MB 380SL, 1982     Ethelred (the Unready)

'82 380SL
380 SL, 1982 For Sale Sold!

I'd been seeing this Post Falls (close by) car on Craig's List for a week or so:

Mercedes Benz 1982 380 SL - $2200

Date: 2007-07-22, 4:17PM PDT

Soft and hard top convertible, less than 5k on top half rebuild. Recently tuned. Studded snow tires included. 199,530 miles. Needs cosmetic attention (paint, soft top repair). Generally has run well with no problems, however currently experiencing intermittent electrical/fuel issues. Sometimes it runs great. Sometimes it starts and then dies. When it does this, it continues to run as long as fuel is poured into the carb [sic], but not on its own. Currently is not starting, tomorrow it might. $2200 OBO. Email or call.

The asking price was low initially, $3500, and then it dropped to $2200. (Because it had stopped running.) While I need another one of these like I need a hole in the head, I thought it might be fun to mess with, and if I could get it all running again I could perhaps turn it over for a modest profit after a season or so. I like the idea of the 'hat trick' of having had each of the three versions of the US 107 SL. Jill did give guarded approval to the project after some grilling as to my intentions. I gave it a week to go away on me, but it didn't. Fate?

So I went to look at it on Saturday. It definitely had a paint problem, there were a lot of chunks out of it in places, big ones, some rust beginning at a few edges, and some sun-baked areas that'd never look good again. Somebody had added a 1986 center brake light, and it was paint-matched to the trunk lid, though the trunk lid paint was pretty bad and the top of the adjacent fender paint was good. I'd say the trunk lid was color-matched with cheap paint to handle the brake light, and it'd not held up. Other obvious problems were cracked black leather upholstery, missing chrome hinge covers, a cracked black dash, bad sunvisors, the soft top had many tears in it and its metal mechanism needed attention, the top weatherstripping was very bad, etc. There was a button missing from the ACC. AC was defunct, though converted to R134a, and the cruise was supposedly acting up. The passenger door lock was messed up, the flipper was broken off and it didn't always want to lock/unlock with the central locking. Oh, and it didn't run, though their best guess was that it was electrical, the fuel pump relay, and not the fuel pump itself. (Either way, the pump was definitely not running. The local dealership had gone through the fuel system recently and pronounced the flow and pressure from the pump as good.) Kind of a beater, in other words. On the plus side it didn't have structural rust, and was complete, and the engine had already been converted to the double-row timing chain. (Correcting the very thing that, according to this Road & Track article, supposedly makes this model one of the least desirable in the line.) He claimed that the top end of the engine had been rebuilt recently. The central locking system holds vacuum, at least for awhile. It has the VDO ACC system, not that Evil Chrysler system from Hell. The tires (eight) are in excellent shape.

They were selling it because they had two kids and just didn't have the opportunity to drive it anymore, nor did they have the time to maintain it, plus they needed the garage space. They seemed like a nice young couple.

I bought it for $2000. I left $100 deposit and I'll go back Tuesday to pick it up. They were happy to sell it to somebody who knew the cars and what he was getting into, and wasn't going to trash it or part it out. (One tire-kicker had been looking for a 'small commuter car'! These SL's are many things, but that's not one of them.)

I don't know what it is about SL's, tired old mercedes, or worse yet: tired old SL's, that draws me. Perhaps it's just the 'broken-wing' syndrome, I needed to rescue this vehicle? Perhaps it is I that needs a rescue? Or my wife? Perhaps what I need is an intervention!

<Sigh> Regardless, once more into the breach, my friends!

A log of its life with us.

A list of its repairs and upgrades. It is interesting to note that with the exception of the fuel pump business this car was capable of driving just about anywhere, yet the list of needed repairs was still quite lengthy. There's a lesson there, just don't ask me what it is!

One of the things I like about this car is the more svelte airbag-free steering wheel. I note that the turn signal stalk is also a little out of what I'd consider the optimal position that our 450 SL had, it's about like the 560's. I'd always thought the position shift was due to the airbag but that's obviously not the case. The instrument cluster indicators are also the larger early design ones rather than the smaller harder-to-see ones of the later 560 SL. And most of all I love its low price, it just makes me smile every time I drive it. And ain't that what it's all about?

The name (Ethelred) was earned the next Summer when it turned out that the car was still Unready for sale. (The reason is mostly the boat that's behind it in the photograph.) The fact that it's red(-dish) doesn't hurt, either.



The car cost me just about $4,400, and 188 hours of my time, over a period of five years. On the other hand, I got three-season driving out of it for that same period, and nearly 20,000 miles. The car sold for $3,000, so I only 'lost' $1,400 on it, plus all my time. But I had wheels, wheels that I liked. So I'm fairly happy about it. But, I'm never going to do that again! The only cars we'll acquire from here on out will be full-on 'keepers', no broken wings for rehabilitation and resale.

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