Auction Favorite: 1985 Mercedes-Benz 380SL

The Mercedes-Benz 380SL is a common vehicle at the auctions I follow—since starting this blog in late 2013, I’ve seen almost 40 of these convertibles go across the block, mostly at the Barrett-Jackson and Mecum events. I chose to go with 1985 as the model year to write about because it and 1982 have been the two most common years I have seen.

“What do you get when you blend a Mercedes-Benz with a sports car? The incomparable 380SL.”

1985 was the final year for the 380SL—from 1986 on, the heavier and more powerful 560SL would be the only option in North America. There wasn’t much change for 1985; all cars got anti-lock brakes, and later cars got a drivers-side airbag. About 11,100 buyers took home this last of the line example.

Motive power was provided by a 155 bhp 3.8 liter/234 cubic inch V8 with Bosch Jetronic fuel injection, connected to a four-speed automatic transmission. As with all R107 models, mileage for the 3,600-pound car wasn’t very good—the ratings of the day were 16 city mpg/18 highway (14/17 by today’s standards). With the 22.5-gallon fuel tank, a 380SL driver could expect a range of between 310 and 350 miles with a 10% fuel reserve. 0-60 came in about 10.5 seconds; the 380SL was closer to a grand touring car than to a sports car.

The 380SL’s base price for 1985 was $43,820 (about $102,200 in today’s dollars—neatly spaced between what an SL 450 and an SL 550 cost in 2017). For the money, exterior and mechanical standard features included the aforementioned ABS controlling power disk brakes, power steering, a steel hardtop, and 205/70VR14 tires (now a rare size) on 14-inch forged light-alloy wheels. Inside, power windows, power door locks via a vacuum locking system, cruise control, and an AM/FM stereo with cassette player were standard. Air conditioning was also included in the electronic automatic climate control system, though most say it wasn’t that effective. Heated leather seats were optional.

1980 Mercedes-Benz 380SL Roadster

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1985 380SL in #1/Concours condition is $28,200, with a more typical #3/Good car going for $13,600. There is decent club support for the 380SL, as there is for almost all Mercedes-Benz’s. 380SLs maintain a substantial presence in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I write this in September 2017, there are 66 advertised on Hemmings, including 14 of the 1985 models.

Make mine Astral Silver Metallic, please. Dealer advertising image courtesy of Alden Jewell, linked from Flickr.

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1982 Chrysler LeBaron Convertible

“No other car is causing so much excitement.”

The Chrysler LeBaron convertible was a mid-year introduction, becoming available in the spring of 1982. It was the first factory convertible available for sale in the United States since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado.

All LeBarons were all-new for 1982. Based on the more plebian Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant front-wheel drive K cars that had been on sale for a year, the LeBaron (sometimes described as the Super-K) was a move at least slightly up-market. Most exterior body panels were the same as the K. Notable styling differences were a waterfall style grill (somewhat resembling that of the previous year’s rear-wheel-drive LeBaron), quad headlamps, relocation of the parking lamps and turn signals to the front bumper, and a full-width tail-lamp housing.

Chrysler used almost all of the standard K pieces inside the LeBaron. Recessed door handles and rocker type door locks were one of the few changes, along with a different style of armrest and door pull. There was less vinyl trim and the carpeting and other fabrics were of somewhat higher quality. A significant difference was the attention paid to noise, vibration, and harshness: between soundproofing, better parts, and suspension tuning, the LeBaron was upgraded from the base K in 26 separate ways.

Two-door LeBaron coupes were heavily modified by Cars & Concepts in Brighton, Michigan on their way to becoming convertibles—the process included 32 steps. They installed a boxed-in backbone along the center of the car and welded a three-piece windshield header to the A-pillars. Next, Cars & Concepts installed new door glass and added door wedges. Finally, they added a new fiberglass panel to hold the rather small rear seats and mounted the convertible motor on the floor pan behind the rear bulkhead.

The convertible top itself had a plastic rear window and broad rear quarter panels; Car and Driver wrote that this created “a sort of Conestoga-wagon effect.” The top was actuated from a button on the console, and a padded top boot snapped into place when the top was lowered.

A K 2.2-liter inline four with a two-barrel Holley carburetor producing 84 bhp was the base engine. A two-barrel carbureted Mitsubishi G54B 2.6-liter inline four with 92 bhp and 20 additional ft-lbs of torque was available for an added $171. Both engines were paired with a TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission. Mileage with the base engine was 25 city/36 highway by the standards of the day. The optional engine was rated at 23 city/31 highway and brought the 0-60 time down from about 17 (aargh!) seconds to about 15 seconds.

The LeBaron convertible’s base price was $11,698 (about $28,900 in today’s dollars and about 44% more than a LeBaron coupe). For that money, you got dual outside mirrors (actually taken from the Dodge Omni 024), power brakes, power steering, and P185/70R14 whitewall tires. Inside you got vinyl bucket seats with a folding center armrest, digital clock, and an AM radio. 76% of convertible drivers moved up to Medallion trim, which boosted the price to $13,998 (about $34,600 in 2015 dollars) and added halogen headlamps, better gauges, and snazzier wheel covers.

