Buyers Guide – Classics under $15,000

Gary Anderson with Richard Simonds

















Buying a Classic on a Budget
Finding an affordable classic Mercedes-Benz for less than $15,000

Article Gary Anderson & Richard Simonds
Photography Daimler Archives & Gary Anderson

Contributions from Bruce Adams, Tom Hanson, Pierre Hedary, Jonathan Hodgman, Rich Nohr, and Roy Spencer

As with other classic automobile marques, prices for the traditional targets for collectors of Mercedes-Benz autombiles, such as the prewar SLKs, postwar 300SLs, and even the 190SL roadster and W113 Pagodas recently have exploded as demand from retiring baby boomers has grown while other opportunities for investment growth have diminished.

But, unlike other classic marques, there is an almost limitless supply of cars of the same vintages in the more affordable sedan body style, due to the emphasis by generations of Mercedes-Benz stylists on ageless lines, and by similar generations of Mercedes-Benz engineers on reliability.

As a consequence, for the person who is looking for a classic car to buy and enjoy that was built during what many consider the golden age from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s, for the individual looking for an automobile that will set him or her apart from the crowd as a sensible traditionalist, or for the value-for-money buyer who just wants the maximum amount of long-term transportation utility for the minimum cost per mile, there is a Mercedes-Benz that with a little luck can be put on the road without spending more than $15,000; $20,000 tops.

What we consider to be an affordable classic

In this buyers guide, we’ve assembled information on a group of eight of the most interesting examples, and a more comprehensive list of the years and models, which meet our criteria of being readily available and generally affordable.

To develop our short list of the best of these affordable classics, we asked our regular contributors to The Star to give us their suggestions.We asked them which specific car they would buy if they were in the market for a car that could be driven as a regular daily driver, or at least as a reliable back-up to the family’s primary car, could occasionally be driven on a long highway journey to a remote car event without any undue trepidation, and wouldn’t be out of place with a fresh coat of wax among the other hobby cars at a regional multi-marque or MBCA car show.

We specified that the car they suggested had to meet those criteria with a total outlay of no more than $15,000, including initial purchase in the local area, and a careful sorting-out, including parts and labor, of any mechanical or cosmetic issues that had developed from age, use, or postponed maintenance.

As we hoped, seven of our contributors responded, providing a list of eight examples with their rationale for making their choice. Interestingly, the selection spans the entire postwar time period up to the youngest cars that are considered “classics” in the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center parts system (at least 15 years since the end of production and of general preservation interest). Reflecting the range of interests of the contributors, the examples include not only the anticipated four-door sedans that are always at the bottom end of any classic car valuation list, but also one roadster, one 4-passenger coupe, and one 2+2 coupe.

At the end of this article, we’ve also presented an extensive list of most all of the Mercedes-Benz cars that meet the same criteria, which illustrates not only the wide range of cars available, but also the numbers of these cars originally produced.

This list was developed by first going through all of our own Star Buyers Guides for the past four years (the specific issue that includes each of these cars is listed). Then we went through several of the standard appraisal value guides, including Sports Car Market magazine, Hagerty Insurance, and National Automobile Dealers Association. We’ve listed them by year, model, and chassis number and noted how many units of that specific model were built and the current market value for an example in good and excellent condition.

If you’ve ever thought it might be fun, or sensible, to own an older Mercedes-Benz, read on.

Reasons to buy an affordable classic

  • Inexpensive transportation with no more depreciation
  • Parts readily available from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center, recycling companies, and donor cars
  • Reasonable insurance costs
  • Straightforward mechanical design allowing any handy owner to do most of his or her routine maintenance and repairs
  • Significant comfort, ride and handling, with spacious interior and extensive luggage capacity
  • First-hand classic-car driving experience
  • Satisfaction from contributing to preservation of a tangible piece of automotive history


Reasons not to buy an affordable classic

  • Lack of modern safety features, such as anti-lock brake systems, stability controls, and air bags
  • Leisurely performance, going and stopping
  • Rust can be a problem depending upon where the car has lived and how it’s been stored during its lifetime
  • Need for an experienced mechanic to carry out any complicated repairs
  • Risk of the unknown – cosmetic, structural, and mechanical issues that aren’t readily apparent at purchase


Checkpoints when evaluating a purchase

  • Complete ownership and maintenance history
  • Low or reasonable mileage for age
  • Limited superficial rust only;  no apparent structural rust
  • Body and paint condition; no evidence of collision damage
  • Upholstery, carpeting, and wood trim in recoverable condition
  • Engine starts and runs smoothly, no blue or black exhaust smoke



