The ultimate status symbol.

It’s a lot easier to earn respect when you practise what you preach.

Even children understand this point. When our parents tell us to do one thing while readily ignoring their own supposedly sage advice, it strikes us that their words are empty, hollow, and worthy of consideration only to the extent that we don’t find the wrong end of a paddle for ignoring them. We’re not predisposed to heed cheap tawk, in other words. We want to follow the advice of people whom we deem ethical.

This is obviously the +EV strategy. While it might frustrate us that our parents tell us what to do something without themselves doing the same, they still, more often than not, have our best interests at heart. They want us to grow up to be strong, decent, independent thinkers and doers even if it means burning the bridge between us in the process.i That’s what it means to be a good parent.

Outside of that narrow family unit, however, the preponderance of advice-givers and their rapacious self-promotion makes it quite simply impossible to differentiate the signal from the noise. Those who are insufficiently skeptical of these outside voices are therefore far more subject to the vagaries of fashion, that mystical force that made phablets cool and google glass drool,ii spending most of their lives following noise that goes to nowhere.

Now I’ve oft denounced the poisonous consumer “culture” currently occupying the western world,iii but my words alone aren’t enough to immunise me from its influence.

No, I don’t live in the suburbs, and no, I don’t shop at Costco. And yes, I minimise the amount of broken software and hardware I use.iv But even still, though I rail against the bezzle, I still earn it and use it to buy dress shirts for nights out and plane tickets to far-off lands. And up until recently, I even drove a newish car, MY2012, despite it having all the build quality of a dollar store action figure.

But newer cars depreciate and there’s nothing that I hate more than watching perfectly good money vanish into thin air. Except perhaps socialism. (Then again, this is probably the same aversion.) So as a financial and ethical consideration, I bought a new car.v

It’s practical in some ways (comfort) and massively impractical in others (parking). It has a 5.6L V8, is 5.16 metres in length, and has heated front and rear seats filled with… get this treehuggers… horsehair.

It’s also, now that the Prius is dead,vi the ultimate status symbol.

The Mercedes 560 SEL, built in Germany from 1986 – 1991, was part of the unsurpassablevii W126 line of S-class. As the top-of-the-line model of Merc’s top-of-the-line range, the 560 featured technologies still impressive to the car buyer today, two-and-a-half decades later, such as power reclining rear seats, power rear window sunshade, and self-leveling hydropenumatic rear suspension.viii It’s no wonder that, brand-new, the thing cost as much as my parents’ house at the time.

The W126 is a properly impressive machine. It’s hardly surprising, then, that luminaries such as Pope John Paul II, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ayrton Senna each owned at least one. The 560 SEL, in particular, also found its way into the garages of Mr. Saddam “I just want to sell oil for euros!” Hussein, as well as the man below, on the left, one Mr. Mikhail “How do you steer this thing?” Gorbachev. I don’t know who that guy on the right is but would you get a load of that hair!

Gorbachev and Pete - Mercedes 560 SEL

One of my favourite writers from my car blogosphere days was Jack Baruth, who similarly called out the plastic crud lining today’s car lots and presciently foresaw my recent purchase:

The old Porsches, the old Mercedes-Benzes, they had some integrity, some value for the Morlocks, for the third owners, for the hobbyists. They endured. They were like old Rolexes; expensive to run but durable by design. That’s no longer desired, if it ever was. Today’s “luxury” car is just like today’s “luxury” watch. The value of the thing is the price, the presence, the heavy flame-surfaced tank-like offensiveness of an X6 imposing your prosperity on your neighbor’s fragile psyche like a heavy gold chain worn around one’s neck a thousand years ago.

It won’t last. It cannot last. It is a house built on sand. I want to believe that the tide will turn, that we may value vehicles once again for their integrity, their construction, their durability, their real-world performance. The day may come when the Panamera’s successor meets the same icy disdain among the upper-middle-class as the downsized Fleetwood did in 1985. The purveyors of instant junk may push too far, too hard, dare too much, fly too high, crash too hard. The ultimate status symbol may become an old 560SEL, that million-mile aerosedan from another era. It may become the 993, that perfected expression of the air-cooled ethic. It might be an E34 BMW M5, the last six-cylinder gasp of the true M-car. Aw, hell. It could be a C6, for all I know. Concrete Sam could wake up and find that, against all odds, the Vette now gets them all wet.

Yes, it’s just a car, and yes, that means it’s just a toy, but the Mercedes 560 SEL signals so much more than that.

It signals a desire to practise what you preach.

It signals status.

