I'm Mercedes And I Have A German Car Problem

Illustration for article titled Im Mercedes And I Have A German Car Problem
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

I was thinking of ways to properly introduce myself here. Do I write an article about a new car? Do I launch my project? News? No, I think I’ll dive right into the deep end by introducing my expansive vehicle fleet.

Hi! I’m Mercedes! If my name sounds familiar, it’s because I’m the Miss Mercedes you’ve been talking to on Oppositelock, Jezebel, and here for many years! I’m here to spread the joy of anything and everything with an engine.

Those of you who know me around here understand that I love the Smart Fortwo. Given that I have four of these cars stashed away in various parking spots dotting northern Illinois, it would be hard for me to deny this. Ever since I saw my first Smart in 2008, I have been head-over-heels in love with the little machines. Fifteen-year-old me couldn’t get enough of the plastic panels, the airy interior, the funky roof options and how Mercedes-Benz somehow wrapped an entire car into a package barely more than eight feet long. The cherry on top was the engine’s placement in the rear, powering the rear wheels. Yes, it’s definitely weird to have a Smart as a dream car, I know.

I’ve loved cars for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I had so many Matchbox, Hotwheels and Maisto cars (somewhere near 5,000) that my parents began disposing of them as I got older. But I wasn’t too upset, as my parents gave me an off-road go-kart to rip around the neighborhood. At first, I would race the other neighborhood kids down the main street of the neighborhood, effectively making it a drag strip. After we pissed off enough parents, we built a dirt track in the woods and took our races there. That kart had only five hard-working ponies on tap, but it most certainly managed to destroy the field in lap times.

Over the next few years I would push that little kart so hard that its engine block split. And perhaps what would be a catalyst for my motorcycle love today, I also got a generic mail-order Chinese electric scooter. That lasted only a couple of months before some unobtainium (for 2003, anyway) part yeeted itself from the scooter, rendering it indefinitely inoperable. But it was there to cement my love of everything with an engine and wheels.

I’m the kind of person who can love any sort of vehicle. Give me any car and I’ll give you at least one redeeming feature about it. Chrysler PT Cruiser? The turbo editions can be a riot. The convertibles are a funky way to take in the sun. Pontiac Aztek? It was an advanced crossover that was ahead of its time. This “rosy shades” approach to cars is generally how I live my life. I love to see what awesome things this world has to offer. I also have a deep love for commercial vehicles, motorcycles, and planes, so I hope at least some of you would love to see some content on those!

So, what does the stable of a madwoman look like? Well, here we go. I’m sorry...well, not really sorry.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. Loves all types of vehicles!! Smart Fortwo (05, 08, 12, 16), International 3800, VW W8, Jetta TDI (04, 12), Audi TT, Buell Lightning, Suzuki Burgman, Yamaha U7E, Honda CBR600

Advertisement

2 / 18

2012 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe

2012 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

This is my first Smart and my second car overall. This car means the world to me, as it’s proof that dreams can come true. Teenage me made a Smart my attainable dream car, and it took four years of hard work and overcoming strong headwinds to make it happen. I bought it new and the car has 170,000 miles today. Oh, have I said this car has been on three Gambler 500 rallies, towed trailers some 20,000 miles, and been on fire once? Interestingly, this car’s fire (and subsequent survival) is why I collect cars nowadays. This car has been so influential to me that I named myself after its parent brand.

Advertisement

3 / 18

2016 Smart Fortwo Edition #1

2016 Smart Fortwo Edition #1

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

This is the car meant to replace the 2012 Smart after its fire. I drove it home straight from California on a crazy Cannonball Run-style road trip. If you’re even vaguely interested in smarts, these are the ones to get! It’s my favorite version of my attainable dream car and thus, it’s one of my garage queens. It currently sits at about 6,000 miles. I fixed the 2012 up not long after getting this car and thus I ended up with two daily driver smarts. Well…as if a light switch had been flipped in my head I decided to own an example of every model smart has ever built. Little did I know I’d achieve that dream merely a year later.

Advertisement

4 / 18

2005 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe

2005 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

I’m sure most of you out there are aware of the pesky 25-year import rule that keeps us from owning the sweet sweet forbidden fruit like Nissan Skylines, some Mini Coopers and Land Rover Defenders. What if I told you this tiny car is technically exempt from said rule? While Land Rovers get turned into metal cubes, these little cars sneak right by the feds after minimal conversion work. I’m diving deeper into this weird thing in a later story about this. Padding was added to the interior, extra lighting added to the exterior and a whole new set of headlight housings was installed. A bit over 1,000 of these cars are in the States, and I got this 25,000-mile example free. All I had to do was pick it up in Denver, sight-unseen, then drive it home to northern Illinois. It was one of my favorite car-procuring trips.