1954-1959 W180 219/220 – Tom Hanson

One of my personal favorites for an affordable classic is a W180 series 220S Ponton. They are simple to fix, very comfortable to drive, rock-steady reliable old cars. They also handle very well for what they are. And you can’t beat any of our old cars from that era for making a statement when they arrive somewhere. The combination of the stately Mercedes grille and surmounting star, and the very-1940s lines gets a double-take from any enthusiast. These cars, the ones that introduced America to the affordable side of Mercedes-Benz, were elegant in their simplicity with just the right amount of chrome accents and lots of wood on the interior. Mechanical parts are still in abundant supply, so keeping one on the road for the next generation to take over is no problem. I had a 1959 220S with more than 325K miles on the odometer that I sold in 1981. The car is still running around this area. Who knows how many more times the odo has gone around. Marvelous cars.


1959-1968 W111 220Sb/230S – Tom Hanson

Similar in the most fundamental ways to the W180s which they replaced, the W111s were nevertheless as different in other ways as night and day. On the one hand, like their predecessors, they are simple to fix, comfortable to drive, and if properly sorted out and maintained – mostly a matter of keeping things tight, clean, and greased – they are totally reliable. The handling – if all the bushings and wear parts are replaced – is also quite good for the period. On the other hand, in contrast to the W180s, the W111 sedans showed how the ponton lines could be given a 1950s’ flair, though the fins were dated by the time they appeared (though those tips were very handy for knowing where the rear corners were). There are still lots of these sedans around, so purchase of a W111 should be approached with patience until the best possible example can be found. Otherwise, the costs of repairing the rust to which these cars were susceptible can make them considerably less affordable. Look for one built after 1964 when they were equipped with dual-master-cylinder brakes.

1968-1973 W115 220D – Pierre Hedary

The 220D is dead reliable and super economical. I find the 57 horsepower engine to be up to Florida Interstate standards, not necessarily fast, but adequate with surprising acceleration. The fuel economy of 30 or so mpg is also very good, and the 220D handles confidently, especially with a set of Bilstein HD shocks. Proving the viability of a $15,000 budget, I found a 1973 Mercedes 220D on eBay in Ohio for $4,000, in the attractive colors of ivory on black. This car is optioned with a/c, power steering, 4-speed floor shift, and black MB-Tex interior. Repair of the rust in fenders and rear quarter panels will add $6,000. The unibody of the 220D is very strong, and I have no worries about its structure. I would add new Bilstein shocks, brake hoses, motor mounts, a subframe mounting kit and a sway bar kit,  also change all the fluids and filters, and install a new set of Michelin tires. Even with this work, we’d still be under $15,000. I’m sure the car would need other little things, but this would assure that it is functional and enjoyable to drive every day and on weekend excursions.

1969-1976 W114 250C/CE – Roy Spencer

The budget limit for this article certainly restricts our choices and rules out most established M-B classics. Instead, I’d look for  a closed coupe, but one conceived during the transition to the modern era of M-B production in the late ‘60s. An SLC would be too ponderous, the W111s generally too pricey, so I’d focus on the crisply styled W114 “/8” coupes. Prices are depressed for these cars and with an available global pool of about 67,000 units (1969-1976 250C/CE 2.5 or 2.8, 280C/CE), finding a car is usually not a problem. However, finding a suitable candidate is far trickier. Many 114s on the market are in fact parts cars, a fact sellers would rather not hear. You must be disciplined while searching and only pay attention to well-preserved examples. Buy the best example possible with the fewest needs and you’ll have a stylish and usable tour and event candidate. Power is adequate – fuel-injected cars are quite lively with 184 horsepower – and the interiors are comfortable and roomy while offering a restrained, simple elegance.

1977-1981 C107 450/500SLC – Rich Nohr

The C107 SLC coupes were sold in the United States from 1972 to 1981 alongside the R107 SLs, primarily with the intention of competing in international rallies, but also as a hedge against the possibility that convertibles might be made illegal in this country with the increasing emphasis on safety in the late 1970s. The coupes looked very similar to the roadsters, belying the extra space in the backseat enabled by a longer wheelbase and length. Available with the same engines as the SLs, the  heavier SLCs weren’t particularly interesting to enthusiasts, and today when available are sold for a pittance. But with the introduction of the 5-liter and 5.6-liter V-8s being used in the SECs and SELs, these coupes were fierce little cars for a very short four years. As discussed on pages 46-49, I found a 450SLC for almost no money and swapped the engine from a totaled 560SEL, one example of how a little patience and a little luck can produce a very good car for very little money. Even without my good fortune, the prices of the V-8 SLCs make these great values if you find the right example. Just don’t buy one that needs work unless you’ve got a spare engine in the backyard and the ability to do your own work.