___ ___ ___

  1. Parents who are unwilling to make this social sacrifice, whether that sacrifice indeed has to be made or not, are exhibiting the hallmark of poverty: short-term thinking.

    None of us lives forever and what survives beyond our short time on this earth is what defines our success. Not our own personal happiness, but what lasting value we create. For some, this is a business, for others, a design, for others still, it’s having children who pick up where we’ve left off.

  2. Lightly lifted from #b-a:

    *: asciilifeform Doesn’t get the whole ‘glasshole’ meme. carrying a pNohe everywhere, with its two or three cameras pointed every-which-way, is somehow perfectly civilized; but wearing a threadbare camera on your head, not ?
    mircea_popescu:  You don’t understand how social works work. so : if anyone can get one, it’s ok. If it becomes apparent not everyone will have one, it’s not.
    pete_d: One is normalised, one “too obvious.”
    asciilifeform: That was my impression.

    mircea_popescu: It’s EXACTLY what it is. If the fashion looks like it doesn’t have the steam, backlash prevails. Otherwise, backlash doesn’t, which is why the notion that social discussion is argument driven is just so much rubbish. which is why Conde Nast wants Reddit and the New York Times moved to publishing pics and tweets.
    pete_d: It’s not clear to me why everyone couldn’t have a glasshole.
    mircea_popescu: Because they suck.
    pete_d: They might not want one, but the thing’s for sale. Too much bezzlars eh.
    mircea_popescu: Right, but the headcount that’ll NEVER wear them is large enough. so it fails.

    asciilifeform: There was a fairly detailed discussion here in #b-a re: why ocular displays which don’t suck have been costing the same 100k usd since 1985. and aren’t about to stop.
    mircea_popescu: I recall that convo.

    pete_d: But the knock-off market, like that for LV purses, should fill that demand.
    mircea_popescu: Point is it’s not a demand.
    asciilifeform: It’s a ‘demand’ of pretty much one guy, yours truly, who wants to program in bed.  hence – no demand.
    pete_d: Only because it never seemed “premium” just creepy.

    mircea_popescu: Consider how it works. Take an island of 100 people, of which 5 boys and 6 girls under 30, 10 boys and 11 girls under 40. Now, one day the fashion is for girls to wear clothes with a hole over left nipple, so it’s always exposed. 15 boys like this. If 9 girls hate it, it’ll become a “civil rights” issue, but happen anyway. If 3 girls hate it, it’ll become a tradition. Had 9 boys hated it, it’d have become a google glass.
    pete_d: So >90% boys like a toy –> fashion!
    mircea_popescu: Pretty much. > 25% or so hate it –> doomed.
    pete_d: 30-90% and who knows. Hmm
    mircea_popescu: Yea actuall this can be the 30-90% rule.
    pete_d: I can see it.

  3. Exhibit A:

    The world didn’t die of deflation on the gold standard, nor did it toil in a dry pool of unmet needs, but it is unquestionably suffering under the present inflationary regime. Everywhere, plastic is replacing tangible, useful goods. Your car is made of plastic because steel is too expensive, your cellphone is made of plastic because aluminum is too expensive, the foods at the grocery store are made of plastic or covered in plastic pesticides because local food is too expensive, etc. Then there’s the rampant social confusion and associated mental illness, to say nothing of the debt. Oh, the debt!

    Exhibit B:

    The incredibly broken “optimal stock” theory is the reason we have “affordable luxury” and a planet burdened by plastic dishwashers, plastic cars, and plastic food. Low-quality X has no place in this world and neither does some philosophaster’s definition of “optimal.” Their well-heeled guilt doesn’t buy them any brownie points either. […] Mercedes are basically all shit now. Since 1998, when they merged with Chrysler, their “affordable luxury” push has turned their wares into disposable plastic dishwashers. I wouldn’t wish an off-lease Merc on my Mike Hearn.

    Exhibit C:

    Why would greatness be inversely correlated with happiness? Perhaps because, as with all things fleeting, happiness is simple and short-term, whereas greatness is complex and long-term. Take paper money and Mother Nature: the more paper money there is, the more Mother Nature suffers. That is, the more fake wealth there is in the hands of fake people, the more plastic shit there is clogging the airways, landways, and waterways.

    Exhibit D:

    This, this!, is what it means to understand how the world works: to have your likeness manifest as plastic turds instead of immortalised in marble for the next 1000 years. Of course.

