Not the shiniest star, but a bang-per-buck bargain
By Mike Duff / Saturday, 14 May 2022 / Loading comments
As crypto-bros the world over have been discovering this week, the value of investments can go down as well as up, often dramatically. Yet in the used car market values still seem to be spiking skywards, and not just when it comes to the sort of sensible nearly-new stuff that, to judge from the excellent ‘ask a car salesman anything’ thread, can provoke punch-ups in the showroom as would-be punters vie with each other to pay over list for them.
Even further down in the murkier depths of the market, where the bigger, scarier stuff lives, gravity is still only working intermittently. It’s not long since the fate of any large-engined Mercedes was to lose money like a plunging anvil, depreciation only flattening slightly before it reached scrap value. Risk-tolerant buyers would happily hunt in these depths knowing that, if something went catastrophically wrong, they could roll the car to a scrapyard and walk away smiling. But that’s no longer the case, with values of even braver and shabbier stuff holding firm or even strengthening. It’s hard to be quite so blasé when there’s several thousand quid on the line.
So although this week’s Pill – a C215 generation Mercedes CL55 AMG – looks fairly priced by current market standards, there seems little doubt that it would have been offered for less a couple of years ago given what the selling dealer acknowledges are some cosmetic issues. Sure, £5,500 is still a seriously attractive price tag for something that combines an AMG-fettled V8 with what is effectively an S-Class coupe body; but our last W215 – a much tidier V12-powered CL600 – arguably looked like better value at £7,500 back in February 2020.
Any Mercedes from this period comes with a higher than average amount of peril as standard. The late nineties and early noughties were a time when the brand decided to increase both fashionability and profitability by deprioritizing the hewn-from-solid build quality it had previously been famous for, in favour of funky design and snazzy technology. Cars like the C215 CL were packed with advanced features, but also – not very long after registration – often also had an abundance of warning lights. This was also the time when Merc’s rust proofing fell to similar standards to those of the Italian car industry in the seventies, or Russia’s in the eighties.
The good news is that any Merc from this era that has survived until the present has almost certainly been treated to a good deal of both love and attention, especially one like the CL which has a multitude of potential failure points, some of which are better regarded as ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.
Having had both CL and S-Class badged versions of the previous generation C140 coupe, Mercedes decided to better distinguish saloon and coupe versions of this one. So although the C215 is very closely related to the W220 S-Class under the skin, it always carried different branding, and was also given a much more comprehensive redesign to indicate its position at the top of the tree. The most obvious difference is the fact the CL is seven inches shorter than the S-Class, the second most obvious a roof line seemingly inspired by the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Being intended as a halo model, the CL was spared from the need to offer any of the bourgeois powerplants fitted to cheaper versions of the S-Class. There were no V6s and no diesels, with the entry level being the CL500 with a 302hp version of Merc’s triple-valve M113 V8. Above this there were two more beefier options, offering different cylinder counts but very similar power outputs. The CL55 AMG had a reworked 5.5-litre version of the M113 V8 producing 355hp, while the CL600 we previously Pill’d had a 5.8-litre V12 that made an almost identical 362hp, but sounded less vocal as it did so. A brawnier supercharged AMG V8 arrived with a mid-life facelift in 2002, as did a twin-turbo V12 and an even madder CL65 AMG variant.
But, of the early cars, the CL55 AMG was almost certainly the one to pick. AMG had retuned the suspension as well as the engine, but not with the intention of removing an appreciable degree of wafting ability that is always most of the point of a car like this. All C215 CLs had Merc’s Active Body Control (ABC) as standard, this using high-pressure hydraulics to counter pitch and roll. When working this is a deeply impressive system, maintaining ride compliance while limiting lean under hard corner loadings. Similarly, although the V8 had a pleasantly purposeful exhaust note when pushed hard, it was refined at cruising speeds.
Our Pill is being sold by a dealer in Milton Keynes who says it has had just three owners from new, the last since 2008, and also promises recent work including new discs and pads all round and some suspension components. That’s to the good. Less so is the admission that the paint is suffering from some lacquer peel, this seemingly reflected (dully) in some of the images. On the plus side, the advert promises that there is no rust, and that assertion is seemingly supported by an MOT history that makes no mention of any rot at all.
Indeed the online test record makes very little mention of anything, being a reassuring sea of green. Straight passes have been recorded all the way back to 2014, when the car’s last fail was for the non-heinous offence of excessive play in track rod ends. The previous refusal was for a non-functioning numberplate lamp and a wobbly ball joint. Given the potential big Mercs of this generation have for sheet-filling lists of issues, this one does seem to have been looked after well. (Although the images show two of the wheels carrying substantial dings.)
But what does its future hold? Unless the world goes a fair bit madder, it is hardly going to be a speculative investment, and the cost of properly sorting the CL’s paintwork would undoubtedly push the total spend beyond the point of just buying a smarter one. Yet the evident mechanical strength, and a non-scary 112,000 miles, means it should have years of life left in it if kept in fettle.
Its obvious appeal will be to somebody looking for a useable car rather than something they can park on a Concours lawn, wanting to enjoy a big, charismatic engine before such pleasures become financially impractical, or even socially unacceptable. For anyone seeking a final V8 fling, this faded star still has plenty of lustre.
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