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Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Cowl Shake

Spoiler alert: I'm already marinating a future post that'll be called something like, "Why isn't this car a classic?"

Might have an answer for myself right here: the thing rattles and shakes over bumps like an '89 LeBaron.

To be fair, I've never driven one of those LeBarons.

They might not be as bad.

On a somewhat tangential note, I just noticed that "LeBron" is "LeBaron" without the "a." Coincidence?

Anyhow, the weird thing about the 500 Benz's cowl shake is that...well, there are a few weird things.

1. The car weighs a completely absurd 4,100 pounds and feels invincible on the freeway. So it is downright incongruous when the chassis gets all wet-noodley at the slightest hint of uneven pavement.

2. I remember reading somewhere that the previous SL, the R107, has less cowl shake because of its more compliant suspension. If that is even remotely true, color me aghast. The R107, my people, debuted in 1972. The R129 debuted in 1990. You're telling me that the same brilliant engineers who pretty much crushed it with the rest of the car couldn't figure out how to leverage 18 years of technological progress and 4,100 pounds of German steel to make the the R129 just a little bit less shaky than Grandpa 107?

Yes, I've asked multiple mechanics about it. They all say the same thing: "That's just what the 129 does."

I honestly can't believe that those engineers let the car leave the factory like this, or even just with the potential to be like this. To paraphrase Snoop Lion (née Doggy Dogg), "500 Benz, you without respectable structural rigidity is like Harold Melvin without the Blue Notes, you'll never go platinum!"

Sure enough, Mercedes only sold about 200,000 copies of the R129.

3. I realize that both the R129 in general and my 500 Benz in particular are old. Old designs get improved on with time, and old cars degrade with time.

But let me give you a potentially interesting comparison.

A good friend of mine has a 2004 Porsche 911 convertible. We've gone over plenty of bumps in that thing. It is hard goddamn work getting it to shake in any significant way. I would not live in fear of our really inconceivably terrible LA roads if I had that car.

Being a 996, his car uses a platform that debuted in the 1999 911. So let's call it a decade newer than the R129's platform. Did structural technology really progress that much in 10 years? Consider that the R129 was in production through model-year 2002, so there were four model years of overlap with the Porsche 996. Was the cowl-shake chasm between these models equally vast when both were on showroom floors? Or is the R129 also more susceptible to worsening cowl shake over the years?

So many questions.

posted in: Driving Impressions  


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