  4. I won’t say that my set-up is perfect, but it’s always improving and is always commensurate with my needs. Digital security, after all, is about making attacks cost ineffective, not impossible, and using your equipment intelligently, not in having “perfect” equipment. Unless you’re making your own, that is!
  5. Ok, it’s not exactly fresh off the assembly line, it’s 25 years old, but let’s call it “new” all the same.
  6. With the climate fear-mongering goes its torch. From a recent article in Time:

    A decade ago, the Prius was the industry darling, viewed as the hip, smart choice among green celebrities and budget-conscious commuters alike. Yet in 2014, Prius sales plummeted—and cheap gas is only part of the reason why. […]

    In 2013, gas-electric hybrids accounted for 3.2% of all light vehicle sales in the U.S. Last year, that figure dipped to just 2.8%. This isn’t remotely the trajectory most experts anticipated. A J.D. Power forecast made in 2008, when hybrids were 2.2% of U.S. car sales, predicted that the category would constitute 7% of the market by 2015. […]

    Karl Brauer, senior director of insights for Kelley Blue Book, explained that “the Prius had a good thing going for several years as the ‘official’ vehicle of the environmentally conscious,” a reputation that was solidified during the 2003 Academy Awards, when dozens of celebrities arrived in chauffeur-driven Priuses. The cachet of the Prius has dissipated in the years since because, among other reasons, its fuel efficiency advantage over the competition has shrunk substantially, and Tesla has emerged as the green car of choice that’s not only environmentally friendly, but stylish and a rip-roaring hoot to drive as well.

    Basically, being “green” is no longer synonymous with being “cool.” Now it’s all about being an “entrepreneur” or something. At least the plethora of pop-up “start-up” incubators in every major city would seem to signal this.

  7. In terms of sales volume, model longevity, and a blend of reliability and features, the late W126 was the high watermark in automotive engineering.

    Mercedes sold almost 900,000 units over 12 years, a truly inordinate number of which are still on the road today, making the W126 the utter antithesis of throw-away consumerist “culture.”

  8. The rear suspension employs nitrogen spheres much like those on the Citroen DS.

47 thoughts on “The ultimate status symbol.

  1. […] little exercise, I don’t even store that there, or on any webwallet for that matter. Gotta practise what you preach, right? […]

  2. […] D. is a smart man writing smart things — this is about his car but there’s a lot of food for thought on his blog. So check it out, […]

  3. […] week, while discussing the merits of my new status symbol, I alluded to my days in the car […]

  4. Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Maybach Music.

    Congrats though. This reignites my dream of owning a 200 series Volvo. Brother of a friend had a 1985 one in high school, flipped the thing in a ditch as a result of being an irresponsible high schooler.

    Did he call a tow truck or 911? No.

    He called 2 buddies nearby, flipped the thing back onto the road like a Halo Warthog and drove home. Still don’t know if his parents knew that occurred.

  5. […] the “We have a regulation for that” western world, ((Let’s say you want to drive your 560 SEL from London to Paris to Rome this coming August. Well, you should probably skip Paris because, as […]

  6. […] the people interested in using a taxi. Pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users, and owners of their own status symbols are… unaffected. Basically, Uber is as “disruptive” as a herpes virus that only […]

  7. […] ascii_field: Mebbe you can trade that Aston Martin for an ‘Elbrus’ pete_dushenski: It’s a mercedes !ix ascii_field: Ah. l0l. Elbrus for many decades (yes) had reputation not entirely unlike […]

  8. […] to use them, but if I had 5 children and needed three rows of seating, a Pullman just might be kick Saddam out of my […]

  9. […] will IoT fail specifically ? Because like Google Glass and the Apple Watch, it’s not cool. Some idiots might line up for it at first, but […]

  10. […] at least, said owners either a) keep their cars for decades, or b) use VW as a stepping stone to finer german automobiles, or c) are burned so badly by the repair costs (mostly electrical gremlins) that they swear off the […]

  11. […] and will damage fuel systems over time, particularly on old vehicles like the ones you’d actually want to drive. This means more trips to the mechanic, more time without your car, and, again, more dollars out of […]

  12. […] to head to the office for a few hours. As I roll past the front door of the building, I notice Saddam in all his resplendent glory, right where I’d left him just 16 hours before… in the […]

  13. […] this is one of the last parking meters that Saddam is going to be seeing for a […]

  14. […] Since I have a longer memory than most when it comes to technological fads in the automotive industry, I can tell you that this whole “autonomous” fluffery has more than a faint whiff of the “hybrid-electric” futurism that was being trumpeted as “inevitable” 5-10 years ago (if not 25 years ago). If the world had listened to Shai Agassi (of Better Place), the market would’ve already “tipped” and we’d all be driving battery-swappable golf carts instead of anchorless boats-on-wheels. But alas. […]

