Home » Why Did ’80s Rockers love Mercedes So Much?: Cold Start

Why Did ’80s Rockers love Mercedes So Much?: Cold Start

Jackson Browne Lawyers In Love Ts
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Vehicles were the cause of the downfall of many an MTV-era rock star. We know of Def Leppard’s drummer losing an arm during a road rage drive in his C4 Corvette, while the drummer for Hanoi Rocks never should have gotten into a Detomaso Pantera driven by Vince Neil of Motley Crue. Based on album covers of the time, it looks as if many rockers were attempting to get even by inflicting violence on cars themselves. If that was their goal, they certainly could have chosen easier-to-wreck targets than golden-era Mercedes Benz products.

Mercedes-Benz of the early eighties were hands down some of the best-built machines in the history of the automobile. These were cars made during the magic time window between sixties and early seventies Mercedes that rusted rapidly in the American environment and Benzes from the nineties that were cost-engineered by bean counters trying to compete with Lexus. The R107 SL was known as the “Panzerwagen” by many fans thanks to its indestructible nature, though that nature is being tested by a Flying V on the cover of an album by the German band Michael Schenker Group, a band better known by its initial which are the same as an ingredient that Chinese restaurants like to tell you that their food does not have.

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Vidframe Min Bottom

This shot also features that popular trick found in many automobile brochures of the time where they get every single lamp in the taillight clusters to illuminate, likely requiring a person in the driver’s seat to run the hazards flashers and headlamps while in reverse with a foot on the brake.

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Across the pond [Ed note: Like Michigan? – MH], Canadian rock royalty Joni Mitchell released what most considered was her worst album ever in 1985, and the back of the sleeve inexplicably displays a US-spec C126 380 or 500SEC that has taken a hard hit on the passenger’s side nose.

Dog Eat Dog

In America, Jackson Browne was getting into his no-nukes anti-capitalism phase with his 1983 album Lawyers in Love. The cover, one would assume, shows what appears to be an attorney (played by Browne) rowing upstream in a never-ending quest for success from the sunroof of his C123 (likely a 300CD Turbodiesel).

Jackson Browne Lawyers In Love

This was a car evocative of pure criminal-with-a-briefcase greed; a Mercedes coupe was perfectly cast as the ultimate symbol of ill-gotten gain. I think the MSG cover might be a doctored image, and I assumed that such trickery was used on the Jackson Browne sleeve as well.

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However, if you can stomach the so-bad-it’s-good video below up to 1:30 or so, you’ll see by the splashing water on the trunk lid that they really did dunk the mid-sized $36,200 Benz hardtop in a water tank. That’s $112,000 in today’s money, plus in 1983 you had to pay absurd 15 percent financing costs for a car with an engine that sort of sounded like it was eating its internal parts.

Lawyers Love Video

Well, it wasn’t really a tank of water, but you can scroll through below to see that it was something far more complex with a hole in the ground and plastic tarps:

I understand things that must be done for the sake of art, but it pains me to see this done to these old sleds. They were expensive but you were paying for pure quality. I bought a seven-year-old 1990 420SEL; paying nearly $20,000 for a 100,000-mile used car that lacked some equipment that a similar-cost new Hyundai had standard seemed crazy to many, but the feel of the headlight switch and the sound of the door slamming made you realize where your money was going.

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No, these Benzes didn’t deserve such treatment from rock stars. On the other hand, the early Pantera likely deserved every bullet that Elvis put into it.

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bmw325_num99
bmw325_num99
3 months ago

H*MP 410 license plate. Anyone else think thats not a coincidence? (Hemp 420)

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
3 months ago

I had a,believe it was a 87,S-class once, It was the straight six170 bhp engine, it made an awesome sound through the broken exhaust and would rip the tires at kickdown in the wet. When driving it you could really feel the quality through the whole thing and it never had a rattle or squeak. Of course i ruined it since i was in my twenties at the time but I still remember that car for how it drove and felt. Also all the Mercedes from that time has a real distinct smell that I can’t really describe,but all of you who have ever been in one will know.

Who is the Leader
Who is the Leader
3 months ago

The Jackson Browne cover looks like how my daily driver ’85 300D must have felt for a while when it was parked for years with the windows down. These cars are amazingly resilient to rust from the outside, but if water gets inside, then it stays there until it makes an exit hole. Mine has one of the biggest exit holes I’ve ever seen. But seconded for them being one of the most well built cars in the history of the automobile.

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
3 months ago

Is there a car with a higher (celebrity deaths / road cars sold) ratio than Pantera?

Pantera has the Hanoi Rocks drummer and Tim Horton of coffee and donuts fame.

