Mercedes and Me

Richard Quinn

MY FATHER WAS A CAR salesman. For the last 20 years of his career, he sold Mercedes and he was good at it. He even won a sales contest that included a trip to Germany to tour the factory.

Unfortunately, selling Mercedes does not mean you can afford one. But he did get to drive them. As a kid, I was also hooked. When I was 17, I was allowed to drive a 190SL in the local July 4th parade. Once, I even drove a 300SL. I was definitely hooked.

When I graduated high school in 1961, I promised my father that one day I would own a Mercedes. Looking back, I think my quest was more about being financially successful than the car itself. My father often told stories about the people who bought cars from him—doctors, a baseball player, owners of famous restaurants. Often, people paid cash. One story was particularly motivating. It was about a fellow who bought a 300SL for $11,000 in 1953. He reached into his top shirt pocket and pulled out the cash. That’s about $104,000 in 2019 money. Perhaps it’s telling that I still remember that story.

While I never really lost my desire for a Mercedes, life intervened, including four children, 16 years of college bills and saving for retirement. Around 1994, as my youngest entered college, my Mercedes yearnings began stirring. Was there light at the end of the college tunnel?

I opened a savings account and dubbed it my Mercedes fund.

Twenty years later, I had enough money—or close enough. In 2014, I bought a E350 for cash, more money than the cost of all my previous cars combined. At age 71, I fulfilled a dream and a promise. Two days after picking up the car, I fulfilled another promise. My wife and I took off across the U.S. so I could show her the national parks she’d always wanted to see—and I got to drive my Mercedes on the open roads of the west. I won’t admit to the speed I reached once, because my wife may read this and she was asleep at the time. I put 10,000 miles on the car in a few short weeks.

Just before the trip, when I drove the car off the lot, I welled up for a minute. Still, I didn’t feel the degree of satisfaction or pleasure I thought I would. It was, after all, just a car—which was now worth less than I’d paid. What I realized was that it wasn’t about the car, but about keeping a promise, about setting and achieving a goal, and about proving to myself I could do it.

That didn’t last long. I looked around and saw people half my age in better models. Did they pay for them? The salesman told me that, in his experience, over 70% of the cars are leased. If you lease a car, are you making a good financial decision—or is it that you really can’t afford the car and it’s more of a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses decision?

It’s the same with other spending, too. What’s the point of expensive trappings that can’t be paid for in full and that divert money from truly important financial goals? It’s like cheating on a test. You get an A, but you learn nothing and accomplish nothing.

My dream car is now five years older, and so am I. I’m getting those Mercedes stirrings again. What to do, what to do? Should a really old man take a chunk from the kids’ inheritance?

Richard Quinn blogs at Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous articles include Leaves Me ColdSharing the Wealth and Matter of Degree. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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James Wesley Cunningham
James Wesley Cunningham
10 months ago

I love your story. You waited a long time. I owned a Mercedes once and hope to again. I thought it was a high quality piece of machinery.

Walter Abbott
Walter Abbott
3 years ago

Good for you!! There’s nothing wrong with splurging when you can easily afford it. And, I doubt your kids will begrudge your whim – you’ll probably leave them plenty.

But your story does reinforce my long held belief that cars and houses are two things that people buy that often have no connection to real needs. Instead, they are purchased to satisfy their S. W. I. G. emotional quotient. See What I Got.

Houses need only keep you dry when it rains, cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. Does one really need a $1/2 million McMansion to satisfy those requirements? Or are you wanting to impress others?

A car is for transportation. Getting from A to B. $15 to 20 thousand will buy a very reliable pre-owned vehicle that will satisfy that need. A new $100 thousand vehicle won’t do the job any better.

3 years ago

That’s a moving story. Congratulations on achieving a life-long dream!

One way to satisfy the Mercedes stirrings without taking too large a chunk from the kids’ inheritance would be to rent a Merceds on occasion (I’ve heard mostly good things about the car rental sites Autoslash and Turo, although I can’t vouch for them from personal experience). You get to experience the thrill of driving a luxury car without committing to the long-term costs of ownership.

3 years ago

Richard, I suggest you a) go to and buy a 3 year old Mercedes coming off lease with less than 10K miles and b) gift the difference to the kids. You’re going to be riding around in a nearly new car with none of the depreciation mental pain and the kids can do things with the money NOW. If they’ve learned anything from you, they will use it towards a down payment on a house, pay down student loans, fund a roth, ect. Good Luck!

Doug K
Doug K
3 years ago

my father’s dream car was a 450SL, which he never did get to drive. It’s possible I may buy one just to drive around remembering him.. but even now they are $10 000 or so for one in good condition, much more than I’d usually spend on a car..

my other Mercedes story – when I were a young pup, a Mercedes convertible was the ne plus ultra for me, the most expensive desirable car I could imagine.
Three of their current convertible offerings are MSRP under $60 000.
Luxury pickup trucks and giant SUVs are selling for 20-40k more than that. I can’t imagine longing to drive a Ram 1500.. but see dozens of these vehicles on every commute. Humans are weird.

J. Money
J. Money
2 years ago

Dude – I absolutely love your articles. So well written and informational while at the same time ENTERTAINING! The most important part! 🙂

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