The Mark Cross package cost an additional $861, moved the sticker to a non-trivial $14,859 (about $36,700 in today’s dollars) and added the 2.6-liter engine, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, and attractive Mark Cross leather/vinyl seats. Other options included cornering lamps ($57), cast aluminum wheels ($344), automatic speed control ($155), and an AM/FM stereo radio with electronic tuning and cassette player ($455).

1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible advertisement.
1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible advertisement.

First-year sales of LeBaron convertible were a respectable 12,825, especially considering the shortened year and the relatively high price. These cars are being collected and shown. You see them for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors: as I write this in July 2015, there’s a Mahogany LeBaron with 39,000 miles for sale on Hemmings for $6,500.

These convertibles also started Chrysler’s long tradition of making convertibles that might occasionally be sporty but were not sports cars—a market niche they exited only a couple of years ago with the demise of the Chrysler 200 convertible.

I still like what Chrysler was trying to do, and I appreciate how these cars look, at least with the top down. Make mine Mahogany Metallic, please, with the Mark Cross package.

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1985 Merkur XR4Ti

“For the North American continent the Merkur XR4Ti represents an innovative, new total performance machine.”

The Merkur XR4Ti never had a chance.

There, I’ve said it. Though the redoubtable Bob Lutz was involved, I can’t even imagine the combination of decisions that made Ford think that selling a Karmann-assembled version of the European Ford Sierra at Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the mid-1980s was ever going to work out.

Because the Cologne 2.8 liter V6 the Sierra used in Germany could not clear US emissions, the engine the XR4Ti received was Ford’s Lima 2.3 liter turbocharged and fuel injected inline four cylinder, making 175 bhp with the five speed manual transmission and 145 bhp (ouch!) with the three speed automatic transmission. 0-60 came in about 7 seconds with the manual and top speed was a little under 130 mph. Fuel economy wasn’t very good: with the manual it was 19 city/24 highway by the standards of the day (17/22 by today’s standards).

Base price for the 1985 XR4Ti was $16,361 (about $35,700 in 2014 dollars). Standard exterior and mechanical features included flush headlamps, power disc brakes, nitrogen pressurized shock absorbers, and the famous (and polarizing) biplane rear spoiler derived from the one on the Probe III dream car. Pirelli P6 195/60HR14 tires were fitted on 14-inch wheels.

Insider, standard equipment included air conditioning, variable ratio power steering, power mirrors, a 60/40 folding rear seat, and an AM/FM stereo with cassette player.

Options were relatively few: Convenience group (power door locks, power windows, and cruise control), moonroof, leather, heated seats, and metallic paint.

1985 Merkur print advertisement.
1985 Merkur print advertisement.

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for an 1985 Merkur XR4Ti in #1 condition is $6,300. I find it interesting that Hagerty tracks them at all—there are many of what I think would be equally interesting cars that they don’t track. You rarely see them for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds—they are at least a little more common on eBay Motors.

Make mine Paris Blue Metallic with the optional Gray leather interior, please. The real question is how many are left.

1986 Chevrolet Camaro Berlinetta

“Elegance With a Technical Touch.”

1986 was the last year for the Berlinetta semi-luxury version of Chevrolet’s Camaro, and they were by far the rarest of the three Camaros. With only 4,579 Berlinettas built in 1986, Chevrolet sold more than eleven times as many IROC-Zs alone.

The base powertrain for the Berlinetta was the 135 bhp LB8 2.8 liter multi-port fuel injected V6 with a five-speed manual transmission. Optional power was the $750 155 bhp LG4 5.0 liter V8 with a four-barrel carburetor which was paired with a $465 four-speed automatic transmission (the five-speed manual was not available with the V8 on the Berlinetta). Fuel economy with base power combination was 17 city/26 highway by the standards of the day (15/24 by modern standards). Moving up to the V8 dropped mileage ratings only slightly—to 17/25.

Your $11,902 base price (about $25,500 in today’s dollars) bought standard mechanical and exterior equipment including power brakes, power steering, dual horns, and Berlinetta-specific wheel covers. Inside, a custom interior, intermittent windshield wipers, a roof console, a locking rear storage cover, and an AM/FM stereo radio with clock and four speakers were included.

Camaro Berlinetta print advertisement.
Camaro Berlinetta print advertisement.

Of course, the notable interior component for the Berlinetta was the “Welcome aboard Starship Camaro.” (yes, that was a real advertisement) cluster with dual adjustable control pods, a vacuum-florescent digital speedometer, and a bar graph tachometer. To an aspiring young audiophile, the killer feature of this interior was the optional (an extra $242) AM/FM stereo on a swivel with a “proper” upright (no slot) cassette deck and a five-band graphic equalizer. For 1986 only, the stereo had substantially improved backlighting.

Exterior and mechanical options included four-wheel disc brakes ($179), t-tops ($846—ouch!), a rear spoiler ($69), halogen headlamps ($25), rear window defogger ($145), and nice looking Berlinetta-specific aluminum finned wheels ($225). Inside, you could add cruise control ($175) and Berlinetta-specific electronically-controlled air conditioning ($750).

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1986 Berlinetta in (rare) #1 condition is $13,400, with a more normal #3 condition car going for $6,200. In general, third-generation Camaros have good club support and are often available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds, but Berlinettas of any year are rarely seen. Make mine Black, please.

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