Usually when you see a Mercedes the first thoughts that comes to mind are that it’s German, known for its build quality and its comfort, it’s not really a driver’s car but more of something you’d like to be chauffeured around in. The Mercedes is also popular enough in India that you’d usually have no problem maintaining it as long as you understand the rules. Buying a cheap Mercedes is expensive to maintain.
There are group’s that help you meet owners of similar cars who will help you out once you tell them how fancy you and your star are. Within these clubs of modern classic Benz’s there are a few real show stoppers, cars which seem to come out of a European magazine, cars you’d never expect to see in a place like this, cars that were merely someone’s dream and now exist in reality! Modern Classics or otherwise known as youngtimers tend to be the only cars you could customize and be appreciated for your exquisite taste, even light mods on anything older would raise eyebrows. There are things you shouldn’t consider doing to a Mercedes though or in fact any good import, home made ‘facelift’ kits must be avoided at all costs.
Many people consider the w124 as the last of the Mercedes’ priced according to the build rather than built to fit a certain price bracket and it’s probably true if you look at the problems with the newer used models. I’d say the w124 is a great car to pick up for everyday use, you could get one anywhere between 1L to 6L+, from a mechanically fit E220 to a mint 300E. There are legends of an 500E but that’s probably as true as the gullwing somewhere in India, our own mythical creatures and even if they did exist they’re probably not for sale.
I checked out my friends place on my way to Bombay, sadly his car was nowhere in sight, it was in Bombay being fitted with a custom freeflow exhaust with a Borla end can. No Problem, I got to drive around his mk3 golf in the middle of the night and drool all over his original beetle he recently picked up.
Every day was eventful in Bombay, even the nights were filled with drives. I got to sit shotgun in a recently restored and kitted 300E. I had first seen Jatins car 2 years ago, the car was nowhere near what it is now, it had a blue paint job, a poor interior and it had an automatic transmission. A new slushbox in today’s cars is fine but the older they get the more lag they tend to have and you have to deal with the kick down and inability to get the gear you want when you need to pick up speed.
The car was a huge project but had a good engine and by using a clean mint interior and a Brabus kit which he luckily found on his donor car, AMG cluster from Dubai so you’re reminded that it looks good on the outside while you’re inside, Bilstein B8 shock and H&R springs to bring her closer to the ground, 17 inch BBS cross spoke wheels from Dubai and with a hell lot of patience he painted his Mona Lisa, a true master piece.
We took a few pictures and we headed for dinner, excuse the poor lighting, my batteries were all too low. The car is a real head turner, wheel spin in 3rd gear, not bad for a 20 year old car, right? But if I had it as my own I wouldn’t be able to live with a car with so little ground clearance, that would need patience, something I don’t really have.
While heading back I stopped to meet my friend Amol again, a quick in and out turned into a short drive of his improved w124. The E220 was built and sold here in India, I had test driven one for a friend once, it was alright, nothing great, was a very tired car to be honest, it needed plenty of TLC. I never thought much of the E220 till I drove this one on Lonavla. Amol’s car was mint, flawless interiors, peppy engine and with his AMG monoblocks it didn’t look like your uncles Mercedes anymore. He was stuck in his shop as it was beginning to turn dark and that seems to be the most common time to buy a few beers(no one will see you if its dark enough) so instead of joining us he just said, “be careful, she’s lowered, she scrapes!”.
It growled as it started, definitely not a boring stock E220. When Amol bought the car it was in great nick, it didn’t need anything, you tend to pay a premium for that but it’s worth it in the long run. If you buy a car that needs a lot of work then you better get it cheap or your budget is going for a toss. On a trip to Hong Kong he hand carried these original 17 inch monoblocks back to India, that alone sounds like a real pain in the ass but well worth the trouble. He then lowered the car on H&R springs imported from Europe and recently went for a freeflow exhaust with a Borla end can which was setup in Mumbai. He complained about how the sound wasn’t the way he wanted it but the freeflow did wonders to the way the car behaved.
Our parts markets in India aren’t very vast. It’s difficult to find EXACTLY what you want but you could find a variation of it, you may find things in the last place you’d expect but that all boils down to luck. To increase your chances you could travel to places with better car culture and group it with some other work you may have which includes your regular office work, holidays with the family and romantic honeymoons (if your spouse still talks to you after this they may carry some of that weight for you). You’ll have to see where your car is popular, for example E30 parts are popularly sourced from Malaysia and UK. Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong are also common places for picking up parts for Mercs and BMWs. I’ve heard from another friend that hand carrying parts makes such a big difference in cost that it could recover the cost of travel if you source rare parts for others. In Amols case he grouped it with some offroad training to help him with his events. If you plan things just right you’ll be able to see some amazing cars while you’re at it.
Back to the E220, as I slowly and carefully got the car out on the road I realized how low it actually was and how responsive it was. It felt good to drive and looked good while doing it. Even the local RTO officers stopped me as an excuse to get some nice pictures. I think cops love old Mercs, I once got stopped before the Ghats, they didn’t bother much about the documents or luggage they just wanted a lift! I wouldn’t be surprised if they put up this road block just to take a picture of the car.
I was blown away by how fun and comfortable it was, all I could think about was driving it straight home. It was lowered and the Ghats would be loads of fun the only problem I could think of with taking it home without informing him was that some patches of the road weren’t great and low profile tires and a lowered car would mean slowing down a lot. I gave him back the keys with a heavy heart.
The w124 seems like a good future classic, many options for styling and performance, various engine options for all your needs. You could swap engines and finding Mercedes parts isn’t that difficult in India. There are various options for lowering the car from OEM options to Bilstein and H&R. Monoblocks are a favorite on this era of Mercedes but there are plenty of other options too. It’s even possible to pick up a complete mint interior from the scrap market to restore your car. It’s not just the 420E, 400E and 300E that can be fun cars, even the E220 is a blast to drive if setup correctly. For any car it’s just a matter of finding the right balance of spec and the correct condition for your build and budget. It’s not just about the money though, it’s also about how much time you want to spend having it worked on, you may not have the patience for a long build with a non-running project car.
On lowered cars, they feel much better to drive, more connected to the road but in some cases the car is no longer a daily driver for point A to B, you will begin to take the car out using only certain routes or for a fun and spirited drives, but it will restrict your usage unless you’re patient enough to handle all the roads ahead, either way, a little lowering never hurt anyone.