A car you can use every day should be something that you can depend your livelihood on; a mode of transport that is ready to be overworked and underpaid. If you’re a car enthusiast, it should also reflect a bit of your personal style and deliver an experience that you can look forward to at the end of a long shift at the office. Here’s how I plan to create that ideal in my $3000, 17-year-old Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Before I get blasted in the comments for slathering the headline with hyperbole, I will disclose that I’ve been driving my car, a 2000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, for the better part of three years as my primary mode of transport. It has been supremely reliable for the most part, and even managed to haul all of my personal belongings more than 1,000 miles from New Jersey to my new home in Florida as a sketchy but reliable tow rig.
Up until this point, it was certainly a good daily driver, but over time, flaws arose. It developed an engine oil leak and transmission fluid leak, the mounts on the air compressor had corroded and given way to a rattle while driving, the brakes needed replacement, and the lower ball joints of the front suspension were being held together by little more than gravity.
On top of that, the paint needed work, the wheels and tires were from the shittier end of the early 2000s, and the car’s not actually that fun to drive if I’m honest. Its 302 horsepower, 5.0 liter V8 engine may have been a stout powerplant two decades ago, but now it’s a little long in the tooth and deserving of some maintenance and much-needed upgrades.
Having said that, here are my stated goals for this project:
- It must perform better than it did when new. This includes 0-60 mph runs, braking tests, dyno runs, and handling tests.
- It must have better fuel efficiency than its EPA-tested numbers.
- It must have significantly increased street cred from peers.
- It must be able to enter steep driveways and go over speed bumps without incident.
- Car must sound significantly better than stock, either by induction noise, exhaust, or both.
- It has to pass the “look back” test, meaning that one must be compelled to look back after parking.
- Must have modern usability and technology
Here’s how I plan on achieving this:
- Repair every mechanical issue the car has, including oil leaks, misfires, check engine lights, or warning lights.
- Remedy common problems and alleviate future reliability concerns inherent to the platform.
- Upgrade wheels to 19" or 20" modern units, wrapped in performance tires.
- Upgrade aesthetic to face-lifted ‘03-’06 AMG style
- Repair body work and level paint work
- Wrap entire car in vinyl, color to be determined
- Install audio/video systems to update or replace stock infotainment system
My budget will be $5000 or less, as that, plus the initial $3000 cost of the car, is what normal people would usually pay to get a run-of-the-mill econobox with daily duties in mind. I don’t have a specific time frame, but since I’ll need this car to actually drive places, having as little downtime as possible is a must.
I’m also doing every single thing myself, so I’ll have to learn the various processes and methods of repair and modification that’ll go into this project. I’m confident, but who knows what issues may arise in a car that I bought used, for three percent of its original purchase price. Fingers crossed.
Here’s the first step in a long, long journey: