Home » Cars From Warm Places: 1995 Mercedes-Benz E320 vs 1999 Chevy Cavalier Z24

Cars From Warm Places: 1995 Mercedes-Benz E320 vs 1999 Chevy Cavalier Z24

Sbsd 1 17 2024
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Welcome back! As I sit here on Tuesday evening writing, it’s dark out, and I can hear the freezing rain hitting the windows. By tomorrow morning, the city of Portland is likely to resemble an underrated Metallica song. I spent most of the day struggling in the cold replacing the starter in my stranded truck (successfully, I’m happy to report). I’m sick of this polar vortex crap. I want to look at some cars for sale in warm places, so that’s what we’re going to do.

Yesterday’s vote on a pair of would-be Euro-killers went about as I expected. My beloved Cimarron went over like a lead balloon, and lost big to that jumped-up Granada with a Ranger engine. It’s fine. It’s good, in fact, because it means that sometime in the future, if I come across the perfect Cimarron (don’t roll your eyes like that), it’ll still be nice and cheap.

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Or will it? Between the Radwood effect, and the naturally high attrition rates of mediocre quality items, the cars I love from my youth are actually climbing in value. I won’t find another $500 Chrysler Laser XE like I once bought, or $800 Quad 4 manual Olds Calais. I saw an ’86 LeBaron sedan for sale the other day for $4,500 – and it’ll probably sell. J, K, E, and N used to be my go-to letters for humble affordable transportation. Those days are disappearing.

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But hey, what the hell. I’ll throw another blue J-body at you today and see if you bite. I also found a decent old Mercedes wagon, if you’d rather. Let’s check them out.

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1995 Mercedes-Benz E320 wagon – $1,950 plus CA back fees

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.2 liter dual overhead cam inline 6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: outside Palm Springs, CA

Odometer reading: 228,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but has been sitting

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I specifically chose cars from warm places – this one is from Palm Springs – but ironically, my appreciation for the Mercedes W124 began in St. Paul, Minnesota, on a snowy day. I had just completed a radiator flush on a maroon 300E at the service station where I worked, and I was sitting in it with the engine idling, watching the temperature gauge, watching giant snowflakes settle on the windshield. We were under strict orders never to touch a customer’s radio unless it was to turn it off, but I didn’t want to; it was on the classical station, Handel or Vivaldi or something with lots of strings. It was a nice quiet moment in the middle of a chaotic day, and I’ve been a fan of the W124 ever since.

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This one technically is an S124, being a station wagon. This is a seven-passenger model, with the fabled “way-back” seat. It’s powered by a twincam inline six and a four-speed automatic, both buttery-smooth. This one has been sitting for a long time due to the owner’s medical issues, but they say it starts and runs just fine. It will, of course, need at least some work; cars don’t like to sit, and they always need something afterwards. If it stays in California, it will need something else as well: “several years” of back registration fees. Unless you tell the state you’re not going to drive the car for an extended period – what they call “planned non-operational status” – you are liable for whatever registration fees it accrues during the time it’s off the road.

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It has a ton of miles on it, but these cars are world-renowned for longevity. With proper care and feeding, you could probably double the reading on its odometer. The limiting factor might be the wiring harness; I know that some Mercedes models of this era had issues with the wire insulation degrading and causing shorts. I don’t know if this is one of the affected years.

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The mechanical bits aren’t the only parts of these cars that wear like iron. Mercedes upholstery simply doesn’t age, and this car looks  nice inside considering it’s approaching a quarter of a million miles. There’s a little tear in the armrest, but that’s all I see. Outside, it’s sun-faded, but straight, and it might look a lot better after a wash and wax. And it has a Cure sticker on the tailgate, which may or may not be a good thing. (Personally, I am of the opinion that they only had one really good album, but it’s really good.)

1999 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 convertible – $3,300

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.4 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Port Orange, FL

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Odometer reading: 144,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives great

The Cavalier was Chevy’s bread-and-butter small car for a long time. Millions of ruthlessly ordinary four-door sedans and two-door coupes provided basic transportation, but for buyers looking for something a little special, Chevy offered a convertible version starting in 1983. And in 1985, the Z24 package arrived, with more power, bigger tires, stiffer suspension, and some visual touches. But the hot ticket was to order the Z24 package – on the convertible.

