Rolling Sloane spent his Saturday evening at an engagement dinner of sorts on a road where the first four houses in a row had a Mercedes S-class parked upon the drive (there were more houses down the street, but rather than checking to see if there were big Benzes in the rest the drives, the sirens call of a well stocked bar drew this intrepid reporter to cut short his background research). What I witnessed was an extraordinary display of both patrician excess and sensibility. While one of the cars was of the current generation, the rest were all well into their second decade. My hosts for the evening bought their S320 new in 1999, yet the damned thing will probably outlive me (spare parts for a relatively popular Merc being far easier to find). The W-140 S-class, which made its debut in 1991, still provides the basic platform for the current Maybachs; its design was that good. A proper Mercedes-Benz can (and should) last a lifetime, for the oldest Mercedes, which is still a daily driver within my extended family, is well into its fifth decade as being a nearly daily mode of transport.

In an era before mass-market luxury cars (a ridiculously false concept which shall be addressed in a later lambasting), a Mercedes-Benz was an automobile built to an exceedingly high engineering standard. Dictators, rock stars, royals, industrialist, doctors, champagne socialists, West German taxi drivers, and Jeremy Clarkson all understand the allure of a classic Benz, but starting with the 1995 W210 E-class this all came to an end. Lexus and other Japanese luxury marks came onto the scene in the early 1990s, and offered a pretty damn good facsimile of a proper Merc for about half the price. Instead of being engineered to a standard as they had been for over a century, cars from the world’s oldest automaker began to be built to price as if they were mere appliances. A cheaper, more modern Mercedes was in effect a Faustian bargain. You might have paid less up-front to buy a “Merc,” but it wasn’t built to last, as had always been the case previously.  Not only did reliability and durability suffer, bleeding edge electronics and techno-wizardry stuffed into the new cars pretty much didn’t work, ever. Hell! Production of the new M-Class was placed in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, a place known for championship football (Roll Tide!) and great ribs, not building cars. Adding insult to injury, the designs went all blingy, and the alleged merger with Chrysler cost billions, which could have been invested in making better cars rather than more Neon and PT Cruisers.

What we see with these new Mercs-In-Name-Only (I call them MINOs) is a clear case of abandoning a century of catering to a certain market in order to take on new competitors and capture a new market. The problem with this is that you are going to lose your old customers to the competition who mimics your old ways (shocker, my hosts also have a Lexus LS!), and instead become the darling of the nouveau riche. A great parallel to this can be seen in the Swiss watch industry; only an idiot would go out an buy one of the new super-bling, oversized, current generation Rolexes. Even professional golfer John Daily (the man who sang a song about how all his exes wore Rolexes) rid himself of his modern S-class (it was actually sold on eBay). Of course, a Maybach is still engineered to the old standard for Dictators, Donald Trump, the Chinese, and those for whom a Rolls-Royce is far too inconspicuous and tactful, but who would want one of those?

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