Advertisement

5 / 18

1996 Honda CBR600F3

1996 Honda CBR600F3

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

This is the fastest motorcycle I’ve ever owned. It was dropped by a previous owner, then completely restored by a Honda dealership. I have no idea how these rode brand new, but I’m pretty sure this 19,000-mile example comes pretty close.

Advertisement

6 / 18

1972 Yamaha U7E

1972 Yamaha U7E

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

Japanese motorcycles of the ’70s and ’80s were often so similar in design that the period is known for the Universal Japanese Motorcycle. Motorbikes like the Honda Cub weren’t immune to this trend. Yamaha had their own line of (less popular) motorbikes similar to the Cub. This little thing is powered by a diminutive 70cc two-stroke engine and is absolutely the perfect around-town runabout. It’s a vintage way to travel about as fast as you would on a Honda Grom. It’s super-easy to maintain, which explains why I’ve been able to keep it for so long.

Advertisement

7 / 18

2005 Genuine Scooter Company Stella

2005 Genuine Scooter Company Stella

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

I bought this from another woman rider who wanted to see this scooter go on to live a good second life. This little thing is the ultimate scooter to me. It has a manual transmission, 150cc two-stroke engine, its own hidden spare tire, and awesome Vespa-style bodywork. For a little background on these, the Stella looks like a Vespa because it is a Vespa. These were license-built Vespas made in India by Lohia Machinery Limited, then imported to America by Genuine Scooter Company.

Advertisement

8 / 18

1986 Honda Spree

1986 Honda Spree

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

As the picture suggests, this adorable and tiny (just over 80 pounds) scooter is a decoration in my living room. It was given to me by a good friend. But once I discovered that speed is something it will not and cannot do, I decided to fulfill a dream of having mechanical art in my apartment. It’s been decoration ever since. Every once in awhile I fire up the microscopic two-stroke engine and let it rip on my deck. And yet, somehow my neighbors still think of me as some sort of vehicular superhero.

Advertisement

9 / 18

2005 Suzuki Burgman 650

2005 Suzuki Burgman 650

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you took a sizable motorcycle engine then stuck it into the frame of a scooter? Well, you get this. The best way I can describe a Burgman is that it’s as comfortable as a Honda Goldwing and as agile as a Buell. As the seller (and Jalopnik reader) told me, “It’s the Cadillac of scooters.” Indeed, I attempted to ride this scooter from Allentown, Pennsylvania, back to my home in Illinois. Sadly, I made it only 300 miles before the rear tire deflated, leaving me stranded in the dead of winter. My lesson from this motorcycle is to always carry a tire kit with me!

Advertisement

10 / 18

2005 Buell Lightning XB9SX

2005 Buell Lightning XB9SX

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

This is my ultimate dream motorcycle. When I got into motorcycling, not only was a Buell Blast my first motorcycle but I dreamed — lusted over — owning an XB. Admittedly I was a tad afraid to meet my motorcycle hero, but it was even better than I had imagined. Buells are hardly the fastest motorcycles on the road, but oh, my does this bike taunt you into breaking the speed limit. “You say 55? Pfft, let’s do 100.” No, Buell, I don’t want to go to jail today! And while Buells aren’t that fast in a straight line they are an absolute giggle to lean over in turns. I was even able to get it at a COVID discount for under $3,000!

And yes, this most certainly means you’ll see a lot of motorcycle content from me. I want to get some seat time on some bucket list bikes like a Ural. and swing a leg over any and everything with two or three wheels!

Advertisement

11 / 18

2002 Audi TT Quattro

2002 Audi TT Quattro

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

The first-generation Audi TT was a childhood dream car of mine. Yes, I loved the typical supercars like the McLaren F1 or cars like the Lamborghini Countach, but I’ve also dreamt of owning a TT ever since driving one in a racing game. This car was another weird COVID discount. The seller had it for sale for about $2,500. His ad said the car ran when parked five months ago but it no longer started. He insisted that the car absolutely had to be towed. I had a hunch that the real problem was and it wasn’t anything that would render the car so dead it needed a tow. I took the bet and went to the seller’s house.