1984-1993 W126 500/560 SEC – Richard Simonds

The 500SECs and SELs introduced in 1984 with the new aluminum overhead cam V-8 engines, followed by the 560 versions in 1986, were S-Class vehicles in every way. The SECs were full-featured, two-door hardtops with seating for four passengers and an ample trunk for hauling luggage, golf clubs, and other paraphernalia, while the SELs were long-wheelbase sedans with limousine-like space and comfort.  Personally, I’d look for an SE because they are sleek, have the large star on the grille, offer comfortable seating for long-distance touring, and cruise down the highway with class and total control.  They even offer a seat belt “presenter” when you close the door so that you don’t have to twist your back to get buckled in.  The later models have improved air-conditioning controls.  Thanks to friends in the club, I’ve driven them on the highway and on the track and found they offer surprisingly good performance and handling for their size.  Look for the very best available because there’s the risk of being upside down, financially, if extensive repairs are required.

1986-1989 R107 560SL – Bruce Adams

The 107 chassis SLs are icons of the ’70s and ’80s, consisting of the models 350SL, 450SL, 380SL, 560SL, 450SLC, and 380SLC.  Manufactured during a period when the market lacked competition by not offering a two-seat model of any type, the Mercedes-Benz “Panzerwagen” became a de-facto standard favorite in the market as a comfortable grand touring convertible. My personal favorite, the 560SL, is considered the best 107 of the series. It has more power, better climate control, and more reliable mechanical components than the previous 107 models. With a 5547cc displacement, the 560SL has maximum power at 227 horsepower, zero to 60 in eight seconds, and a maximum speed of 137 mph, the 560SL is truly a hold-onto-your-hat pocket rocket with a maximum torque range of 279 pound-feet. We recently bought one from a retired baby boomer – SLs and retirees seem to go hand-in-hand – and bought it, including a factory-installed radar detector, for $14,000, spending less than $1,000 to change the fluids, fuel filters and pumps, and replace the transmission seals.

1992-1994 W124 E500/500E – Jon Hodgman

Were I to spend $15,000, I would pick a 1992-94 500E/E500, known by enthusiasts by the suffix to its chassis number W124.036, a joint project between Mercedes and Porsche. With only 1,505 imported, they can be a touch hard to find, though you can source a nice example in the $10K range with moderate effort. Typically, .036s (as they’re known by owners) have been owned by enthusiasts, resulting in proper care and service records. Precautions should still be taken, namely a pre-purchase inspection by a tech familiar with  the .036s. Overall, issues with these cars are well documented, and consumables are still readily available. Coupled with well-documented preventative maintenance schedules, ownership should be very predictable. Power is ample at 322/354 horsepower and, combined with a 2.82 rear end, acceleration is brisk. Suspension is tuned on the sportier side for ’90s Mercedes, making curving back roads a very entertaining experience. Brakes are more than sufficient, with the early examples equipped with alloy Brembo calipers. Factory ASR  adds a layer of safety both in the wet and when driving at the limit. Self-leveling suspension on the rear makes daily duty and/or weekend vacations hassle-free.

Nitty-gritty of buying an affordable classic

So you’re intrigued enough with the possibility of buying and driving your own affordable classic. Our advice boils down to two main points: Search extensively and patiently, and buy carefully and with forethought. Reduce the amount of unknown and unknowable information as much as possible before deciding whether to buy a specific car. Think in terms of the complete cost of the car up to the day you proudly drive it to your first club meet, including both the cost of the initial purchase and the costs of the obvious work that needs to be done.

Your best source for potential candidates, always, will be within your own Section. You’ll learn as you look, and the cars you look at will have more known history. In the same vein, browse the classified ads posted under Star Magazine at and look at the ads in the magazine to get an idea of what’s available and the kinds of prices that are being asked for the model you’re looking for. A car that has been loved and cared for by a Mercedes enthusiast will always be a better value than something you find on eBay or Craig’s list.

Be patient at this stage of the search. Many collectors swear that people don’t find cars, that cars find people, so be willing to wait until the right car finds you, rather than being rushed. Six months might seem like a long time to be in the hunt, but it is a very short time for a car to be in the shop waiting for body work or an engine rebuild.

Though exceptions exist, we’d make it a rule never to buy a car that you haven’t personally seen and driven. Wherever possible, buy locally, but if you’ve got your heart set on a model and the best example is across the country, then have someone in the club look at it before you go any further – most of what appears in want ads and even in pictures can be misleading.