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This third-generation Z24 is powered by a 2.4 liter twincam engine, a descendant of Oldsmobile’s Quad 4, instead of the V6 of earlier Cavalier Z24s. It sends 150 horsepower to the front wheels through a four-speed automatic, not really enough for any violent acceleration, but enough to introduce you to the concept of torque-steer. It runs and drives great, according to the seller, but I’d check the front brakes; there’s a lot of brake dust on the front wheels. It has a new battery, air conditioning compressor, and top seals, which tells me someone cares about this car.

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It’s a sharp looking car, with the white top, but I don’t think that blue is original. The seller refers to it as “Bahama Blue,” but I can’t find a reference to that color. There’s a “Dahlia Blue,” but it’s a little darker, and metallic. A repaint on its own wouldn’t be much of an issue, and it’s a great color, but the presence of a little rust bubble on one rear quarter panel brings the work into question. It’s worth a little more investigation, and some questions.

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Inside, it’s, well, a ’99 Cavalier with 144,000 miles. These also hold up pretty well inside, but that’s because they’re made of the same plastic as Fisher-Price toys. Four-year-olds can’t hurt that stuff. And it’s nice of them to include both top-up and top-down photos, to show it does indeed work. The seller also makes a point of mentioning that the original owner’s manual is included – always a nice touch.

Cheap cars come in all shapes and sizes, and the great thing is that since they’re cheap, you’re not stuck with one. Want a wagon? Buy a cheap wagon. Fancy a convertible? Get a cheap convertible. Which one grabs you today?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
5 months ago

MB for me!

DDayJ
DDayJ
5 months ago

If I lived near the beach I would take that Cavalier. Ditch all the interior add on crap including the mismatched dash toupee, get a good bottle of wheel cleaner and a pressure washer, and just have fun with it. Unfortunately I don’t live near the beach. If you take the car out of California, can you skirt the back registration fees?

Andrew Daisuke
Andrew Daisuke
5 months ago
Reply to  DDayJ

yes.

Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
5 months ago

That is a classy wagon for classy people. Radio presets are probably fixed to the Classical station, Jazz, and Public Radio (Portland has a great option for each, 89.9, 89.1, and 91.5).

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
5 months ago

An MB that’s been sitting is a red flag. This Cavalier presents as a rolling red flag painted vibrant blue – to me at least. An owner that makes questionable decisions on the interior, never washes the front wheels, and has at least 50 keys on the chain hanging out of the ignition brings questions in my mind as to how the rest of the car has been handled. The MB will probably be a weird nightmare in its own right, but the story seems to be straightforward, and at the end of the fees and money to make it right, you’re still getting a decent MB….which will probably break you at some point anyway….but that’s tomorrow’s problem.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
5 months ago

Now the Cavalier color is referred to as “Shara Blue” in the ad. There was Aquamarine Blue Metallic but that was darker still, and Bright Aqua Metallic in other years that had more green to it; this is too bright and flat to be a factory color, and at odds with the the condition of the rest of the car, like the wheels.

I’m not a “never J-body” person, but I do trust the Benz more here even if it needs some work.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Oh that makes sense too. I did search for “Shara Blue” and all I found is that’s the name of Chaz Bono’s wife, who guest starred in a sitcom with Jason Bateman decades ago, so I did gain some very specific pieces of trivia today.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
5 months ago

Yeah, that eye-searing blue was a re-paint red flag for me. We’ll take the Benz and spirit it quickly out of California.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
5 months ago

Cavalier for sure. I just can’t resist the “performance version” of a sport coupe, esp. in convertible form.

And I’m the rare autopian who doesn’t find wagons charming…mock me all you like, but open top + reasonable running costs + a splash of fun as you motor around your everyday life is where it’s at for me.

(Also, less appreciated in these cars were the seats…they are wonderfully comfortable as well as laterally supportive…almost weird for a car at this price point).

Ncbrit
Ncbrit
5 months ago

If that Benz was closer i’d buy it right now.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
5 months ago

It’s too cold outside to make rash decisions. Neither one of these could be trusted on a day like today, so I can’t vote for either.
If I lived down south, I’d take the Cav and never put the top up.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
5 months ago

Ride the lightning is one of my favorite albums by them.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
5 months ago

I’m a suckered for a convertible, so Crapolier it is!

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
5 months ago

Everything that’s wrong with the Benz is fixable and the Cavalier is just a tarted-up Cavalier. Mercedes is definitely the answer here.