After fiddling around in the engine bay I came to the conclusion that this car wasn’t dead, it just needed a starter. And since it just needed a starter, all I had to do was bump start it then drive home. With this in mind, I negotiated the price down by 50 percent, arguing that I might have to have it towed. Once he accepted the deal my girlfriend pushed the car backward then I popped the clutch. Sure enough, the little 1.8 turbo roared into life. I pulled out of the driveway with a big grin on my face as the seller looked awfully surprised. He really thought the car had a seized engine.

Advertisement

12 / 18

2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen

2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

Despite owning multiple dream-level cars and a dream motorcycle, I still had a hole in my heart from the Passat TDI wagon I sold in April of this year. It was my first diesel and my first Volkswagen. It was the car that turned my curiosity for Volkswagen into full-blown love. And yet, I sold it for an old Mercedes-Benz W123. It’s one of the only vehicles I’ve ever sold that I wish I hadn’t. Meanwhile, the W123 was one of the few cars for which the saying “never meet your heroes” was quite true. It was a cool car, but perhaps I’ve been spoiled too much with modern cars. Driving a 40-year-old Mercedes was more fun in concept than it was in reality.

Regardless, I frequently found myself on Facebook Marketplace looking for “the one” to fill that hole. On one sunny July day, that very car showed up. This Jetta TDI Sportwagen showed up for way too little money for how good its body looked. I originally thought it was a scam, but I quickly found out what was the catch: It had 350,000 miles. Yep.

This Sportwagen is nearing the better part of a half-million miles, yet it looks like it has a third of that mileage. The interior looks even better, wearing like a car with 50,000 miles. On my test drive, the car was as tight as a drum. I haven’t driven 100,000-mile cars this well-sorted. But how? How does a VW with this many miles drive so well? It had one single owner. That single owner also had paperwork to prove he went to the dealership for absolutely everything. This car’s lived a pampered 350,000 miles and it showed. This is the first VW I’ve seen in a while without a check engine light. And to impress me even further, the Dieselgate fix was done two years and 60,000 miles prior to my purchase and it didn’t even need warranty work after. I felt like I had accidentally uncovered the most reliable Volkswagen in the world.

I haven’t put too many miles on this car since bringing it home (a few thousand) but it remains reliable. I would trust this car to drive me across the country at a moment’s notice. You’ll be seeing a lot more of it as I try to get it to a million miles!

Advertisement

13 / 18

2005 Volkswagen Passat TDI Wagon

2005 Volkswagen Passat TDI Wagon

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

Well well well, I found an even cleaner example of the Passat I used to own, but for a similar price! In fact, this one even had a similar issue, with the engine not getting enough boost. Out of the gate, I knew it had a vacuum leak. The engine also made a bit of a horrid noise, but I attributed it to a bad motor mount. I thought I did it again and captured lightning in a bottle. But it wasn’t a bad motor mount. The noise got louder and louder until recently the oil pressure warning popped on. A quick test revealed the engine to be making exactly zero oil pressure. While the BHW engines in these do tend to be robust, the balance shaft modules they have are not. They are known to wear out and fail, sometimes in catastrophic manner. Mine didn’t fail catastrophically, but 0 p.s.i. means it’s dead.

Due to the cost of repairs, this one will be parted out for the next car on this list, then sold.

Advertisement

14 / 18

2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion 6-Speed Manual

2003 Volkswagen Passat W8 4Motion 6-Speed Manual

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

I’m a regular of the Gambler 500. The last car slot in my stable is reserved for the disposable and very abused “Gambler Car.” My favorite Gambler 500 rigs are typically cars at the very end of their lives. These are cars that are too broken and decayed to be first cars or similar. My plans with them are usually the same. I decide to let them go out in style. Not rotting out in yards. Not getting crushed. My Gambler cars get to go out doing something amazing.

Every once in a while I’ll choose a decent vehicle if I’ll need it to last longer than a rally or two. For this summer that vehicle was a Ford Ranger. I pulled it out of a field, put a control arm on it, then drove it on an epic 5,000 mile journey across the country. However, when I got home the Ranger no longer really had a use to me. I got it because I knew it could make the trip, not because I actually wanted it. Now that I was home, I wanted my next Gambler car to be something special.