When you do find  an example that you think will be within your budget, including both purchase price and sorting costs, unless you know everything about it, have a pre-purchase inspection by a reputable mechanic who’ll give you an estimate of costs to put it back on the road.

Keep in mind that a complete servicing, suspension rebuild and some interior work is going to cost up to $2,000, but if an engine rebuild and extensive body, paint, and interior work is involved, there’s no way you keep the costs within any reasonable budget unless the car is almost free.  But with the vast numbers of these cars still on the road, with a little care and patience you’ll find what you’re looking for within a budget that makes sense.

Affordable Mercedes-Benz Classics   1956 –1998


Model by Production Year Chassis Condition - GoodCondition - ExcellentTotal ProductionStar Issue Buyers Guide

1956 - 1959

219 Sedan


13,000$20,60027,845Nov - Dec 2012

1956 - 1959

220S Sedan

W180$13,600$21,00055,279Sep - Oct 2010

1959 - 1965

220b Sedan

W111$5,000$8,50069,691Nov - Dec 2011

1959 - 1965

220Sb Sedan

W111$9,000$14,000161,119Nov - Dec 2011

1962 - 1965

220SEb Sedan

W111$12,000$18,00066,086Nov - Dec 2011

1966 - 1968

200D Sedan

W110$11,000$15,500161,618Not yet covered

1966 - 1968

200 Sedan

W110$7,500$9,50070,207Not yet covered

1966 - 1969

230 Sedan

W110$8,300$10,90040,258Not yet covered

1966 - 1968

230S Sedan

W111$8,000$12,00041,107Nov - Dec 2011

1966 - 1969

250S Sedan

W108$10,500$15,50074,677May - Jun 2010

1968 - 1973

220D Sedan

W115$4,000$8,000420,273Not yet covered

1969 - 1972

250C Coupe

W114$11,500$17,50042,379Not yet covered

1968 - 1973

280S / SE / SEL & 4.5 Sedan

W108$13,000$17,000184,717May - Jun 2010

1972 - 1981

450SLC / 380SLC / 500SLC

C107$11,000$18,00039,596Sep - Oct 2009

1973 - 1976

230 Sedan

W115$4,000$10,00087,765Jul - Aug 2011

1974 - 1976

300D Sedan

W115$4,000$10,00053,690Jul  -Aug 2011

1974 - 1983

240D Sedan

W115$4,000$10,000131,319Jul - Aug 2011

1973 - 1980

280S / SE / SEL Sedan

W116$6,500$11,500280,475May - Jun 2012

1978 - 1980

300SD Sedan

W116$4,000$11,00028,634Jan - Feb 2012

1978 - 1986

300TD Wagon

W123$11,500$18,00065,093Not yet covered

1978 - 1985

300CD Coupe

W123$12,000$16,00015,509Not yet covered

1980 - 1985

300SD Sedan

W126$5,000$12,00078,725Jan - Feb 2012

1981 - 1985

380SE / SEL Sedan

W126$8,800$13,80085,253Not yet covered

1981 - 1991

380 / 420 / 500 / 560SEC Coupe

W126$9,000$15,00074,444Not yet covered

1984 - 1993

500 / 560 SEL Sedan

W126$6,500$12,000147,750Jan - Feb 2012

1984 - 1993

190E 2.3 Sedan

W201$4,500$8,00065,153Mar - Apr 2012

1984 - 1985

190D 2.2 Sedan

W201$4,500$8,00010,560Mar - Apr 2012

1985 - 1994

300TE / 300TE-24 Wagon

W124$8,250$12,50042,764Sep - Oct 2012

1986 - 1987

190D 2.5 Sedan

W201$4,500$8,00061,279Mar - Apr 2012

1988 - 1993

190E 2.6 Sedan

W201$5,000$9,00070,987Mar - Apr 2012

1987 - 1987

190D 2.5 Turbo Sdn

W201$5,000$9,00016,147Mar - Apr 2012

1986 - 1989

560SL Roadster

R107$11,000$18,00049,347Sep - Oct 2009

1988 - 1993

300E / SE / SEL / E320 Sedan

W124$6,000$11,000110,161Sep - Oct 2012

1986 - 1991

420SE / SEL Sedan

W126$6,250$12,00088,013Not yet covered

1989 - 1993


R129$7,500$12,00012,020Jul - Aug 2010

1989 - 1998

500SL / SL500

R129$8,000$16,00079,827Jul - Aug 2010