A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from MBCA Finger Lakes Section President Don Klug asking my thoughts on how our local club might appeal to younger members, specifically, MB owners in their 30s and 40s. People just like me, in other words. It’s a question that I’ve been trying to answer for the past 10 years. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that there is no simple answer. Attracting younger Mercedes enthusiasts to the MBCA is a process and, I believe, it can be done.
In my brief response to him I mentioned a trend in my own business of buying and selling vintage Mercedes at Tobin Motor Works that I’ve seen developing over the past few years. He suggested I write an article about the subject based on the points in my email, so here we are.
Who's buying older cars?
I’ve been observing a serious ownership shift of used Mercedes, mostly cars from the 1980s and 1990s, from older enthusiasts to much younger ones. As each car was shipped off to its new owner, I strongly encouraged them to join the MBCA with a link to the website and a paragraph about what the Club has meant to me.
I didn’t write about parts or new car discounts or The Star magazine. I wrote about personal connections, experiences and real friendships forged with other club members. I know at least four of them joined. Here are some examples of this trend, all cars sold by Tobin Motor Works, very publicly, on bringatrailer.com, so there is no issue in talking about the prices.
Sale Date: February 2021
Sale Price: $50,000
Odometer: ~ 62,000
Buyer's Age: 29
Previous Owner's Age: 78
Buyer Location: Illinois
The 500E is, perhaps, the ultimate collectible Mercedes from the last quarter of the 20th century. Limited production, production involvement from Porsche, a factory performance sedan that flies under the radar. Part of the appeal is the fact that it’s so understated, not unlike the 6.3 from the late 1960s.
My company purchased this car from the estate of a long-time MBCA member in Minneapolis in November, 2020. It was a one owner example, purchased new at Feldmann Imports in Bloomington, Minnsota. The car was inspected and necessary maintenance, about $3,000 worth, was carried out by Huber’s Imported Autos of Golden Valley. All fluids were changed and the rear SLS suspension system was replaced.
The $50,000 winning bid is a strong price for this car, but not outrageous. Another $4,000–$8,000 wouldn’t have been a surprise. Because this car was acquired from an estate, unfortunately, there were no service records. That probably held the price back a bit. Shortly after buying the car, I contacted the service manager at Feldmann Imports, a guy I used to work with. He politely explained that he couldn’t provide me with any service records. I later learned, from the new owner, that he contacted Feldmann Imports for the car’s service history. He must have spoken with a sympathetic service advisor, because he was supplied with a printout of all the individual service records they had on the car.
1993 500E 6.0 RENNtech
Sale Date: August 2020
Sale Price: $59,500
Buyer's Age: 38
Previous Owner's Age: 78
Buyer Location: Tennessee
While a stock 500E is a capable performer, there are always those owners who want that little something extra. Various firms offered Mercedes tuning in the early 1990s, one of the best known is RENNtech. This particular 500E had receipts totaling over $58,000 in performance modifications that were performed at RENNtech in Florida in the mid-1990s. Today, there is a segment of the enthusiast community, many of them younger, who seek these cars out specifically.
This car was consigned by its St. Paul-based owner to my company in the summer of 2020. The car was shipped to us in New York, and the car was prepped for sale. The owner acquired the car directly from RENNtech, who acted as sales agent for the previous owner in 2015. Between 2015 and 2020 my client spent almost $20,000 on various maintenance items and upgrades.
The $59,500 high bid on bringatrailer.com was a couple of thousand dollars less than the sale price of the last 500E 6.0 RENNtech-modified car that appeared on BaT about nine months earlier, with twice the mileage. The owner was pleased with the price, we both agreed that it was market-correct on that particular day, but it wasn’t an exceptional result. The pool of buyers for modified cars such as this is small, so small in fact, that the under-bidder who missed out on the other car about 9 months earlier, was the high bidder on this car.
