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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But youve seen it run
But youve seen it run
3 months ago

Nobody is going to mention the Lebaron in the room?????

Doug Schaefer
Doug Schaefer
4 months ago

Anyone of a certain age will immediately recognize that as Earl Sheib blue.

Earl Sheib was a discount painter in the 70s and 80s for those who couldn’t swing Maaco. Any car, any color, $99. Any color meant any of the colors on their standard chart, all of which were odd, like this blue.

Xpumpx
Xpumpx
4 months ago

owned and flipped a bunch of these cavaliers. pretty robust little car. and just like that, im picking one over a mercedes benz.

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
4 months ago

Too bad they don’t say how many years of back fees are on the Benz. That can add up to quite a bit here in Cali, although you could use that to have the seller to knock the price down even further. If I could pick this up for $1500 or so I would gladly drive it until the wiring gives out.

chad Face
chad Face
4 months ago
Reply to  Here4thecars

I looked it up on the dmv website. $771 to bring it current.

Jay Maynard
Jay Maynard
4 months ago

Gimme the Benz all day and twice on Sundays. You can’t kill a 124. And screw California, take it somewhere reasonable.

Oldskool
Oldskool
4 months ago

While this generation of J body doesn’t excite me like the gen 1, I’d still take a simple J body over a Benz. I’m gonna be the one working on it and buying parts for it. Besides, luxury doesn’t do much for me. Small and simple wins.

I do agree it looks like a repaint. It honestly looks like the same color I painted the floor of my van, a gallon of tractor paint from the farm store. But it’s cool. It still looks presentable.

Myk El
Myk El
4 months ago

The yellow face…it burns us. Wagon it is.

Luxobarge
Luxobarge
4 months ago

The Cavalier is a mediocre car, but it’d be a low-stakes way to enjoy summer…as far away as that seems right now. At that price, I consider it to be disposable–as long as I can keep it for a couple years with basic maintenance, I can junk it and feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
4 months ago
Reply to  Luxobarge

You are thinking along the same lines as me. Buy, enjoy, scrap.

Matt Wishart
Matt Wishart
4 months ago

I’ve had a ton of 124’s over the years. This is the later twin cam model so look out for oil seeping out of the head gasket, missing or slow to engage reverse gear and heavy rust around the side windows in the rear, hidden behind the covers in the cargo area. Also, this is listed as a 4-Matic, meaning it’s All Wheel Drive with the extra complexity and that bizarre spring solution in the front end. Having said all that, I’ll take it over the Cavalier any day!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 months ago

Are you kidding me? A Florida salt free convertible, a Cavalier, half the miles, good interior, good exterior, for just a grand over a the cost of a Mercedes Wagon? The only choice is the wagon.

Baja_Engineer
Baja_Engineer
4 months ago

That dash mat on the Cavalier is suspicious. I know the dashes on those are not durable, a friend of mine owned a 2001 Z24 and the dash was all shattered to pieces by age 10.
Also no matter how convertible it is, it’s still a crappy J body.

That means it’s the W124. I-6, wagon, 3rd row, sign me up

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
4 months ago

I’ll take the Mercedes and register it out of state.

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
4 months ago
Reply to  Urban Runabout

My thought too. Wonder if I could drive it back to North Carolina?

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
4 months ago
Reply to  Turbotictac

BAT has a transport service – and I don’t think it’s that much for an open carrier. I’d probably do something like that for this one – just so you’re not stranded in dumbfuckistan in an ancient German wagon.

TheNewt
TheNewt
4 months ago

Fascination Street jumped out at me when it was first released and I still love the song. I would say that album is the most consistently good throughout and definitely the best Cure album.

Oh yeah, gotta go Benz on this one.

Angular Banjoes
Angular Banjoes
4 months ago

If I were to buy the Benz and bring it home to Oregon, would the state of California still find a way to collect their money?

Angular Banjoes
Angular Banjoes
4 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Hmmm… this is useful information.

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
4 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Even better if you have a way to register it in Washington: No DEQ OR emissions.

And in 2025, you’d be able to register it permanently as a Collector Vehicle.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
4 months ago

Gimme the tank. It’s a Benz wagon with the jumpseat. No way I’m taking a powder blue Cavalier with white top and an auto. Florida car too! I’m looking at you rusty front wheels (flood damage?)

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
4 months ago
Reply to  EastbayLoc

Hey, the Orlando area has ONLY been hit by 8 hurricanes since this car was new…

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
4 months ago

At that price, the Crapalier.

Provided the roof is sealed, and it runs without warning lights, I know what I’d be stepping into and would have a nice cheap weekend soft-top for going to the beach. It’s cheap to keep on the road, and as a weekend summer car: I wouldn’t care if I had to wrench on it.
Too bad it’s not a 5MT as that would be good to pass to the kids for them to learn standard, and feel like they’re in something special, all without putting down too much coin.

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
4 months ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

there is no world in which that top doesn’t leak

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 months ago
Reply to  Spikedlemon

You don’t belong here young Padawan. Go back to the dark site. Your offspring know better and will disown you as soon as you saw Cavalier.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
4 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

They’re hardly old enough to remember the legacy of JBody cars through the 80’s/90’s/00’s.

But, boy are these cars cheap to fix. Sadly you just need to do it often, but at least it’s rarely a terminal issue.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
4 months ago

For an out-of-stater the Merc is clearly the ticket. For a Cali guy like me the back fees are going to kill the finances.

I just can’t do the Cavalier. Sitting out today’s vote.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

By the merc on an outbox state then sell back in state

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
4 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Possible. I think it would need to be a state where it’s super cheap to import and register a car, and I’d want to be sure of the legality of pulling such a stunt. I also must confess I don’t know what sort of fees CA charges for importing a car (I can tell you Georgia was downright ugly when I helped my daughter move there last year). I just don’t know if it’s worth the hassle for an under-$2k car.

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