  15. […] Americans can’t even deploy a few thousand combat-ready soldiers, and so employ mercs (not benzes) and gameboy-drones in lieu. That only “The West” seems to have this problem with smartphones […]

  16. […] to say that the monitors were ready for pick-up,v through to the time I plunked them all in my trunk, drove to the office, carried them inside, carefully unwrapped them as if they were mega-sized […]

  17. […] or the like. It was just to draw your eye to a car that hasn’t been materially updated since Saddam ruled the […]

  18. […] than a year ago that I parked the then-25-year-old Mercedes 560SEL affectionately dubbed “Saddam” in my underground parkade, having at the time recently learnedi that I was – fingers […]

  19. […] to see my nigh-on obsession with long wheelbase luxury sedans, a problem I don’t seem to be shaking off anytime […]

  20. […] sedans – almost certainly set me off on the course whereupon I’d pick up first a 560SEL then a 460L, though neither has yet to see a closed […]

  21. […] variety more than anything else, too much to have favourites as a general principle, which is why Saddam didn’t go on the market after I bought Jay three months ago. I actually need two cars (and […]

  22. […] older than 25 years, Canada permits just 15-year-old models. Either way, this harkens back to the glory days for the German firm and it’s satisfying to see them still on the road. Sexy teal […]

  23. […] towards the tree-lined horizon, past Saddam’s helicopter-landing-pad-cum-hood, is a glimpse into the future of road construction […]

  24. says:

    On the Upper East Side, not only are the kids themselves status symbols, they also give mothers the opportunity to preen in front of one another and to forge their own identities, Martin writes in ” Primates .”

  25. […] is following the exact same plan as Porsche.viii So I wouldn’t be surprised if Saddam, the ultimate status symbol, followed a similar trajectory to the air-cooled […]

  26. […] its Mediterranean birthplace in Ancient Rome and is even today used in the sandy shitholes post-Saddam Iraq and Kuwait, to name but a few of the eight or so nation states still applying this nation to […]

  27. […] with very poor gas mileage are a very proper middle finger to the dependapotamii in Prii. I should know. “No mileage” might also mean that the cars are brand new, but given that you […]

  28. […] which unintentionally resulted in cars that last a decade, not five,v as was the case briefly from certain marques… all to save a few […]

  29. […] can tell you right now that had I been driving Saddam as I’d threatened to, I would’ve barrelled straight into ese. I can guarantee you that. […]

  30. […] like October is 1`000 miles away and we’re walking there on foot.iii As I park Jay and Saddam semi-permanently in exchange for my Focus hybrid,iv I’m not the only one who’s making […]

  31. […] figuring that it would cost me no more to run for a year than Saddam, a motor vehicle 18 years Jay’s senior, I must unfortunately report that in this one narrow […]

  32. […] when you own your own metali – particularly when it’s classic or performance metal – you tend to notice such things.ii It doesn’t take much […]

  33. […] deterred me : i) “Usain” was a bit too close in name to the nearly departed Saddam (Hussein), ii) Bolt holds the vomit-inducing title of “Chief Speed Officer” at Nissan (as […]

  34. […] didn’t give a fuck if I totalled my car and I was the only one who had experience drifting a W126 Merc in the winter ? Hey, fatalism is a thing. So too body control. Also, having one of the […]

  35. […] to this, Pete’s Garage will be back down to three whips just as soon as poor Saddam is sold off for parts. He suffered a fatal ignition/fuel/engine malfunction about two months ago […]

  36. […] reasonable $0.87 / km of driving. An underpriced option ? Compared to the dearly departed ultimate status symbol, it really is. […]

  37. […] swear he dyes his hair he looks so good for his age! And yet I’ve still had ol’ Saddam on my mind this week. Not sure that I’ve ever had a car that suited me as well as that […]

  38. […] entrance next to the 458s, G-Wagens, and 740i courtesy cars was this rather well preserved “Saddam” complete with collector plates. The plastic fantastic white girl in her late 20’s with […]

  39. Pete D. says:

    Great zonks! Just came across this C$72`000 W126 and it’s only a 280 SE!!!!11!!!!! You can probably slap on a 25-35% premium for provenance (MB Museum refresh after 1 owner), but for the slowest and smallest model of the line-up, the market would have to reward a 560 SEL in similar condition with a further 25-35% premium, putting a W126 in the $100k club and encroaching on the price of a new S450.

    Four years ago, who could’ve predicted ?

  40. […] Saddam Sr. would be so *sniff* so bloody proud right now. [↩] […]

  41. […] ticking time bombs waiting to go off? I’d personally be tempted to dust-off ol’ Saddam…  […]

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