Finnish Line: On hand-me-downs

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a free automobile. And you may ask yourself “How did I get here?”

Hand-me-down cars are probably not a strange concept to Hooniverse writers or readers. Even though there’s certainly pride to be had in paying for a car with your own hard-earned money, there’s often a time when a car just happens, a vehicle becomes surplus to the needs of someone in the family and it gets passed on so it can make things possible. For the time being, I’m driving this 15-year-old Mercedes wagon, trying to convince myself it’s the best way ahead.

For most people, the keys to the family Taurus or Volvo or whatever get handed over when one’s driving license is fresh and there’s a work or study environment to get to. In my case, that would have happened when this particular car was brand new in 2004, but here I am, hauling stuff in this extremely dad-ass car some 15 years after my studies begun. To put it short, I’m switching jobs, meaning that my commute will now be longer than just getting to my desk or couch at home, and as a result I need something a little more substantial than my cheap beater cars I’ve tried to keep alive.

It’s also no secret that I’m downsizing my “real-life cheap car challenge” fleet, to move away from the situation where I have five cars and almost no money to having almost no cars and five money. Or something. The 205 is already gone, having served me happily for six years, and it’s starting a new life in the hands of another Peugeot enthusiast. Ideally I’d soon just have the MX-5, so I could have more space and resources for dumb purchases that form some of my core Hooniverse values.

And if it absolutely must occur at some point of my driving life, I’d rather receive a surprise moose on my lap while driving a Mercedes-Benz C-Class than an MX-5 or a 205. The more time I spend commuting on a forested highway, the likelier it becomes that the animal kingdom will try to intervene. But to prevent incidents like that, the Mercedes comes with decently sized Sport specification brakes that bite well. It’s a C180 Kompressor model, which means it makes do with 143 horses out of a supercharged 1.8-liter four, and it has a bunch of Sport goodies like the aforementioned big brakes, factory lowered suspension, 17” inch wheels and Sport-specific trim and decor that’s been added atop the Classic trim level at factory. The sharp AMG wheels are probably replicas, and the original wheels are slightly better-looking staggered ones. It’s far from an actual AMG wagon, especially as there’s not a huge amount of power, but that’s fine with me.

My dad bought the car some five years ago, and when he later upgraded to a newer 3-series wagon, the decision was made to keep the Benz as the trade-in value wasn’t spectacular and my brother needed to offload his increasingly rusting E46 sedan and drive the Benz to work. Later on, a cheap Lexus Sportcross was sourced from the UK for ice-track shenanigans, my brother taxed and plated that one, and the Benz would have ended up sitting or sold. But it might be a bit too good for either of those scenarios. There’s barely any of the typical 1995-2005 Mercedes rust, but I’m constantly amused by the DaimlerChrysler sticker it has under the hood.

I’ll probably end up buying the Benz outright at some point. I don’t imagine any other car in the same price range really suits my needs any better. The body is good for a 203-generation car, at 160k km or 100k miles it’s still got life left in it, and a wagon with a tow bar can come handy. The automatic means it’s not very frugal in town, but if it’s strictly kept to highway use, it sips fuel at a commendable rate of 6,6l/100km or 35,6 MPG –if the trip computer is to be trusted. If it doesn’t start breaking out in bubbles or eating expensive components at a frightening rate, it can stay. And since it’s been in the family for quite some time, we know what’s been done to it. That’s not always the case with used cars.

But most importantly, the car symbolizes my transition from trying to hack it with numerous cheap cars to focusing on fewer cars, recognizing that I need something more dependable and solid, and getting ready to cruise towards a more responsible vehicular outlook in the latter half of my thirties. Perhaps I’m giving in, but it’s likely that project cars fare better when every one of your cars is not a project car. I’m not even going to change the original CD head unit on the Benz, I promise. Or get a second set or original wheels to replace the AMG replicas. Or…

13 Comments

  1. I’ve never been especially keen on those twin-bubble headlamps, but I think it’s a respectably handsome ride. Of course, I’m a middle-aged father who might be forgiven for liking “dad-ass” cars. At least it’s a solid RWD cruiser with some practical space. The powertrain is admittedly a snoozer, though– a shame it’s not a stick.

    I’d be too tempted to modify it. As in, wrecked-Challenger-drivetrain-swap kind of modification. Legitimize that underhood DC sticker!

    (Keep up the Hooniverse contributions– I enjoy your writing style.)

      1. I couldn’t tell from the initial photo whether they were hazy or not– you certainly don’t see many here in the States that are so clear. The headlights on my Ford Contour SVT were susceptible to the same problem. It seemed like I had to polish them about every 6 months.

    1. “I’d be too tempted to modify it. As in, wrecked-Challenger-drivetrain-swap kind of modification. Legitimize that underhood DC sticker!”

      Consult Mr Glucker first…

      Seeing as you can DIY, the MB will hopefully behave! Nothing to lose with it really. My sister is going to buy my mother’s 2006-ish Mazda 6 hatch that she didn’t trade on her new car last year, rather than get twenty cents as a trade in.

      There is something to be said for a car as solid, dependable transport, even if it is not that exciting. And too many projects…

  2. “And you may ask yourself ‘How did I get here?’”

    No, that one I’ve figured out. Mostly I ask myself “Where can I put this one?”

    1. With your vehicles, I’m surprised you get anywhere.
      You know how they sink old ships to create a new coral reef? I was thinking the intent of your vehicular collection was as a breeding ground for a new moss forest 😉

  3. That’s a very decent car to get basically for free. We have owned a 2001 Camry for almost six years now, bought at a ca 50% market discount from my MIL. Initially, I was very sceptical towards it: No wagon, automatic, drives as if the suspension was made of cake. But, overall, this has been a very cheap car to own, the 160hp engine is decent, the boot is actually pretty gigantic and the soft suspension is good for long rides. It has widened my automobile horizon and that is good, I guess?

    1. +1 for “drives as if the suspension was made of cake”. Never heard that one before, but it suits the Camry perfectly.

  4. I like getting free cars because of the freedom from caring if anything should happen to them. The problems begin when you start, well, fixing the problems. That’s when you become attached to them. You go from, “I could really care less if a meteorite smashes the car in the parking lot” to, “Now that I’ve invested $10 to replace that broken mirror with a junkyard part, I sure hope nothing happens to the car”.

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