Off to Austin: Re-Homing Henry’s Mercedes

“Hey Jake, I’m sure you’re going racing or something this weekend, but I’d like to sit down and talk about all of the cars soon. Give me a call back when you can.”

Introduction

My late roommate’s father, Rob, left me a voicemail along those lines on the evening of Friday, April 6th. As it happened, I was home that weekend preparing for my trip to Washington. I gave him a call back on Saturday morning and we met for lunch that day. Since Henry’s passing, Rob had been storing both of Henry’s cars, as well as his own personal cars, at his apartment in Washington, D.C. Rob was moving to a new building in the city, and needed help deciding what to do with all of these cars – cars that hadn’t been driven in nearly two years. We had a Ford Ranger, a Mercedes 300TE station wagon, and two Mercedes 560SEC coupes to address. Of course, one of the 560s was Henry’s beloved AMG – a 560SEC luxury coupe, given a good bit of the “AMG treatment” at their North American headquarters in Westmont, Ill. when new, and first owned by Chicago Bulls player Stacey King.

Rob wasn’t keen on the idea of keeping the car. Between the age and various unique AMG parts on the car, it’s not wise to have “just any” mechanic work on it. With only 30k miles on the odometer, it deserved a life far away from parallel parking, potholes, and other risks of daily-driving – but it also deserved to have miles added, instead of just sitting in a car collection somewhere.

Henry and I had talked a few times about his next “toy car,” after he’d had enough fun with the AMG. The car had quite the unique history and would generate a lot of discussion. He thought it would be fun to list it on Bring A Trailer, an auction website dedicated to rare and interesting cars, that promotes commentary from bidders and the peanut gallery alike. If he sold the car, he said, he’d buy a blue Aston Martin Vantage convertible.

Armed with that knowledge, I suggested we pursue the Bring A Trailer route, and Rob agreed. He handed over the keys and the title, and said to keep him apprised of how things were going. Beyond that, I had free rein to do this “the right way.”

Preparing the Car

Henry’s AMG hadn’t been driven since I took it to his one-year memorial Cars & Coffee event last August. At the time, I’d put a new battery in the car and filled the tank with fresh 93 octane. I went back to the car a few weeks after our initial lunch meeting, and tried to jump start it with my truck. The battery was drained beyond recovery. Thankfully, the two-year warranty allowed for an easy and free replacement. With a fresh battery installed, the AMG fired right up and idled smoothly. My friend Matt came with me that day, and followed me out to Euro Motorcars in Germantown, MD so I could drop the car off with our technician friend, John. John knows the pre-merger AMG cars (anything put together prior to 1993 by AMG, before they were controlled by Mercedes-Benz) and also knows the older S-classes well. He was a friend of Henry’s and was all too happy to be the one to wrench on the car as we prepped it for auction.

John took a variety of photos underneath the car, so we’d have them for the auction. He went over the entire car meticulously and came up with a list of items to fix. His service advisor, Jeff, called me to discuss.

“I have to start by saying this is one of the cleanest older cars we’ve ever seen in here. It’s really pretty wild.” Jeff started off the call with those compliments, then followed up with a recommended service quote of nearly $6,000! We walked through the recommended items and I ended up approving all but one, as it was more of a preventative measure than a dire repair. Rob called Jeff to provide his credit card, on the condition that “we’d get our money’s worth out of this work.” I knew we would.

John replaced some suspension bushings, fixed the dual-tone horns, repaired a bent “Aero I” wheel, installed some new Michelin tires, and gave the AMG an alignment. Henry had always wanted to bring the car to John and say “just do whatever it needs,” so I was glad we could finally make that happen. One hefty credit-card swipe later, it was time to get some photographs taken.

My friend Joey also knew Henry and was more than happy to spend a Saturday shooting photos. Although rain was in the forecast all weekend, we caught a break. I drove out to his place in Ashburn, we selected a cul-de-sac near a local college as “our spot,” and he fired away with his Nikon. The photos were plentiful and showed every bit of the car in good detail. I followed up the photography with an unrehearsed, quickly-filmed “walk around” video of the car once I returned home that evening.

Henry’s friend Stephen reached out to me when I had the AMG at Euro Motorcars. Stephen is another local pre-merger AMG enthusiast and managed to get his hands on quite a bit of period literature about the cars. He shared a copy of the available options for the 560SEC, and we identified what was on Henry’s coupe out of that list. His knowledge of AMG helped out quite a bit when the auction went live.

There was minimal paperwork that I found for the car, but I came across the shipping invoice when Henry purchased the car from its second owner in Chicago. On a whim, I called the phone number listed on the invoice. Randy, the seller, picked up. He owned the car for 13 years and shared fond memories of it, including the time he let his son take it to senior prom. More importantly, Randy confirmed the initial sale to Stacey King.

Once I had my photos organized and details listed, it was time to submit the car to BaT.

The Auction

I spent a few hours one evening filling out the submission form on Bring A Trailer’s website, uploading photos, and publishing my video to YouTube. They quickly accepted the listing, charged my credit card the $99 listing fee, and reached out to schedule the auction’s starting date. It went live on Friday, June 1, about two months after my initial lunch with Rob.

Based on the opinions of Stephen and several other Mercedes enthusiasts, we set a $30,000 reserve price on the car. I figured we would easily hit that target, and Stephen theorized the car might sell for $35,o00 – maybe $40,000 to the right person. With a turbulent week ahead, I kept an eye on my email for notification of new comments on the auction, and did my best to reply quickly.

