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What is an automobile? Is it a mode of transportation, or is it an object that defines our personality and who we are? For most of us, it is a combination of both. However, there are variables that influence the decision about which make and model we will drive. The cost of acquisition and maintenance, in most cases, is the limiting factor. Often times, the maintenance consideration is neglected. Our objective is to educate and provide a facility which makes owning a high calibre vehicle, such as Mercedes, possible.

Thursday, July 21 2016

In the early 1980's, a thriving grey market existed for the importation of foreign cars. There are a variety of reasons for this market, but first we have to define "grey market". The grey market is a method of distribution other than through the manufacturers channels.  Normally, vehicles brought into the U.S. have to comply with those standards set forth by the E.P.A. and the D.O.T. However, a law, or provision, was passed in consideration of military personnel stationed abroad. This law allowed those individuals to buy a vehicle while stationed abroad and then bring it to the U.S. once their tour was completed. This provision did not, however, specify that the individual needed to be military. In other words, any U.S. Citizen would have a one-time E.P.A. exemption. However, the individual did have to meet the D.O.T. requirements. This really opened up a Pandora's Box to abuses in the process by which cars were brought in, as well as to the D.O.T. certification process. Abuses prevailed as to the individuals who brought the cars in, in the sense that importers would import cars in the name of friends, family members, and whomever else had an existing E.P.A. exemption. The grey market existed for Mercedes for a variety of reasons, but I believe the foremost reason was financial. One could simply buy a European spec Mercedes and pay for shipping and federalization (remember, the E.P.A. specs did not have to be met) at a considerable discount to what one could buy a Mercedes with similar specs off the showroom floor in the U.S. There were pros and cons to buying a Euro spec Mercedes. In 1975, Mercedes, as well as other U.S. auto manufacturers, started an aggressive emission campaign in the U.S. that did not exist in Germany. U.S. versions were detuned and smothered with emission requirements - which greatly reduced the performance of the U.S. version Mercedes sold through the dealership network in the U.S. The difference in performance in the European spec MB and the U.S. spec MB was the difference in night and day. We had both a price and performance difference, which was enough incentive to enter the grey market. O.K., the pros were performance and price, but the cons were considerable. U.S. spec Mercedes distributed through MBNA would generally have all of the creature comforts such as climate controls, electric seats, power windows, cruise control, electric sunroof, central locks, and more. Most people, however, purchased used Mercedes that would have only a fraction of the components the U.S. Mercedes would have. For example, a 1979 450SEL would have an automatic transmission but no sunroof, electric windows, air conditioning or cruise control, cloth seats instead of leather seats, and so on. Many times, a German Mercedes would fail the German Federal Inspection but was sold to an unsuspecting U.S. client. German taxi cabs with over 300,000 miles were also sold through the grey market process. Once the grey market cars reached the U.S., the cars had to meet the Department of Transportation requirements to become certified for road use in the U.S. This check list included: 1.) Strengthening the doors, to protect from a side impact, with a steel bar which ran the length of the door. The cars Mercedes exported to the U.S. came with this heavy duty bar, the European versions did not. 2.) The bumpers were to be strengthened to meet the 5mph crash requirement that was federally mandated. The importer could replace the Euro bumpers with U.S. bumpers (no one did this - it was too expensive!) or strengthen the bumpers by welding an additional iron support on them. 3.) The headlights needed to be exchanged from the vastly superior halogen lights to the sealed-beam set up mandated by the DOT. 4.) The tail lights needed to be changed so that a side marker light was included and this light needed to be red. 5.) The speedometer had to be converted from kilometers per hour to miles per hour. 6.) Warning buzzers, such as seat belt, lights on, key related, needed to be altered to comply with DOT standards. Remember, no EPA requirements needed to be met on the European versions. This meant that catalytic converters, egr valves or secondary air injection systems were not needed. This, in turn, meant that the European version would "haul ass" and the U.S. version could not get out of its own way! As with any government mandated and run system, abuses and loopholes quickly arose. Originally, all modifications and repairs needed to be inspected, but as the importation of grey market automobiles escalated, the bureaucracy became bloated and began inspecting cars from photos and this included the checklist of modifications that were needed to be completed in compliance. Importers and shops that handled this process for the individual, for a fee, would keep one book of pictures and items completed per model and certify the cars, with little, if any, of the work actually being done. Some import shops would take pictures of U.S. headlights in the car, and then reinstall the European lights. The reinforcement bar in the door, in many instances became an expandable clothing hanger mounted in the door. Like all good things, the grey market passed on for various reasons: 1. The Feds eventually caught on and made the inspections stricter. 2. The dollar/mark exchange rate turned so the the dollar was worth less vis-a-vis the mark. 3. Mercedes began to develop a "world car" that would have more U.S. emissions (the Black Forest in Bavaria was dying) and the difference in performance was not as great. 4. Insurance companies found that to repair clients' cars was expensive because of the difference in parts and would refuse to insure grey market cars. Today, we do not see many grey market cars because the majority were of the 1980-1985 years. But if I could find a rust free car that still operated, I would seriously consider buying it.

Posted by: Elena AT 11:13 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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The Benz Store specializes in the early mechanical speedometers, and early electronic S-Class 1981 and newer and SL Models starting in 1981 thru 1995 on most models. 

 Mechanical repair $75.00/Exchange.

Electronic $95.00/Exchange and the correct mileage it provides.

2 Day Turnaround. Email any questions.

The Benz-Store
4321-C Buford HWY | Chamblee, GA 30341 | Phone: 800.631.4170 | Email:
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