Home » New Jersey V8 Two-Doors: 1994 Mercedes SL 500 vs 2003 Ford Mustang GT

New Jersey V8 Two-Doors: 1994 Mercedes SL 500 vs 2003 Ford Mustang GT

Sbsd 5 14 2024
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Good morning! Today’s choices both come from the same dealership in New Jersey. Both have two doors, eight cylinders and are driven by their rear wheels – but the difference, as always, is in the details.

Yesterday’s limos were pretty similar on paper too, but one emerged as a far better deal. I’m calling this one a little earlier in the day than usual, but it isn’t even close. The more formal six-door passenger limo from South Dakota is the clear winner. Sorry, party pit; you’ve got the wrong engine and too many questions.

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For me, the ’92 wins just because it’s a ’92 instead of an ’87. Sometimes it pays to hold out for a car that’s later in the run, and that’s especially true for General Motors vehicles. First-year vehicles from GM have historically been more or less a test fleet; it takes a year or two for the production lines to figure out how to build them, and then another year or two for the engineers to undo the damage caused by budget-cutting. This last-year Brougham should be just about as good as they got.

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Moving on: Those of you of a certain age may recall that once upon a time, Ford was brazen enough to directly compare one of its cars to a Mercedes-Benz in advertising, even going so far as to ask if we could tell the difference. (We could.) Nobody in their right mind was going to mistake a Ford Granada for a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but I admire their bravado. Likewise, no one is going to mistake a Mustang GT for an R129-chassis SL roadster, but today’s cars do have some odd parallels: both overhead-cam V8s, both rear-wheel-drive, both automatics, both, um… four-spoke steering wheels. (I knew there was something else.) But more importantly, they’re a hell of a lot closer in price than they once were. In fact, the prices have flip-flopped. Is the car with more depreciation a better deal, though? Let’s look and see.

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1994 Mercedes-Benz SL 500 – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.0-liter dual overhead cam V8, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Burlington, NJ

Odometer reading: 111,000 miles

Operational status: Obviously runs and drives, but how well is unknown

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How do you follow a legend? If you’re Mercedes, you cram the new car full of every bit of technology you can get your hands on, wrap it in fresh styling to match your current lineup, and give buyers the option of four more cylinders. The R107-chassis Mercedes SL, favorite of both record producers and their divorce lawyers, ran for eighteen years and gained a reputation for tank-like durability combined with instantly-recognizable styling. This car, the R129, is fancier, faster, and flashier, but whether or not those things are progress is still very much in question.

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Yes, you could get an SL in 1994 with a V12 engine, but this one makes do with a four-cam 5.0 liter V8, making a mere 322 horsepower. (How will you manage?) That power is sent to the rear wheels through a 4G-Tronic four-speed automatic; you could get a stickshift in the six-cylinder R129, but this is not really the sort of car in which one shifts one’s own gears. This V8 has a reputation for being exceptionally reliable and durable, as does the transmission – as long as you keep up the maintenance, of course. We don’t know whether this one was maintained well or not. It obviously runs and drives well enough to make it from the dealership to this grassy area for photos, but as with any car bought from a dealer, a good going-over is warranted.

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It certainly looks good, with nice shiny paint and a clean interior. The convertible top looks nice, but I get the feeling that this car doesn’t include its original removable hardtop. Can you find one? Probably. Can you find one in red to match? That’s a trickier question.

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I’m also concerned about a few wonky trim pieces, and I don’t understand why the wheels are red inside. Did someone add those brake dust shields, and paint them red? And if so, why?

2003 Ford Mustang GT – $4,850

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.6 liter overhead cam V8, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Burlington, NJ

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Odometer reading: 119,000 miles

Operational status: Again, runs and drives, but specifics unknown

I go back and forth on the SN-95/New Edge Mustangs. On the one hand, they’re cheap, good-performing (even the six-cylinder ones aren’t dog-slow), and surprisingly reliable. And they’re clearly Mustangs, with enough model-specific styling cues to let you know what it is without being heavy-handed Boomer-bait retro, like the generation after. On the other hand, they have always felt cheap and tacky to me, like they’ve been biding their time until they were old and cheap enough to be the beaters they were always meant to be.

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This 2003 model is sort of “default Mustang configuration”: V8, automatic, hardtop. The V8 in question is Ford’s overhead-cam Modular engine, as also seen in a bazillion Crown Victorias and F-150s. Here it makes 260 horsepower, plenty to light up the rear tires and do antisocial things. The 4R70W overdrive automatic may not be as much fun as a five-speed manual would be, but it’s reliable. Again, we don’t get any specifics on how well this car runs, but reputation is on its side.