Sale Date: December 2019
Sale Price: $14,500
Buyer's Age: 38
Previous Owner's Age: 88
Buyer Location: Indiana
The W140/C140 body style seems to have been out of favor for a long time. I often hear older club members talking about how they don’t care for this style. Well, there is a whole new generation that’s glad older folks aren’t interested, because they are! Good examples can still be found for not a lot of money. To kids who grew up in the 1990s, the W140 was the big Mercedes sedan and the C140 coupes were even rarer and more expensive. These people lusted after those cars when young, and now they’re in a position to buy.
This was a consignment from one of my very favorite customers. This was the last Mercedes he ever bought before he passed away. He was in very poor health when he bought it, but I think buying another car and sorting it out was what kept him going. He couldn’t do much other than talk on the phone, so he was ordering parts, directing the tech he had working on the car to do this and that. He was the kind of guy who even bought wiper blades by calling Tom Hanson at the Classic Center in Irvine, California. He paid close to $18,000 for the car and spent another $6,000 or so on various maintenance items. Nobody said a C140 is a good investment, although it may very well prove a good investment for the new owner.
The high bid of $14,500 was market-correct, or maybe a touch light. The values of newer cars is heavily dependent upon the odometer, although people ought to pay more attention to the service and maintenance history than to the odometer in my opinion. The price my consignment client paid for it, at a specialty dealer in South Florida, was outrageous but they had what he wanted and he was happy to pay that price. W140 and C140 prices are still very reasonable in today’s market.
1971 300SEL 6.3 AMG
Sale Date: December 2019
Sale Price: $70,000
Odometer: ~25,000 (TMU)
Buyer's Age: 46
Previous Owner's Age: 85
Buyer Location: Minnesota
This is the oldest car on the list, and the most unique. This car was purchased in Germany in the early 1980s by an Indianapolis-based German expat master technician who worked at World Wide Motors in Indianapolis for 35 years. This was no ordinary 6.3, and it had 4 or 5 pages of receipts in German from the early 1980s from AMG in Affalterbach, detailing extensive mechanical and cosmetic modifications – all done on the orders of a man my client described as a "German Playboy." A bored and stroked engine, transmission modifications, velour Recaro interior, vents cut into the fenders, all chrome trim removed and painted black – the list goes on.
This is a polarizing car. BaT would accept it only as a no-reserve offering, period. Half the people who look at this 6.3 throw up and believe it’s an abomination, the other half drop their jaw and drool. Either way, it leaves everyone with their mouth open. There is an entire group of enthusiasts, many of them younger folks, interested in ‘pre-merger’ AMG cars. This is perhaps the ultimate pre-merger AMG car. It has long-term ownership, full documentation, and it’s not something from the 1980s, but rather a true classic Mercedes that harkens back to AMG’s roots and the ‘Red Pig’ that ran at the 1969 24 hours of Spa with very similar modifications.
At a high bid of $70,000, for many months, this car held the record for the most expensive 300SEL 6.3 ever sold on Bringatrailer.com. This outcome is frankly strange because there are plenty of 6.3 examples out there that cost more than $70,000; they just don’t wind up on BaT. As a general rule, I don’t think BaT is a good place to sell a 6.3 for a variety of reasons, but it was the place for this one. The sale was not without some serious nerves: the high bid was only $26,500 with about 10 minutes left to go in the auction.
What’s most interesting about this one is that BaT was a last resort, because they would take it only as a no-reserve sale. They didn’t believe it would reach the $35,000 reserve I requested. The car had been on the market for months with little interest from anyone. I had advertised the car on Hemmings.com over the summer for $69,900, it appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of The Star for the discounted price of $66,900, but nobody called.
The new owner explained to me on the phone, right after the BaT auction ended, that he buys pre-merger AMG cars from all over the world and he never imagined something like this, a 6.3, a real, classic Mercedes, modified by AMG, even existed. He went on to say that he wouldn’t have lost the auction. He was going to win, whatever it took, he wasn’t going to stop bidding. This was the 45th car in his collection at that point.
The key to this successful sales transaction was a transparent representation of the vehicle, backed up with hundreds of photographs, good videos demonstrating the incredible engine and exhaust sound of this one-of-a-kind 300SEL 6.3, and the clear integration of the long time owner’s story into the car's overall sales presentation.
