It's a bleak economic climate, but like they say about every dark cloud, even this one has a silver lining-if you're a car guy, that is. There's never been a better time to capitalize on great cars turning up for hilariously little money only a few years into their lives.
Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
Unless you've been living in a basement in Uganda for the last quarter century, you're aware that AMG is the world's premiere builder of the niche cars affectionately referred to as "German thundercars." Since 1986, the high-end tuning wing of Mercedes-Benz has famously been stuffing big engines in small cars, with delicious results. By the time the German horsepower wars had hit full swing in the mid-2000s, AMG was knocking the competition out of the park with its crown jewel-a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 belting out 497 horsepower and a gall-smashing 516 lb-ft of torque. Four AMG cars packed the monster mill in 2003. One is for 75-year-old real estate moguls, the other two are fit for their questionably oriented realtors, and the third, the unquestionably bad-ass E55 AMG, is for you.
What Makes It Great
What if you're not into fluorescent paint, NACA ducts and Boeing-esque aero gear, but still feel the need to utterly obliterate the pompous mid-life crisis machine in the next lane? And suppose you need the above scenario to happen with the wife to the right, the kids watching DVDs in the back, and the air conditioning cranking different temperatures to each picky occupant? No problem, the 4,100-pound E55 cracks off 4.5-second zero-to-60 runs and has you covered until a shade under 200 mph. The supercharged engine was so good that enthusiasts still support it as the best thing to ever come out of Affalterbach, for its tunability and early torque delivery.
The beauty of the E55 AMG, as opposed to competition from BMW or its own successor (the E63 AMG) is that it's supercharged, and that means big horsepower from simple bolt-on modifications. A chip and a replacement pulley can turn the wick up to around 550 horsepower and 615 lb-ft of torque. And we haven't even mentioned the obvious exhaust and intake route. If you want to be completely ridiculous, we found more than a few cars online making more than 600 wheel-horsepower.'
What To Look For
Remember that though you're paying $30,000, you're buying a $95,000 car-and you can expect maintenance to reflect that latter number. That said, these are stout cars, with just a couple of big buck problems that may or may not become an issue: the air suspension and the electronic braking system. If you're worried, we'd recommend finding a car with less than 50,000 miles and buying an aftermarket warranty for around $1,500.
What We Found
A quick search on Autotrader.com pulled up more than 50 cars, like a 2005 with 61,000 miles for $26,980, and a loaded 2006 that was clean enough to eat off for $29,500 with 60,500 miles. The cars were available from 2003, but we'd opt for a 2005+, because of minor styling changes and a reliability update on the supercharger.
For The Money
Gas mileage aside, the E55 is a practical car to drive every day. Whether or not the decklid reads "AMG," you're still buying into the bulletproof reliability of Mercedes-Benz. But we should remind you that, for $30,000, you could be getting better gas mileage in a base model Volkswagen Passat with zero miles on the clock, or halfway through your payments on a new C63 AMG, with less power, less room and fewer luxury appointments. We'll take our thundercar in 040 black, please.