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Inside, it looks pretty clean, actually a lot nicer than these usually end up looking. The low mileage helps, I imagine. The photos in this ad are a little hard to figure out; I still can’t tell if the seats in this car are leather or cloth. There seem to be two sets of photos; I suppose they might have two Mustangs for sale and mixed up the photos. But hey, whichever one it actually is, it’s in nice shape.

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Outside, it’s a little ratty but presentable. There are a few blemishes in the paint, and a dent or two here and there; unfortunately flaws like that on black cars stick out like a sore thumb. And I don’t know why the hood scoop isn’t glossy.

No one would have cross-shopped these two when they were new, but now, they’re at the same dealership and within shouting distance price-wise. You could walk in there wanting a two-door V8, and either one would fit the bill. The Mercedes is cheaper, but its running costs will be significantly higher. The Mustang costs more outright, but it’ll be a cheap date if anything goes wrong later. So which one is the better deal?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Turbotictac
Turbotictac
3 days ago

I have owned some form of New Edge Mustang since 2011 and currently have a 2004 Mach 1 so it is an easy choice for me. Especially considering I actively DON’T want a Mercedes of that time period, or really any with the exception of a few older diesels. There is nothing on the Mustang I don’t know how to handle so that’s my choice even though I really have no use for it.

Timothy Swanson
Timothy Swanson
4 days ago

I’m going Mustang for a few reasons: (1) not a fan of the convertible look on the Benz (2) better interior (3) red flags on the Benz. I actually like this era of Mustang best of the last 40 years – the Fox was butt ugly IMO, a downgrade from the style of the otherwise disappointing Mustang II.

Disphenoidal
Disphenoidal
4 days ago

Anyone who watches Just Rolled In on YouTube knows inappropriate brake painting is a harbinger for spray foam repairs. Gotta vote Mustang for that alone.

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
4 days ago

I would try to knock a bit off the price of that Mustang and although I guess I rather would have the Mercedes I just can’t vote for a red Mercedes convertible.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 days ago

You want to look like a moderately successful real estate salesman Mercedes or a marginally sober mechanic Mustang? I’m going Mercedes.

ChefCJ
ChefCJ
4 days ago

I didn’t know a full body respray would include the licence plate holder

Mike B
Mike B
4 days ago

As long as there are no major issues with it now, I’m going with the Benzo. I’ve always liked that body style, and for 3500, if I get ONE trouble free season out of it, I’d be happy. I think that’s all the ownership experience I’d need, then I’d put it up for sale before anything major goes wrong with it. First thing I’d do is remove the red brake shields; those make me question the whole car.

One can find manual LS1 F-Bodies for the same price as the Stang, so I see zero reason to go with a much slower and boring car.

Black Peter
Black Peter
4 days ago
Reply to  Mike B

I’ve loved these since thy came out 20, 30+ years ago.. They still look good IMO.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore
4 days ago

If the Mustang was a manual I’d go for it. Even though it’s not as nice/pretty/cool as the Merc, it will be easier to wrench on and find parts for. That said, all things being equal the Merc is the better buy on every level…Merc vote.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
4 days ago

I was ready to say “obviously the Mustang” but it’s really scruffy, and I’m only going to be driving it about 5,000 miles a year, at most. Cleaning and reconditioning that horse isn’t going to be much fun, and this one is too close to a Fox Body for me to even want it that much when I’m done.

So I’ll enjoy the ride in the Mercedes and accept that it’s going to cost me a whole lot more in the long run.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
4 days ago

I worked in The Atlantic Highlands Municipal Harbor (NJ) over a period of twenty years. SeaStreak Ferry ran a service to Wall Street with a 4-boat fleet: the faster boats could make the one-way trip in 38 minutes.

The ferry parking lot was full of Mercs and BMWs, and I interacted with many of the drivers/boat passengers.

I’ll take the Mustang.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 days ago
Reply to  XLEJim700

Yeah the Mustang bros were all down on the Jersey Shore partying with Snookie, and the gang. I went Mercedes.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
4 days ago

This one was easy- Mercedes by default…way better body style/interior and a fun convertible.
That gen Fix Or Repair Daily Mustang has a horrible body style/interior just like most all Found On Road Dead plastic junk

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
4 days ago

At that price, I need to buy the Benz just so I have a real-life counter-part to my 1/18th scale version. Also, I kind of like those red brake-covers. There’s a none-zero chance I’d double-down on the wheel details and add some Vogue-tires for just a little bit of extra ridiculousness.

Rob Schneider
Rob Schneider
4 days ago

I first saw this generation of the SL at the Philadelphia Auto Show when it first came out. Beautiful car, but I remember thinking at the time there’s no way I could ever own one. But for $3,500… tempting. Quite possibly the automotive ownership equivalent of financial suicide, but tempting…

The rounded Fox body Mustangs never appealed to me. I much prefer the earlier “squared” versions. These just look like somebody left the air hose hooked up too long and over inflated it.