I decided I wanted to have a stealthy AWD car. A Subaru would be too obvious; I wanted something that was going to be a low-key beast off-road. I started looking for stuff like really beat-up Audi TT Quattros and Volkswagen 4Motions. That’s when I stumbled on this W8. Another dream of mine is to off-road a Volkswagen Phaeton V8, and I thought a Passat W8 was pretty much the same thing. Reading the ad, this W8 was described as being crashed and effectively destroyed. From the sounds of the ad, this car was so beat up that it wasn’t worth saving, and thus a perfect Gambler candidate. Plus the car was a lovely six-speed manual!

Weirdly, this seller was a case of underpromising and overdelivering. The car was in far better shape than the ad suggested. It really needs only simple cosmetic fixes to be back to 100 percent. Apparently, the car’s first owner was rear-ended one winter, propelling the car into a curb, then a pole. As a result, the car earned a crumpled trunk, bent rocker, destroyed fender, smashed passenger door, and a hole in one shot through the sunroof, pulverizing it. The second owner just barely phoned it in on repairs but gave me a decent platform to start a better restoration.

On the drive home, it was incredibly smooth despite an active misfire. The seller showed me a video of what the car sounded like before the misfire and before he broke a flex pipe. What did it sound like? BEHOLD!

So…it’s not going to be a Gambler car. Instead, I’m restoring it to its former glory. This car has only 100,000 miles on it, and I believe its best years are still ahead of it. This car will appear in a build series I’m launching as well as another piece I’m writing about the pain and expense of keeping an old Volkswagen’s heart beating, sometimes using parts of other Volkswagens. Just last weekend I found myself racing against the clock to plug the car’s various water leaks before the first snow of the season.

Advertisement

15 / 18

2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe

2008 Smart Fortwo Passion Coupe

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

This $1,000 Smart Fortwo is the replacement for a 2005 Fortwo Cabriolet I bought in 2018 and sold this year after it became a major lemon. This car was slated to become a dedicated off-road build. I did run one off-road rally with it, but I have decided to change the car’s fate. Instead, I will make this car into a creation inspired by a Volkswagen Harlequin Golf.

Advertisement

16 / 18

1997 International 3800 School Bus

1997 International 3800 School Bus

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

This one’s a bit left field, even for me. I’ll level with you when I say I enjoy RVs. However, I don’t enjoy how they’re built. Think of them as needing the repairs of a car while also needing the repairs of the worst house ever built.

I’ve been looking for specific kinds of RVs since 2014. I long wanted a bus, but never thought I could ever own one. So I instead chased vintage fiberglass campers.

My girlfriend gave me this bus for my birthday and we’ve already started tearing apart the interior to make a camper out of it. The idea is that the rear end will be a motorcycle garage while the rest will be living space. It’ll be a dry camper at first, with running water coming later. For those of you in love with commercial vehicles, it has a DT466E with an Allison AT545 transmission. Not the best transmission out there, but it’ll be fine for out here in the flat Midwest. This will also be another build series of mine as well!

Advertisement

17 / 18

2006 Ford E-350 6.0 Powerstroke

2006 Ford E-350 6.0 Powerstroke

undefined
Photo: Mercedes Streeter

To round out this list is my Gambler 500 vehicle. This vehicle is usually on a rotation. I’ll drive it for a month or a few, then sell it and move on to another vehicle I’m interested in. For this winter session Gambler 500 runs I decided I wanted a van. We plan on keeping this van as long as possible because it’s so much fun with so much space. This gives us a good place to lay our heads in the winter that’ll be easier to keep warm (hopefully) than a tent. And because I’m me, I wanted the van to be something special. So for $700, I got this 6.0 Powerstroke.

The funny thing about most of these vehicles is that most of them were had for $1,500 or less, with a whole bunch of them under $1,000. I’ve turned buying and selling sub-$1,000 vehicles into a sort of art, and sometimes I’ve found absolute gems by doing this. And yes, all of them run!

Over the next indefinitely through space-time I will expose you to the wacky everyday adventures of my vehicular enthusiasm with regular doses of rare vehicle finds, large vehicles you most definitely should purchase and what vehicle I’m off-roading each week.

Advertisement

18 / 18

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. Loves all types of vehicles!! Smart Fortwo (05, 08, 12, 16), International 3800, VW W8, Jetta TDI (04, 12), Audi TT, Buell Lightning, Suzuki Burgman, Yamaha U7E, Honda CBR600

DISCUSSION