Buying Guide Mercedes-Benz CL C215
Could this be the classic world’s biggest bargain? One of these world-beating,exclusive GTs can be yours from just £3000, but avoiding costly gremlins is vital.
Words RICHARD DREDGE
Photography JOHN COLLEY
Bargain of the century? Buy a Mercedes-Benz CL C215 for as little as £4000
The bigger they are the further they fall – and few cars have fallen quite so far and become quite so much of a bargain as the C215 Mercedes-Benz CL. They were vastly expensive and exclusive when new, yet you can now buy one for £3000. But buy badly and you could spend thousands making it reliable. Effectively a two-door coupé version of the contemporary Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W220), the CL came only with V8 or V12 petrol engines and was priced upwards of £70,000 – despite the four-door saloon being offered with six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines and starting at just over £40,000. We called on Mercedes specialists Michael Longley, Clive Henderson and Derrick Wells to find out how to get yourself one of the classic world’s biggest bargains – in every sense of the word.
What to pay
- You might find a CL500 C215 for as little as £2000, though it may have been neglected and potentially need £5000+ spending on it. Sorted high-milers start at £3000.
- Excellent CL500s start at £6000, rising to £9000 for warrantied, low-mileage dealer cars.
- CL600s carry a £2000-£3000 premium over CL500s, the best making £12,000.
- CL55 AMGs startat £10,000, rising to £15,000 for the best.
- CL65 AMGs are hard to value given their rarity but values are in excess of 55s.
Which one to choose?
- The C215 CL replaced the previous W140 / C140 model in March 1999; the first cars reaching the UK a year later. There was a choice of CL500 V8 and CL600 V12 variants, both normally aspirated.
- The CL55 AMG was launched in June 2000, with a normally aspirated 5.5-litre V8. It gained a pair of superchargers in September 2002, at which time the CL600 received a new twin-turbo V12, although the name remained the same.
- A new range topper arrived in April 2004 in the form of the 603bhp Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG C215. It featured a twinturbo 5980cc V12 but at £145k few rhd cars were sold.
Very little of the CL's bodywork is made from steel, so rust isn’t going to be an issue. In fact only the inner wings, floorpans and bulkhead are steel and these don’t corrode because they’re so well rust-proofed. Most of the outer panels are aluminium, including the bonnet, roof and door skins while the boot lid and front wings are plastic; the door shells are magnesium. Paint adhesion to these surfaces isn’t a problem. Unlike other makes where aluminium panels can dent easily, the CL doesn’t suffer.
‘These cars were vastly expensive and exclusive when new, yet you can now buy one for £3000’
What can be a problem is minor electrolytic corrosion where two different metals are next to each other. This includes the rear wheelarches, the C-pillar bottoms and around the edges of the door skins, but it’s only a case of cleaning things up and retouching the paint; it won't get to the point where the metal develops large holes in the way that steel would.
All engines are tough if maintained properly, but the ancillaries can give problems, especially on the twinturbo V12s because of the amount of heat generated. This leads to the ignition coil packs failing, usually when the spark plugs are replaced; the M113 has individual coil packs per cylinder, but the M137 and M275 V12s have one per bank with replacements around £1000 per side. Pre-facelift CL600s had cylinder deactivation which shuts down six cylinders when cruising to boost economy. But the system can fail leading to misfiring which is why most cars have had the system removed by recoding the ECU.
Superchargers and turbos are reliable if the oil is renewed every year or 12,000 miles. That engine bay heat can also kill starter motors but a reconditioned Bosch unit costs £190; a Lucas one is £135. If the engine spins over but won’t fire it’ll be caused by a faulty crankshaft sensor; hot starting becomes a particular problem. Budget around £250 to fix. The V8 is far easier to live with than the V12 because of sheer ubiquity. Even among Mercedes specialists, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone familiar enough with either of the CL’s V12s to be considered a specialist. On an M275 V12, simple jobs like changing the coolant or removing almost any component requires interfering with the liquid-cooled intercooler system which is difficult to bleed, with a corresponding effect on labour hours charged.
All CLs came with an automatic transmission which in the case of the V8s was usually a five-speed unit; the CL600 initially had a four-speed ’box but an extra ratio was added when the car was facelifted in 2002. From September 2003 the CL500 featured a seven-speed auto which isn’t quite as reliable as its bulletproof predecessor. All of these transmissions are tough but the five-speed unit can suffer from oil leaks. There’s a wiring harness that runs from the ECU to the gearbox. The 13-pin connector for this contains an O-ring which leaks oil, contaminating of the ECU. A new O-ring every 5-10 years it the answer; once oil gets into the ECU, things get very expensive. On the 7-Gtronic seven-speed transmission the conductor plate gives problems. This is the electrical unit on top of the valve block inside the gearbox. Over time the electrics start to short circuit which leads to gear shift problems and the only fix is a new plate at around £1000 all-in.
Steering is assisted by a dual pump that also powers the computer-controlled hydraulic suspension, which has a reputation for failing very expensively. The C215 was the first Mercedes with this system, called Active Body Control (ABC). While some components can fail, most problems are down to a lack of maintenance or use. The front ABC struts have the lower ball joints built into them so a simple wear and tear item can become expensive; refurbished items are available for around £500 apiece.
