Junkyard Gem: 2006 Mercedes-Benz R500
Sometimes a vehicle manufacturer builds something that’s so far ahead of its time that nobody quite knows to make of it, such as the American Motors Eagle. Other times, there will be a new vehicle that fills a need in admirable fashion but looks so weird that potential buyers shy away in horror (see: Pontiac Aztek). And, of course, there’s the case of the well-built machine that does its job well enough but just confuses car shoppers, finally disappearing with little fanfare a few years later. The Mercedes-Benz R-Class was such a vehicle, and I’ve found a first-year example in nice condition in a Colorado boneyard.
As our reviewer put it, 17 years ago: The new Mercedes-Benz R-Class is a bit like the platypus, the fur-covered, duck-billed, egg-laying mammal. It combines aspects of other vehicles without becoming one of them.
Yes, the platypus of early-21st-century motor vehicles. Sort of a minivan, but without the useful sliding doors of a minivan. Sort of a wagon, but without the car-like looks (and ride) of a wagon. And, most important, sort of an SUV but without the tall ride height and appearance of outdoors-themed aggression that moved SUVs off showroom floors in the middle 2000s.
By all accounts, it was a well-screwed-together machine that drove nicely, held a lot of stuff and was competent in snow and mud. The only problem was that few Americans wanted to buy it. The R500 version was terminated in North America after 2007, while the R350 lingered on through 2012 before getting axed. Sales were so poor that, in 2016, we called it one of the dumbest cars of all time. Sometimes what makes a car a Junkyard Gem is its historical significance!
This 5.0-liter V8 made 302 horsepower and 339 pound-feet. The only transmission available was a seven-speed automatic.
The base price for the 2006 R500 was $55,000, which comes to about $83,440 in 2023 dollars. This one is packed with pricey options, including the dual sunroofs, so its out-the-door price would have been much higher.
This clock layout takes inspiration from the W126 S-Classes of the 1980s and their VDO clock-within-a-tachometer design. VDO also sold that rig to Saab for the 900. I thought about yanking this clock and buying it for my collection, but Mercedes-Benz gauge clusters take too long to disassemble (and I’ll bet this clock is just a stepper-motor design controlled by the ECU, anyway).
Why is it here? The El Paso County Sheriffs towed it away for being parked illegally, and its owner couldn’t or wouldn’t get it out of hock.
The third row feels like a front row.
No matter how bad it gets out here, it is continually nice in there.
Karl Benz would have been impressed.