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Oh true, but maybe it’s a personality-of-people-attracted-to-the-car thing.

Maymar
Maymar
3 months ago

Looks like over 7000 Panteras were built (admittedly over a 20 year lifespan), so at a minimum, the Porsche Carrera GT (less than 1300, Paul Walker) is ahead, but the Facel Vega (Albert Camus) is even lower production at less than 850 built.

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
3 months ago
Reply to  Maymar

Thank you very much.

John Patson
John Patson
3 months ago

Say Mercedes right and it is four syllables. Like four bar rock and roll. (chugga chugga thump thump.) Then the hard one syllable Benz. Could be one reason.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
3 months ago

Oh lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz…

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago

They were damn tough—and quite safe for the time as Mercedes had started building them to protect the cabin:
1) the parts car for my bil’s 300D had done a high-offset head on with a mid-70s Country Squire station wagon: basically they each caught about 18” of each other’s left front. Both doing 55-60. The lady he bought it from had been driving it with 5 loose kids in it and the only injury was the poison ivy they got when the rescue squad told them to sit on the bank. Windshield cracked, and fl tire driven back in its well, but they were able to get the driver’s door open. Cabin still basically square: other doors worked ok.

She said the station wagon buckled around impact so it looked like a banana. Driver had serious injuries, etc.

2) farmer where I stored my 85 300SD parts car flipped it over gently with forks so I could pull suspension parts (on grass). No windows even cracked, and all doors opened & shut as if still on its wheels

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
3 months ago

Honestly, the loss of the Flying V bothers me more than the back window of a Mercedes. I think John Hiatt wold agree.

David Escargot
David Escargot
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

If it was a Les Paul, SG or an Explorer it would bother me more, but I have never loved the look of the V… woe betide anyone dare try that with a hollow or semi-hollow Gibson…. that being said, if the V was thrown out I hope it had its organs harvested

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
3 months ago
Reply to  David Escargot

If it was a Les Paul, it would have survived unscathed, and the poor SL would have been pounded flat…

David Escargot
David Escargot
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

If it was a Les Paul it may have been the end of the space time continuim… two indestructible items meeting with nowhere for the energy to go….

Unless of course the energy was transferred to the Les Paul’s headstock, in which case it would finish with the headstock popping off to the sound of a guitar going out of tune

Goof
Goof
3 months ago

>They were expensive but you were paying for pure quality.

That’s why. In the 1980s, Lexus didn’t exist yet, and Acura was still to arrive depending on the time of the album. Sure, Rolls-Royce and Bentley existed, but they were far more expensive, and needed a fair bit (Bentley in particular) of attention.

Meanwhile, the Mercedes, “just worked.”

Here’s an article idea — an alternate timeline in which the Acura Legend and especially the Lexus LS400 never existed. How vastly different would the luxury market be today, if a Mercedes still cost an absolute truckload of money relative to what they cost today?

Goof
Goof
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Oh, I’ve driven W140s and the original XF10 LS, many times each. I will never say the LS was even in the same league. Yet that doesn’t matter. It sold an absolute crapton and scared the hell out of Mercedes, because it was good enough.

The reality is at the end of the day, people — and especially Americans — are cheap. Americans in particular love to crow about how they, “got a great deal.” A 1993 400SEL started at $81,200, but the LS400 was only $48,030. If you adjust for CPI inflation, that’s $174,230 and $103,060 respectively.

40% off for, “most of what you care about” was very appealing to a lot of people, and especially Americans. That’s my point. The tail end of, “old-school” Mercs were pricey, until similar to Porsche they hacked and slashed their costs like you would with a machete in a jungle.

— —–

So again, what if Lexus never existed? What if they never fired that shot across the bow of the core luxury market, and scared all the incumbents to death? You have to remember that even cars like a W124 E-class convertible was damn near base R129 SL money (though a 1993 SL600 started at $123K!) Yes, they were very good, but they were very expensive relative to now, and that mattered to buyers.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Goof

The reality is at the end of the day, people — and especially Americans — are cheap. Americans in particular love to crow about how they, “got a great deal.”

Not really. If that were true Americans wouldn’t spend days standing in line to buy a $1200 phone when their existing phone works just fine. Nor would they brag about how much they overspent on designer branded crap.

Goof
Goof
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

You’re comparing $1200 today ($570 in 30-year ago money) to $81,200 ($171,000 in today’s money). To say that’s a different segment of the market — given the 142.5x difference in price — is an understatement.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Goof

Different markets, same sentiment. Value oriented cheap bastards aren’t going to buy the Lexus, they’re going to buy the Camry because they know its the same damn thing where it counts.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

“If you’ve ever driven one, they make any Infiniti or Lexus feel like a Datsun or Toyota. And, of course, they didn’t even have automatic headlamps and other features you got standard on cars a third of the price.”

