Have you seen what Mercedes ML55 AMGs are selling for these days? Friends, we’re all just a few thousand bucks and a plasma torch away from having 340-horsepower AMG V8-powered AWD hot rods!
Some of you surely remember how the luxury SUV scene exploded in the late ‘90s. Mercedes introduced the ML, BMW dropped the X5 on us and Porsche was furiously penning the Cayenne to catch up. Every aspiring American psycho was cramming their Lacoste-clad family into these fried egg-faced 4x4s and life was good in prep school parking lots.
Today the early iterations of all those vehicles look like fetid creatures that’d be begging for death in an Alien movie, and their prices have plummeted accordingly.
But none of these once-prestigious SUVs have gone from riches to rags as spectacularly as the original Mercedes ML, which you can now buy in actually okay-looking condition for only a few grand. Running and driving, at least according to Craigslist, with AMG V8 power and all-wheel drive.
I brought this up to my colleagues and they responded with misgivings. “But the car is bad,” they said.
“Let Chrysler-perverted AMG era die,” they implored.
Of course the car is bad. That’s exactly why the ML55 AMG has one sweet move left: to be torn down to its roll cage, fitted with four racing seats and amazing tires, and cut loose on the streets of some state with lenient automotive safety inspection laws.
I actually had an original ML320 myself a few years ago. Drove it all the way from Mammoth Lakes, California to Boston, Massachusetts then commuted to work with it for months. I eventually and pawned it off on my sister who took full advantage of the car’s unpainted plastic bumpers learning to park by braille.
The exterior held up well enough against a few substantial hugs with snow banks, tree trunks and the walls of my father’s garage. But the inside tore itself apart if you turned the wheel too hard.
At about 100,000 miles the dashboard had blistered, the plastics covering the pillars swung into the cabin like palm fronds and the door handles came off with alarming regularity.
But where was I? Oh yes, convincing you to buy one of these.
My point is, the ML55 is priced accordingly because it’s a piece of garbage. But all that shoddily-assembled plastic is wrapped around a 342 horsepower 5.4-liter V8 hooked up to an all-wheel drive driveline with low range.
Remove the glass, doors, fenders, bumper, lift gate, and interior, then weld up some kind of tubular cage to wrap around whatever weirdness is left of the body structure and you’ve got a hilarious modern interpretation of the dune buggy.
Update: I thought this thing was unibody, but nope, after looking closer it appears to sit on a simple frame. Even better for a batshit build! Do it right and fit some choice G-Wagen grille bits up front? The thing might even start to look cool!
The ML55 is not the hot station wagon alternative you’ve been looking for, because as a car, it sucks. But as a platform for a fierce hot rod I seriously think there’s something amazing there.