To reiterate the point that I always try to make to people about the importance of documentation, without the 4 or 5 pages of receipts from AMG Affalterbach, this car probably would have struggled to reach that $35,000 mark.
Sale Date: August 2019
Sale Price: $15,650
Buyer's Age: 40
Previous Owner's Age: 87
Buyer Location: Texas
I like to say “A remarkable example of an unremarkable car is still remarkable.” To many, a W124 E-Class is just a 4-door sedan, and it is. This chassis was the workhorse of the Mercedes line up from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, fashioned into a wagon, sleek coupe and high-class convertible. True survivor W124 sedans aren’t easy to find anymore, and that’s why this car was remarkable.
This was another consignment from my interesting and eccentric client in Pennsylvania. He had purchased this car from Pierre Hedary a few years earlier, after Pierre sorted the car out. It was as fine a W124 sedan as I’d ever seen or driven. As mentioned earlier, odometers have a lot to do with the value of cars of this vintage. In the modern world, 59,000 miles wouldn’t be considered low for an E320 convertible, but it is considered low for a sedan.
The high bid of $15,650 surprised the owner as much as it surprised me. I figured this was probably a $12,000 - $13,000 car, but the bidders on BaT thought differently and they’re really all that matters. I remember the phone call with the new owner minutes after the auction ended, “This is my first classic Mercedes ever, heck, it’s my first Mercedes!”
I’m not sure I ever thought of a W124 E-Class as a classic Mercedes until that moment. What’s important though, is that somebody else did.
Sale Date: October 2018
Sale Price: $18,750
Buyer's Age: 39
Previous Owner's Age: 87
Buyer Location: Rhode Island
This was the first consignment I ever received from my customer in Pennsylvania. I had initially visited him to see this very automobile before I moved to New York. He had purchased the car a couple of years earlier from a Mercedes tech who runs his own shop in Southern California. Typical of this engineer and pilot, every system of this car had been thoroughly sorted and it was cosmetically clean. This was not an original paint car, as it had been represented when he purchased it. Nevertheless, diesel wagons were really hot in the market during the summer months of 2018 and have continued to be strong since.
Again, the high bid of $18,750 surprised us both. At that time, it was a huge number. However, Black with Palomino interior proved to be a sought-after color combination and our usual transparent representation, hundreds of photos, and several videos put potential buyers at ease. My client would have been happy with $14,000. When the bid reached $15,000 he called me and was ecstatic; text messages came in every few minutes thereafter demonstrating his delight with the sale until bidding finally ended just under $19,000.
This was the buyer’s first Mercedes-Benz purchase ever. He explained to me on the phone that he had always admired "classic" Mercedes wagons and he was finally in a position to buy one.
What does it all mean?
As you can see from the buyer's and seller's ages included with each anecdote, younger enthusiasts are interested in older Mercedes-Benz vehicles, especially those they can identify with from their formative years. All of these purchases were really meaningful to the buyers, some of them, first-time "classic" or first-time Mercedes buyers, or both. And remember, they all paid BaT’s five percent buyer’s premium on top of the high bid prices listed above, and all of these cars were shipped to their new owners, adding to the final cost.
I expect to see continued interest in cars of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s from younger enthusiasts. I also expect to see these same enthusiasts begin to look toward older cars, eventually. As they learn more about the Mercedes-Benz brand and its history, it’s only natural that they will show interest and probably start buying choice, older models like the Pagoda SL, W108/109 sedans and, surely, for those who have more discretionary income, 190SL and 300SL models.
That these younger enthusiasts are interested in Mercedes-Benz automobiles is clear. I managed to convince at least four of the buyers featured in this article to join the MBCA, but retaining them is the real trick. A $55 magazine subscription or a new car discount isn’t enough to keep this generation (or probably any other generation) around. Once they join, it’s the club’s job, our job, your job, to provide a relevant and engaging club experience that enhances their enjoyment and ownership of their Mercedes-Benz. If the next generation is to take up the reins and carry the MBCA forward, the club must kindle the same passion in them as the cars they’re buying.