They did however auto destruct wiring looms which lead to all kinds of fun. Also lifter clogging problems so it sounded like a you were driving around in a clapped out Chevy.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

“ran to nearly 200,000 with very few problems”

Now THAT is a luxury!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

If she wants one they can still be found. They’re not that expensive either.

Jnnythndrs
Jnnythndrs
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I think my least-favorite Mercedes fault is the climate-control system in the W123’s, I used to work on them occasionally and I don’t think any of them ever worked right once they got some mileage on them. Helluva job to fix, too.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
3 months ago
Reply to  Goof

I suppose it depends on how consumer tastes would have evolved more than anything. People love gadgets, and there is a logic to the concept that the more you spend on a car the more gadgets it should have. The LS400 is an interesting case because it undercut ze Germans to the extent that it was accused of being a loss leader. Since Toyota was bathing in Camry and Corolla money, they could afford to lose money on the LS400 in order to establish the Lexus brand. Is that what really happened? I don’t know, but the LS400 definitely kept costs down in part through having off the shelf regular Toyota components that Toyota didn’t think consumers would have a problem with as part of a very nice overall luxury car. It stood on its own as a true luxury car and not a badge job. The badge job would come later with the Super Camry Lexus ES.

It gets more interesting as the cars age, because the LS line has proven to be every bit as durable as the vaunted Mercedes of the 1980s. But, and I know this is something you can’t quantify, the W123 and its ilk have a timelessness to them that Lexus can’t match. They have a presence that protects them from being seen as ballin’ on a budget even when people buy them for that very reason.

Goof
Goof
3 months ago

I agree that in the 70s-90s, generally Mercedes-Benz was, “a step above” where they were today, on even their nicest models. Were they a Bentley or Rolls-Royce? No, but they were closer to that level then, than they are today.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago

“the LS400 definitely kept costs down in part through having off the shelf regular Toyota components that Toyota didn’t think consumers would have a problem with as part of a very nice overall luxury car.”

So Mercedes gets a pass for doing exactly the same thing by selling luxury cars made with parts found in taxis all over the world?

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

They do in North America at least because we don’t get them with crank windows or in fleet spec.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago

Did NA market Lexus or Infiniti ever come with crank windows or in fleet spec?

Last edited 3 months ago by Cheap Bastard
Goof
Goof
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Even the original V20 Lexus ES had power windows standard.

The original Y32 Infiniti (Leopard based?) J30 also had them standard, as did the earlier, original P10 Infiniti G20.

Those were the cheapest models they sold, so no cranks in NA.

These were “luxury” brands, and power windows was firmly seated as a “luxury” feature in the minds of Americans at the time. Same with A/C.

General aside that the meaning of words change over time. You can rent an apartment that looks like it wasn’t renovated since 1975, but if it has an in-unit W/D and dishwasher, I’d bet an entire paycheck that it’d be listed as a “luxury apartment” 9 times out of 10, even though that’s a ~50 year old standard of luxury it’s being compared against. Similar to the watering down of the “personal luxury coupe” in the malaise era.

Last edited 3 months ago by Goof
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Goof

So how does this give Mercedes a pass?

Goof
Goof
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

The EU market for Mercedes and BMW was very different than the US, and always has been.

Remember, Mercedes and BMW historically had no other brands, they had to stand alone. So they always had to push volume a bit, and it’s why we saw all the acquisitions, mergers, etc. in the 90s and 2000s — it was a way to increase volume (Smart, MINI, Rover, etc.) without diluting the core brand. Hence why you had less featured models in EU — because they wanted to sell more cars to make more money, even if the margins were lower on the less featured units, because their existing reputation in the EU functionally allowed that.

In fact, that’s what the original article was about. In the US you wanted a Mercedes because it was the nicest thing you might be able to afford one day. In Europe, they also sold other just “very nice” cars, that sometimes were a bit less fancy.

Granted, they didn’t push that in the US for a myriad of reasons. First, they were “foreign” cars, which was a bigger deal in the first few decades after the war. To differentiate themselves, they sold themselves as luxury products. So “plebeian” features in the same showroom went against that in the US, whereas in the EU you might just buy a Mercedes as a much nicer alternative to something like an Opel, but hey, you still had a budget to stick to.