Last edited 4 days ago by Rob Schneider
MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
4 days ago

Hmm…

The Merc will run forever as long as maintenance is kept up (assuming the biodegradable wiring harness has been replaced, which after 30 years, it must have).
The Stang will run forever by replacing everything that breaks, at less overall cost than the maintenance of the Merc.
Adv: Moosetwang

The Merc with this engine didn’t come with a manny-tranny, so no regret for not holding out for one.
The Stang was available with an el manuel, so constant regret every time you drive it.
Adv: OldManCar

Red brake dust covers?!? Ewww, but a <1 hr fix.
Scruffy nose and faded, non-functional hood scoop?!? Double-ewww and many more hours to fix.
Adv: OldManCar

Eh, I’m an old man, I’ll take the old man car, buy some golf clubs, and start talking to friends about mutual funds.

Last edited 4 days ago by MaximillianMeen
Luxobarge
Luxobarge
4 days ago

I voted for the cheap date Mustang. I’ve seen what happens when the gizmos and geegaws on a ’90s Benz break.

StLOrca
StLOrca
4 days ago

Gotta roll with the Mustang–here parts are cheap and plentiful.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
4 days ago

How is the Mustang losing? Do people not realize this is a Centennial Edition Mustang? This is a vehicle befitting a true collector who appreciates all the unique features exclusive to this car: premium 17″ wheels, a 6-disc CD changer, Verona-grain Imola leather seats with power lumbar support, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the pièce de résistance: special Centennial Edition badging. My God, where else are you going to find this kind of equipment?

The voting shows you people clearly don’t understand the textbook definition of a spectacular automotive achievement.

Last edited 4 days ago by ColoradoFX4
Cyko9
Cyko9
4 days ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

Would you call it a “holy grail”™? But you swayed me. The Mercedes is going to be a lot more expensive to operate in the long term than the Mustang. But the body on the Ford is begging for some care. Dunno if it’d be worth the investment, so better if a true fan picks it up.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
4 days ago
Reply to  Cyko9

It’s the Ultimate Holy Grail. The holy grail of holy grails.

Sarcasm aside, they only made 717 coupes, so this is actually pretty rare, even if it’s not actually very special.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 days ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

Did they only make 717 coupesor only sell 717 coupes? There is a difference.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
4 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Out of a planned production of 3,000, a total of 2,040 units were built — 1,323 convertibles and 717 coupes. 

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 days ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

How do you design and build a car with 2 body styles and a total build amount of 3,000 vehicles. Are they custom builds with individual orders? I can’t see making enough money to justify the price.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
4 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

For all intents and purposes, the Centennial Edition had the equipment from a GT Premium, but with some badges, so nothing much to really design. Not sure why they didn’t meet the production goal – I don’t remember them needing to be special ordered, and you’d think Ford would just force them on dealers regardless if the dealer wanted them in stock or not.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 days ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

I think you are consuming too much alcohol

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
4 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

If only that were true…

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 days ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

Leave the sarcasm to me. You could park the Mustang in the worst part of town in New Jersey with the keys in it and it would not be stolen. You might return to find the upholstery covered in orange spray tan from some Jersey sex hook up but no one is stealing it.

Black Peter
Black Peter
4 days ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

username checks out

Alpine 911
Alpine 911
4 days ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

Verona grain is good but it’s no sweet corithian leather

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
4 days ago
Reply to  Alpine 911

I mean, it’s awesome but it’s not up to Ricardo’s standards.

Gubbin
Gubbin
4 days ago

As soon as I saw the headline I said “Stang.” I don’t want either of these, but I’ll take a 21-year-old Ford with parts in every wrecking yard over a 30-year-old Benzo.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 days ago
Reply to  Gubbin

I wonder why the wrecking yards are full of the Stanks? Not a typo. Unreliable, undependable, undesirable, …

FrontWillDrive
FrontWillDrive
4 days ago

As much as I enjoy a good New Edge Mustang, I’ve always wanted to scratch my R129 itch, and that’s a pretty irresistible price. Luckily I can’t afford it right now and I’m not close to it because that one is making me even itchier. I would just strip the paint off the dust covers, I think I would eventually get over only having the V8 in it, because the MB V8 is a wonderful song anyway.

Beater_civic
Beater_civic
4 days ago

I have been watching my neighbour try to eject a family of squirrels from under her hood for the past few days. Gotta vote ‘Stang for that alone.

(edit)

Woah, I didn’t expect the Merc to be that far ahead. That red stuff under the wheels leaves me deeply uneasy. I fear like the logic was:
Fast car have big caliperThis should be fast carBig caliper expensiveRed plastic cheap!

Last edited 4 days ago by Beater_civic
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