Just wanted to follow up my earlier post asking for advice on whether to buy the 500 or 600 and what year to get. My thanks to all who helped. On Sunday I bought a 97 S-500 with 55K miles. The cars I carefully considered were as follows (mine is first), and the price I think I could have bought each of the others for:
1) 97 S-500 55K miles $30,500 Silver/Black
2) 96 S-600 50K miles $31,500 Silver/Beige
3) 97 S-500 80K miles $26,500 Blue/Cream
4) 95 S-500 53K miles $26,000 Black/Black
5) 96 S-500 81K miles $24,000 Black/Black
Mine is in excellent condition, car 2 had the $5K extra four-seat option and was in perfect condition also, car 3 was in excellent condition, car 4 was in excellent condition (and had the AC evap job done), car 5 was in good condition but had some problems.
At the end of the day I decided that the pre-97 S-500s were not judged by the knowledgable as being as reliable or as good a car as the 97-99s. I also heard lots of advice that the S-600 would be much more expensive to maintain and more prone to breakdown, although I will still confess that the 600 would have been nice. Cars 2-4 were all on E-bay, and cars 1 & 5 were in the local Washington DC newspaper. I looked at about 5 other S-500s here in DC, but all of them were at dealers and were either not in good enough condition, or the dealer wanted at least $5000 more than the cars were worth based on the above. Some of the dealers wanted $10,000 more than an almost identical car could have been purchased elsewhere.
I also ran carfax reports on each of the cars I looked at, and the information was very interesting. For example, car 4, a 95 S-500 wasn't registered until January 1996, so it wasn't sold until the next model year cars were already available. It actually made the car more attractive as it hadn't been on the road as long as I had thought, and was actually registered after car 2, the 96. Car 5 had been registered without an actual mileage on the title in the latest year and a half, and the carfax report alerted me to the slightly dodgy nature of the current owner, which was confirmed as soon as I met him. Carfax cost me $20 to run unlimited reports, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to buy.
I also looked long and hard at autotrader.com in the weeks before I bought the car, and had a pretty good idea of general price ranges for the car and years I was looking for, and I would recommend this to all buyers in the US.
It seems that cars on the East Coast of the US are slightly cheaper than on the West Coast, and some very good deals can be had out of the Eastern Auction that is held in Pennsylvania almost every week I think. There are several dealers who you can talk to about this, and I would recommend Nancy at 1-973-664-1993 and Ed at 1-301-935-5151 for this. I ended up buying my car from Ed, though both he and Nancy should be an early stop for anyone who wants a used Mercedes.
Now I understand that much of what I have written above is debatable, and there is always someone who will insist that I was robbed or I'm a fool or the like. If you disagree, well. that's OK. I merely write this as the real background to a real decision to buy in the current market here. All I can say is that while I will miss my 1977 Porsche 911 Targa, which must now be sold immediately, the S-500 is a worthy replacement as far as speed off the line is concerned. What fun this S-500 is!