-mile Northwest Passage in June (SCM is a long-time sponsor) and I’ll see how well I bond with the car when I use it in its highest and best way – long distance touring on two-lane highways.
I started thinking about what other cars today, those representative of modern technology, are available, attractive and affordable. Because at this time I can only drive automatics, I get an immediate 40% savings over models where a manual is also offered.
Right now, the SCM collection is full at 12 cars, so even if the deal of a lifetime came up there is no place to put something without something else going away. I think all collectors agree that buying “just one more” is far easier than “picking out which one to sell.”
I keep thinking I am headed towards fewer cars than more, but the SCM fleet seems to keep growing in numbers when I am not looking.
Nonetheless, while on my drive in the AMG, I came up on a BMW Z4 coupe at a roundabout outside Forest Grove, about 20 miles from Portland and where I have emceed the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance for over a decade. The coupe is as handsome and lithe as the Z4 convertible is “dropping my baggy pants” ridiculous in appearance.
I started poking around, and it looks like I could own an automatic Z4 with 50,000 miles and clean CARFAX for under $30,000. That’s an attractive proposition, and maybe a good swap out for the 928 if that car doesn’t take with me.
SCM contributor and Turtle Garage blogger Philip Richter has been all over me to consider an Audi R8 with the V8 engine. His is, of course, a six-speed. He let go of his AMG SL 55 as a part trade for it and doesn’t regret the swap. He is also adamant that the V8 is a far better-balanced car than the V10.
With a little more research, I found that a V8 R8, auto, with 50,000 miles and a clean CARFAX is probably a $50,000 car, maybe a little less. I think my Jag is worth more than that, but we are in the same ballpark. In any event, I’m driving the Jag in this year’s SCM 1000 in July, so should I decide to trade it out for something else, it won’t be until August at the earliest.
I call this “car knitting” – when we look at our collections, see what kind of asset base they represent, and start horse trading in our minds. I also find when I put my thoughts in print in a blog like this, any number of SCMers offer me creative solutions to my dilemmas.
As my thoughts on collecting newer cars continue to evolve, I am increasingly drawn to the competency and lack of drama that more modern sports cars represent. Given how few miles I put on my cars, if a modern car is fully serviced it could be three or four years before it needs to go in for attention. New cars are simply that good.
I am only attracted to cars that have impeccable service reputations, like the AMG has if properly taken care of. Any car where you have to ask, “Has it had the rod-bearing recall done?” is of no interest to me.
Imagine if my front-line touring cars were the AMG SL 55, a 2015 Audi R8 V8 and a 2012 E89 Z4.
Seems like a tasty combination to me. What are your thoughts?