Last edited 3 months ago by Goof
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Goof

That still doesn’t give Mercedes a pass. Anyone wealthy enough to afford a Mercedes in the US was I think likely to have at some point ridden in a noisy, smelly and dirty Mercedes taxi while abroad, maybe even a beater in Africa or at the very least seen their status symbol three point star on a common truck. At least Cadillac owners could pretend their expensive luxobarge wasn’t a Chevy underneath.

Unlike bragging rights of a go anywhere Land cruiser or the nefarious scrappy cache of the pickup use in Africa isn’t a selling point in the luxury market, its a detriment.

Goof
Goof
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

The whole point of my post was that Mercedes was entirely aware of their need to position themselves differently in the US market. That there weren’t manual window fleet vehicles in the same showroom as their luxury products as there were in Europe — to push the image of “luxury” and “the best” as hard as possible. This was especially so in the 70s to the end of the Sacco-era cars in the 90s, before they attempted to move more downmarket in the US to chase volume.

The point is Mercedes ESTABLISHED itself as a luxury brand first in the US, whereas in Europe they had always been known to sell nice cars AND luxury cars. They didn’t have the existing “luxury only” image the worry about, so they didn’t. Moreover, also consider the German market immediately postwar. Dude, there are bazillions of failed German microcars when aircraft manufactures had to pivot into something. Germans couldn’t afford crap, especially after cities were bombed into oblivion. I say this as someone whose father spent the 60s and early 70s in the US Army Corp of Engineers building schools, hospitals, bridges, roads and other things in west Germany.

Mercedes is a near 100 year old company worldwide, but only entered the US market in 1952, didn’t have a real presence until 1957, and didn’t start to gain volume until 1961 onwards. They had to be pragmatic postwar for many reasons. That’s why they sell cheaper stuff in the EU.

Look at the 170V and 170D. The cheapening of the W118/W119. The worry of dealing with Auto Union and DKW. Mercedes’s cheaper cars are the result of being in survivor mode in their home market.

Last edited 3 months ago by Goof
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago
Reply to  Goof

“The point is Mercedes ESTABLISHED itself as a luxury brand first in the US”

If so they had a strange way of going about it. For the record MB USA started in 1965, not 1952 From 1952 to 1957 MB cars were imported by Max Hoffman and from 1957-1964 they were sold by Studebaker-Packard. That didn’t do well, partly because:

“Daimler-Benz further complicated the situation by wanting S-P dealers to also sell the little two-stroke Auto Union cars. Even one that looked like a 1957 Thunderbird failed to impress American buyers. (After the war Daimler-Benz had purchased Auto Union, one of its biggest motorsports competitors back in the 1930s. Auto Union was manufacturing small cars with 2-stroke motors. Selling a car to Americans that required mixing oil with gasoline was truly the definition of foreign.)”

https://heacockclassic.com/articles/mercedes-benz-in-america-max-hoffman-and-the-new-postwar-frontier/

So they were selling those *luxury* Benzes at Studebaker dealerships right alongside small, smoky, noisy two stroke economy cars.

Speaking of those *fancy* Benzes one of their very first ads MBUSA had was to beg Americans to buy a 60 hp, 190D that could rip from 0-60 in 26.4 seconds. The selling point? Fuel efficency:

https://www.heacockclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/Heinz-Hoppe-Mercedes-Benz-of-North-America-Ad.jpg

If they were shooting for the Cadillac market they were aiming pretty low.

Goof
Goof
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

Yep, they offered cloth seats, but they could be heated!

Madewithgenuineparts
Madewithgenuineparts
3 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

A friend of mine has a maroon on maroon cloth LS400… absolutely awesome car.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

No, but with Lexus at least there was plenty of parts sharing with the higher optioned Toyotas. American buyers wouldn’t sit in a Mercedes and then complain that some of the switches were the same as what you got in a budget model because they never got the budget models.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago

Imagine their horror to discover the fancy MB they’re sitting in shares its badge with a common dump truck.

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
3 months ago

Joni Mitchell peaked at “Court and Spark”, an album I still treasure.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
3 months ago
Reply to  Lew Schiller

Being from Memphis, my favorite is ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’ from 1977. I was heavy into my first serious relationship when it came out, and it was the soundtrack to that time for me. I’d play it on my father’s Marantz sound system, which had speakers by the pool. I was convinced ‘Otis and Marlena’ was written for us.

Sure, that album is deep into her jazz phase. But I like that shizzz…

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago

Perhaps Mercedes willingly provided these cars in a bid for more prominence in the rock and roll zeitgeist. No publicity is bad publicity sounds like Teutonic logic – unless you’re cheating on diesel emissions or (allegedly) accelerating senior citizens through storefronts.

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