It has always been possible to spend significant amounts of money on a car and yet reduce its value. Many of the most obvious examples of these unwise investments came from the tuning culture of the 1990s, when outrageous visual mods were often applied at huge expense, but made the cars almost impossible to sell.
On the best-known magazine that celebrated these creations, and which shared its name with one of Homer Simpson’s alter egos, the staff used to supplement their meagre salaries by building their own OTT projects as feature cars, then selling them afterwards. These would use parts and labour bought with hefty discounts, or, more often, blagged for free from suppliers keen for coverage. But the canny creators learned quickly that, rather than selling the finished masterpiece whole, it was more profitable to remove and flog the aftermarket bits and the basic car separately.
Don’t worry; we haven’t found a stanced Saxo this week. Rather a car which demonstrates there are other pricey modifications done by well-respected companies that do nothing to increase value either. This week’s Pill is a 1984 Mercedes 500 SEC coupe, which was expensively converted into a cabriolet when new or nearly new by Lynx Engineering. It has subsequently been given what must have been another wallet wilting restoration in 2013, and comes with what sounds like a wheelbarrow’s worth of maintenance invoices. Yet it is being offered for £19,995, which is almost exactly the same as an original, unmolested coupe could be expected to fetch.
A non-standard, open-topped version of the SEC is only going to appeal to a small number of potential buyers – more paddling pool than swimming pool – but this does offer the chance to get something rarer than a very rare thing. The internet is divided on just how many SECs Lynx decapitated, but the consensus is either two or three. The first of these was bought by none other than James Hunt, which would certainly tie in with the party-loving F1 champion’s love of big Mercs; he later left a 450 SEL 6.9 to moulder on his driveway. Our Pill isn’t the ex-Hunt car, but it does have a more recent (and more minor) celebrity connection, the dealer selling it suggesting it previously belonged to one Rory Graham, better known as Rag’n’Bone Man. Who, for those towards the blunt edge of popular culture, is a well-regarded beat artiste, m’lud.
The Lynx conversion comes from the era when the modifiers were willing to make major surgery in the interests of filling the niches that manufacturers neglected. It was clearly a braver age: it’s hard to imagine buying a top-end Merc these days and then handing it to somebody wielding an air chisel. But in 1984 there was little choice, the only open-topped Merc in the line-up being the R107 generation SL; not a car for four people to go grand touring in. The SEC Coupe was shorter than the S-Class saloon it was based on, but it was more than roomy enough to allow for a ragtop conversion with space for both four occupants and the stored roof.
This was an idea that several converters seemed to have in parallel when the SEC launched. Coachbuilders in Germany and the U.S. offered versions, as did Lynx Engineering in the UK. Based in Sussex, Lynx had previously offered replica versions of the Jaguar D-Type and C-Type, before moving into modern cars. Its best-remembered model is probably the Lynx Eventer, an XJ-S shooting brake, which is both the least likely estate car of all time and a spectacular looking thing. It also created cabriolet versions of both the XJ Coupe and the XJ-S.
The SEC must have seemed like a sensible next step given the car’s popularity among the well-heeled at the time, but what seems to have been (very) limited sales success means it almost certainly wasn’t a profitable one. We don’t know what the conversion entailed, or what it cost, but Lynx’s experience of chopping tops meant it will doubtless include some underbody modifications to brace the weakened structure. The power-operated hood was probably custom-built around an off-the-shelf motor mechanism; the pictures suggest it is controlled by a simple rocker switch beneath the radio-cassette marked with ‘U’ and ‘D’ for – and I’m guessing here, but hear me out – up and down.
There are also what look to be poppers where the fabric meets the SEC’s bodywork, but the lack of any images of the car with the roof lowered denies the chance to see how these work with the folding process, or whether the stowed hood sits under a tonneau cover. The roof looks a little lumpy in the pictures, with the dealer selling it suggesting the frame needs a realignment, but the fabric hood is apparently in good condition.
Roof aside, the rest of the SEC should be much less brave. We previously Pill’d the brawnier, later 560 SEC almost exactly two years ago, and although this week’s 5.0-litre engine makes a less impressive 230hp it accompanies that with what, by the standards of the age, was a very muscular 299lb ft of torque. The coupe was reckoned to be able to haul itself from 0-60 in eight seconds, the thrust delivered roadwards by a four-speed automatic gearbox. Cabriofication may have added enough mass to take the edge off the acceleration figures, but that’s hardly going to matter to anyone buying it to cruise around in.
While SECs are mechanically robust, they do need to be looked after, with earlier neglect often turning into big issues. Maintenance requirements are both expensive and extensive, with the need for frequent attention by modern standards. The advert’s claim of £14,000 in servicing between 1996 and 2003 – which must be most of the way to the equivalent of £30,000 in these inflation-ravaged times – gives an indication of how pricey things can get.
Enzo the database hamster is on strike until we can get rid of the weasels living in the server room, so it hasn’t been possible to retrieve a registration from the database this week – denying us a look at our Pill’s MOT history. While 193,000 miles is a hefty tally, even for an old Merc, the selling dealer says it has only done a couple of thousand since it was restored in 2013, a process that involved the sacrifice of another SEC coupe for parts and which saw the colour change from the original green (with matching cloth interior) to silver with black leather.
While the vendor isn’t trying to extract a premium over the sort of prices being asked for standard coupes these days, this SEC will always be an obviously non-standard car. Some will doubtless view it with the same level of suspicion those Max’d Novas and Fiestas were treated with in the used market. But presuming the quality of the original conversion, and more recent restoration, stand up to close inspection, then the 500 SEC cabrio is a chance to get something very nearly unique. Also to help you live out some James Hunt-ish playboy fantasies, although probably best not to try for the one involving the Boeing 747 air hostesses. Anyone ready to be converted?
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