If the car hasn’t already had a new dual pump it’ll probably need one soon at £1000 supplied and fitted; they rarely last more than 60,000 miles. When it fails, a bearing can disintegrate and contaminate the whole system with fine metallic particles; the only effective fix is to clean everything out or replace parts, or the particles will get lodged in the valves and hydraulic units, of which there’s one at each corner. The suspension has two height settings and it's essential that the car is raised and lowered regularly to keep everything working. While new parts from Mercedes are costly, reconditioned items are available that are much more affordable.
The ABC pipes that interconnect the suspension can corrode out of sight because everything is hidden by undertrays that should be in place to aid aerodynamics. Check that the undertrays are there and inspect the high-pressure pipes for corrosion. Most of the mechanical suspension parts are shared with other Mercedes but the CL’s weight means some will need to be replaced more often.
Brakes and wheels
Electronic and mechanical brake components tend to be reliable. AMG editions have more complicated, multi-piston calipers so they’re more expensive to refurbish, but the most you’re likely to have to do is have new discs and pads fitted at £350 for a pair. Some cars came with 19in wheels that can crack on their inner rim if the car is regularly driven over broken road surfaces. Repairs are possible or you can buy refurbished wheels for around £350 apiece; new ones cost closer to £3000 per set.
Interior and electrics
CLs have lots of electrics and electronics; along with Brake Assist and ESP there’s a multi-media system that incorporates sat-nav and the whole thing can be controlled by speech. Bi-xenon headlights came as standard (a world first) while some cars have a built-in TV – digital post-2003, although the DVD player will still work on the older unit – and adaptive cruise control. All CLs have climate control, parking sensors, electric adjustment for the heated front seats, windows, mirrors and steering wheel while the windscreen washer jets are heated. And those are just the highlights; later cars got even more kit and some owners spent extra on items such as ventilated front seats, an integral telephone or an electrically operated blind for the rear window.
‘Beware cheap ones seen beached on driveways and neglected – a world of pain’
Electrical problems are common, especially failure of components within the doors once the loom has become damaged between the bodyshell and door, so look for problems with the self-closing mechanism and central locking. Any electrical item can give problems though, so it’s best to use a specialist with the official Star diagnostic system.
Owning a C215 Mercedes-Benz CL
CL600 owner Geoff says, ‘These cars are fast, refined, luxurious and understated. They’re thirsty though; I average 19mpg on a run and single figures around town. I do about 3000 miles annually and so far it’s cost me about £2500 per year in maintenance, but that average should reduce over time as I get on top of everything. Hopefully! The later CL600 has a twin-spark engine so that’s 24 spark plugs to replace. ‘They’re big cars – five metres long and more than two metres wide – so make sure your garage can accomodate one because any damage to that aluminium bodywork can generate huge bills, especially if pattern parts aren’t available. If it’s been scraped against a wall it can be just as tricky to fix as if it’s been in a collision.
‘You can fit a family of four with luggage no problem; but there are two individual rear seats rather than a bench so it’s no five seater. It’s quite expensive to tax as well — CO2 emissions are at least 299g/km which means that any CL registered after 1 March 2001 will cost you £315 per year to tax; anything registered before this date costs £255 per year.’
‘I’ll admit I was seduced by a ridiculously low price for such a vast amount of car, one that had cost its original owner around £80,000 in 2001. Just £2600 got me a beautiful CL500, complete with AMG wheels and just about every conceivable gadget and gizmo available on any production car at the time.
‘As it turned out, in the two years that I ran the car as my daily transport, I encountered very few issues; yes the occasional warning light would illuminate for no apparent reason, and the parktronic sensors would sometimes throw a fit, but overall despite the lack of any service history it proved to be a dependable and extremely enjoyable car. My biggest concern was not the glorious V8 but the notorious ABC pump controlling the suspension. Despite popular belief these are not inherently unreliable; it is a good idea to check that the ride height is correct after it has been stood for any time because the cost for pump replacement or any work to the suspension system can easily exceed the value of the car. Beware cheap ones seen sat beached on driveways and neglected – they’ll be a world of pain to fix! ‘Would I buy another? Definitely yes, but I would try to find one with service history just for a little peace of mind.’
Sponsored by Carole Nash InsurancePeter McIlvenny of specialist classic car insurer
Carole Nash says, ‘The Mercedes C215 is very much a car built with true Mercedes attention to detail. Prices can vary greatly. However, although build quality is good overall you do need to be wary of potential issues – electrics, gearbox and ignition coils can create very expensive repairs depending on the model. However, if a C215 is what you really want, make sure you get it thoroughly checked over and maybe consider a warranty to cover those big bills. As for values in 10 years, I would say the biggest gains are for low-mileage well-kept middle-ofthe- road models rather than the more expensive AMGs which potentially are reaching their peak value.’
Classic car insurance quotes: 0333 005 7541 or carolenash.com
Active Body Control does an incredible job of ensuring a supple ride with minimal wallow in the bends… when it’s working.
Standard leather is extremely durable, as are carpet sets and headlinings.
Engines generally robust; V12s add layers of complications. The C215 CL’s pioneering features can generate eye-watering bills 20 years on. Pore over that history file!