We heard some wild tales in the comments. One gentleman spent his late teen years washing cars at AMG’s Westmont facility and remembered Stacey King picking up the car. Another lived in Chicago in the early 1990s and saw King with a teammate leaving dinner, driving the AMG and a period Porsche 911. Someone else’s son played elementary school basketball with King’s son, and remembered the boys being picked up from practice in the car. Finally, a man named Vivek grew up in Chicago and shared a memory of walking past the Westmont facility as a teenager and drooling over all the cool cars they produced.

Bids rolled in on the first few days of the auction, and it seemed to plateau around $27,000 by Tuesday evening. With three days left in the auction, I knew we’d at least hit the reserve and sell the car. On Wednesday, the bid increased to something like $31,000. One of my friends congratulated me and said “it’s sold, the rest is just gravy now.” Regardless, for Henry’s sake, I wanted more. I wanted $40k.

Friday

The final day of the auction came quickly, and I went to work with baited breath, knowing it would be only a mildly productive day as I waited for the auction to close at 3 PM. The morning was pretty tame, and the bid went up to something like $36,000. I went to lunch and came back around 1 PM, ready for the final hours of commentary and bidding.

As we closed in on the final half hour of the auction, it took a swift (and positive) turn. A few bidders had emerged as the serious contenders, and I was in a group chat with some friends debating who would get it. “Leland” seemed serious, and we were egging him on from our keyboards. A few others kept bidding, though, and the price soared. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The car crested $40k, then 41, then 42. Hey, we’re past our “maximum” now, that’s pretty neat. And then we got to the last few minutes of the auction. The car jumped to $47k, then $50k. “Leland” countered with a $52k bid, but was out-matched in the final minutes. Vivek, who grew up walking past AMG Westmont, won the auction with a bid of $55,000. I was stunned, and proud. Henry would have been going nuts.

Post-Auction

Vivek and I spoke almost immediately. He had followed the auction from day one and appreciated the history behind the car. He promised to drive it frequently, and sent a screenshot of Henry’s custom “OG AF” license plates, but renewed for five years in Texas. We arranged for payment and shipping, and all that was left was to pack up all of the Sony audio gear and spare Mercedes parts in the trunk.

Before packing up the trunk, I called Maryam, Henry’s girlfriend. She still lives nearby and we went out for one final ride in his AMG, to a burger spot that she and Henry used to frequent on Duke Street. We shared mild panic when we passed a police car (the AMG was on expired tags and safety inspection) and shared laughs over burgers and vanilla-infused Cokes. After dinner and a few photos, it was time to drop her off and head home. I parked the car with 30,303 miles, and it sat for a few days, awaiting the hauler that Vivek hired.

The hauler came on a Friday evening, June 15. I asked to stick around as the driver loaded the car onto the second level of the enclosed trailer. As he raised the lift, I got a glimpse of the car that Henry’s AMG would be facing for its ride to Austin, Texas – an Aston Martin Vantage convertible.

Henry’s AMG is now Vivek’s AMG, and has been safely offloaded at Vivek’s friend’s shop for some final cosmetic maintenance and secure storage between drives. I’m eager to see how Vivek likes the car once he has time to put some miles on it, and am happy that it went to a good home.

Rob, Joe, and Maryam – thank you for trusting me with this process. Tyson – thank you for sharing the “BaT process” with me as I started down this journey. Matt and Matt – thank you for trying to help jump start the car and then following me to Germantown in Saturday traffic. John and Jeff – thank you for taking care of all the work the car needed. Stephen and Frank – thank you for the epic levels of AMG and Mercedes knowledge. Joey – thank you for the photography.

And Henry – thank you for taking such good care of your car since buying it in 2012. I was proud to represent it on your behalf.

30k-Mile 1991 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC AMG on Bring A Trailer

About Jake Thiewes

Fan of all things wheeled. Competes on four wheels with a 1997 BMW M3, and two feet in Spartan Races. Queso enthusiast. Will badger you to come to the track and get rides and/or HPDE seat time, because everyone deserves to be a slightly better driver.

6 thoughts on “Off to Austin: Re-Homing Henry’s Mercedes

  1. For starting with a voicemail from Rob on April 6th, to seeing the car picked up by a transport truck on June 15th, this was a lot of work for you. A lot. And the level of detail that you put into the many moving parts: research, maintenance, photography, fielding questions, and handling communication with a variety of parties, was monumental – on top of your day job that probably already keeps you busy. So for that I tip my hat. Your efforts to present this AMG in its best light are very clear, and it paid off – literally. Henry would indeed be proud. Now, what became of the Ranger and the other 560 that I see in the underground storage photo?

    1. Thanks – it was definitely a lot of effort and everyone who helped out made it that much easier. The Ranger was shipped to Henry’s brother in Ohio. The boys grew up in it and now Joe can drive his son in it occasionally, too. The white 560 and Henry’s 300TE will both be re-registered so Rob can drive them for now. We may sell the white 560 later down the road though.

  2. I just read your story about Henry’s prized AMG. I am bawling my eyes out. You are an amazing friend Jake. And, what an incredible storyteller! I love riding along on all of your journeys. You make me, and others, feel like we are living it. I do believe in signs. Hearing that his AMG was facing an Aston Martin Vantage convertible on its ride to Texas was huge! Henry had to be fist pumping in between turning cartwheels! And those sunbeams shining down over the car…that is Henry with a wide as the sky smile! You made some of Henry’s dreams come true. I am incredibly proud of you Jake. Kudos to you and all of your car friends for making this happen. Car people are hearts on wheels! I love you! Mom

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