Last edited 5 months ago by Dar Khorse
DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
5 months ago

I’ll take the broke pimp looking Mercedes

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
5 months ago

There’s no such thing as a cheap German car, but I don’t want that Chevy. Dodgy Benz, plz thx.

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
5 months ago

I’m going with the Cavalier. My first inclination was that the Benz was the obvious winner (it is cheaper and I like M-B wagons), but that car looks rough and I don’t like that it has been sitting for years. It would be nice if the Cavalier were $500 cheaper (and, no offense, not a Cavalier), but it looks like a better bet to not be a money pit and it is a convertible.

Gregg Bond
Gregg Bond
5 months ago

I’m never passing up a wagon, doubly so for a three-pointed star!

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
5 months ago

No back fees here. That is the previous owners problem.

Jj
Jj
5 months ago

How do registration fees work in CA? I’m guessing there’s some sort of state / municipal lien on the car, or they wouldn’t have had to mention it in the listing.

In my state, those fees would be charged to the car’s owner. It seems like CA holds the vehicle responsible for paying its own registration fees?

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
5 months ago
Reply to  Jj

Same here, taxes go to the owner, not the car. CA is a strange one sometimes.

Jj
Jj
5 months ago

I bought a car in CA and was surprised that the license plate went with the car instead of staying with the owner. I drove half way back with the CA plates and then switched to my MA plates when I got to Ohio. (I wanted to seem less interesting to the cops.)

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
5 months ago
Reply to  Jj

I guess it makes it easier to purchase a car and bring it home right away.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
5 months ago
Reply to  Jj

Only the personalized plates stay with the owner. Found that out after a car I purchased still had them and required a second trip to the DMV.

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
5 months ago
Reply to  EastbayLoc

I had the same situation with personalized plates on a used car. It costs more to re-register the car with the personalized plates from the previous owner in CA (‘vanity plates’). You can keep them if you want, but it’s cheaper just to get new plates for the car.

Gubbin
Gubbin
5 months ago
Reply to  Jj

As a west-coaster I got a nasty surprise when I bought a bike in MD and the plates didn’t come with it. Had to truck it back to my place in DC and park it until I could wangle some plates a month later.

A. Barth
A. Barth
5 months ago

Wagon, please!

A straight-six is always welcome. I’m not a fan of the dash toupee and the steering wheel is kind of gross, but otherwise it would probably clean up quite well.

The Cavalier, unfortunately, doesn’t do anything for me.

DialMforMiata
DialMforMiata
5 months ago

Either one of these will be a bit of a money pit- the rust (plus the top issues) on the Cavalier will be spendy and the M-B is a biodegradable harness car (1991-1996 models). The difference is that one of these will be a desirable, potentially appreciating classic and the other will be forever destined to be parked in front of a mobile home in a retirement community. M-B all the way.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
5 months ago

While I am not a J-body hater, the convertible versions were absolute nightmares when it comes to wear and tear. The Mercedes could have been photographed under water and I’d still take it over the Cavalier.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
5 months ago

I have been dying to find another Z-24. Like you I am a sucker for these. But this one is not it. Hard-top, maybe, manual, maybe, but a auto convertible? Can’t do it.

Toecutter
Toecutter
5 months ago

If the Cavalier weren’t a convertible I’d have taken it. It’s a more reliable and well-built car on the whole, but I would not want to ever flip it over.

The Benz is likely a moneypit, but it is the cheaper of the two cars, actually has a real roof, and you can haul stuff with it(and with some inexpensive engine tuning, haul ass too).

D-dub
D-dub
5 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Asa

I do love that generation of Accord coupe, though that one has too much of the Pep Boys about it.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
4 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Asa

Why must you taunt me with the Roadmaster?

Chronometric
Chronometric
5 months ago

Gimme the Benz and I’ll drag it out of the state and won’t pay California anything.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
5 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

I’m curious how much the fees could likely be, and also if CA has some trick to collect them even if the car is sold out of state. Any CA residents know this?

Chronometric
Chronometric
5 months ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

I imagine they place a lien on the car and other cooperating states will not let you transfer title until you have cleared the lien.

Andrew Daisuke
Andrew Daisuke
5 months ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

they do not. it’s money they’ll never get. cars go out of CA to be sold in other states all the time.

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