What I discovered was a dearth of such cars under StarMark, particularly in my budget range. They usually started in the low 20s, and I even saw a few, low-mileage examples approaching 25 grand. The search engine eventually led me to the posting of a C280-the one I ended up buying-on the web site of a Beverly Hills Lexus dealer. It was near the right price, had very low mileage and was described as a peach. And indeed it was-at least cosmetically. This part I'll save until the next installment of the project, but know that I'm glad I purchased an aftermarket warranty.
Before buying the car, however, I'd researched its history with CarFax and done some digging into the model's problem areas. A search of the NHTSA files showed several recalls for the line: For 1994, binding of the cruise-control linkage was possible due to lack of lubrication, inhibiting closing of the throttle when the pedal was released. The hood latch hook had problems acting as a secondary safety catch in 1994-95 models, and there were cracking problems with drive-belt pulleys in 1996 cars. Finally, there was a caution put out about 1998-99 cars, suggesting more frequent battery maintenance. Low levels of electrolyte were possibly tied to battery explosions.
Well, those are somewhat ominous notes with which to begin an assertion-which will be made valid, I hope, in our testing program-that the previous generation of C-Class, even though it makes a marvelous taxicab, is an affordable, attractive, well-engineered basis for an enthusiast's meddling. In so many ways the car feels bulletproof, which makes me believe the platform is well able to deliver higher levels of safety via better handling and more efficient braking, as well as performance-Dan Barnes' calculator is clicking away as I write this.
You'll note that I've already upgraded the wimpy stock running gear. From The Tire Rack's copious warehouse of wheel and tire choices, we opted for beautiful AMG spoked alloys, developed deep within the heart of Mercedes-Benz's tech center. They're mounted with Goodyear's Eagle F1 GS D3 ultra-performance radials, which recently scored highest on The Tire Rack's Max Performance survey of its customers' experience with their tire choices.
I think it's a great start to what I hope will be a surprisingly rewarding project.