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Thursday, February 6th, 2014

The Great Pano Experiment

When I saw the ad for a black-on-black panoramic hardtop in San Diego, asking price $2,000, I guess it was only a matter of time—I've been ambivalent about these round-edged contraptions, but I know they can go for around $3,000 on eBay, and they're so rare that this guy bought a wrong-colored one and changed everything to match.

I still wasn't sold on it as I started negotiating, but when I got the price down to $1,800, you know what, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

We did the deal behind a wine shop in Coronado, an island off San Diego where seriously nothing bad could possibly happen. Not least because there's a military base out there, but also because it's one of the most idyllic places you could imagine, especially given that only a rather impressive bridge separates it from downtown.

That's the seller's debadged 1996 SL320 on the right. He likes the aesthetics of the 1999+ models, so he added taillights, rearview mirrors and various interior trim items of that vintage. His license plate, if you can't make it out, says "SL PANO," so he was really into this thing. (Note that I don't have a vanity plate myself; just a vanity website.) Told me he bought it in Ventura for close to $4,000 last year, didn't use it much, and needed to sell now because he had just acquired a 2002 SL500 Silver Arrow with 7,000 miles.

Seems plausible, as car stories go.

Incidentally, it makes sense that he'd want to sell the top separately. The "SL PANO" car has the six-cylinder engine and 155k miles, so even with a pano, it's not going to fetch much of a price.

The top was advertised as having "two tiny scratches" but otherwise being "basically perfect in every way." In fact, it's got these little dents on the passenger side, the two scratches (not pictured) aren't exactly tiny, and there are some other scratches besides.

But the paint looked good overall, and the glass was perfect. Interior trim perfect as well. Assuming that a 10/10 pano top typically goes for $3,000, I'd say this one's a solid $2,500 specimen, at least. Maybe the rareness factor would bring a full $3k. That's an escape route I can live with.

I gave the man his money.

From inside, I gotta admit, this thing is pretty neat. It reminds me of the 2013 Mustang I drove last year with the glass roof option, except even glassier, it appears. Does it get hotter in here as a result? Yeah, if you don't have the A/C on. But between the heat-resistant glass and the stalwart climate control system, this is really a non-issue. I doubt I'll ever use the retractable sunshade (which works, by the way—not a given).

I found myself looking straight up a lot as I drove home. Remind me not to make a habit of it.

As for how it looks from the outside, I'm torn. I always felt the car lost a key piece of its no-nonsense angularity with the roundy pano top in place, and that's still fundamentally my view. But from angles like the one above, there's something undeniably sleek and appealing about the pano's lines. It's got me thinking of Cruella De Ville's car or something. I wish it looked like this from everywhere.

Actually, it looks pretty good here too. The C-pillar's relative thinness is apparent, but the overall effect is pleasing.

Or is it?

I think it's time for some side-by-side action.

Let me first thank our biggest sponsor for supplying the backdrop for the left-hand photo. Now to the differences: C-pillar size, rear quarter window size (smaller and larger, respectively, on the pano)...you can't really appreciate the pano's added roundness from here, though. It's not a dramatic change.

Ah, there's the roundness. Look at that pano, it's like a helmet! I suddenly found myself thinking about The Jetsons, which didn't make sense; I've never watched an episode. But then I found this:

At its worst, that's kind of what the pano top reminds me of. Or this:

I don't even know what that is, but I found it on the interwebs. Anyway.

Here's the last side-by-side I've got. The pano doesn't look bad here, and the untrained eye might not even notice a difference. But to me, the loss of steely German presence is acute.

If I keep this top for the long haul, it'll be because I like driving beneath it, not because I like looking at it.

But I really do like the driving experience, even though I noticed some excessive B-pillar wind noise that might require an adjustment or two (the pano roof has its own installation specs; the tops aren't designed to be perfectly interchangeable).

Will inner beauty prevail? Let the Great Pano Experiment begin.

posted in: Driving Impressions  

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February 6th, 2014 | 4:16pm hollywood time | #1

subytrojan says:

No references to The Homer? http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/The_Homer

How much did Sam pay you to have one of his containers in your photo?

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