7 October 2014

Our Cars: Norm Lee’s 1985 Mercedes 380SL Coupe

Norm Lee grew up in Detroit, so it seemed only natural that he would become a car guy. It wasn’t quite that simple, however. Since no one in Norm’s family loved cars like he did, he didn’t have a mentor to share tools with. Still, Norm dreamed of working in the auto industry, and eventually he did just that, first for General Motors and then Ford. After marrying a northern Michigan native, Norm accepted a position at Hagerty, which is headquartered in his wife’s hometown of Traverse City. The Lees have three daughters, age 6, 9 and 11, and the girls love seeing the classic cars on display in Hagerty’s lobby.

Name: Norm Lee

Position at Hagerty: VP of Business Development and National Accounts

Years at Hagerty: 5½

Vehicle1985 Mercedes 380SL Roadster

Why did you choose a 1985 Mercedes 380SL Roadster? It was the car I dreamed of owning when I was 17. About a year ago I was looking at some classic cars with some friends, and when I saw the Mercedes I said, “That’s my dream car.” The guy who owned it said, “Make me an offer.” We agreed on a price and I bought it.

Repairs and Modifications: I just had the engine rebuilt a couple months ago, along with new brakes, a sway bar and timing chain. It sounds and runs great!

Greatest and Worst Moments: The girls love the Mercedes. Prior to the last school year ending, they each wanted to be driven to school by themselves with the convertible top down. So I granted each of them their wish, even though the temperature was only 50 degrees.

So far I’ve put more money into fixing it and making it right than what I paid for it – but I still love it, especially on warm, sunny days.

Favorite Drive: I love driving on the Old Mission Peninsula (on Lake Michigan in Traverse City, Mich.). It’s absolutely beautiful out there.

24 Reader Comments

  • 1
    CJ United States October 8, 2014 at 15:45
    I always thought the 380SL's looked great too, although I don't like the carnival bump-em car look of the US mandated bumpers. I bought a '73 380SL because it has the euro style bumpers but soon found out the car has no performance and is a gas hog. Also the heating/cooling system is a nightmare to keep working. I was glad to sell it for nearly what I had in it. That was my second and last Mercedes.
  • 2
    Dean Glen Ellyn, IL October 8, 2014 at 15:55
    I have a 1987 560SL in black. I also admired the body style when I was in high school (then the 450SL) and promised myself I would buy one. I am the second owner and it is completely original, with 60,000 miles. I rarely drive it but get lots of looks and compliments when I do.
  • 3
    Hal Mola Spokane, WA October 8, 2014 at 16:56
    I know exactly how you feel. I have a 76 450SL and it is just a big money pit, but each time I drive it makes up for it.
  • 4
    Paul Ski Harrisburg nc October 8, 2014 at 17:07
    I also own a 1985 380sl its silver and has both tops. I love to drive with the top down almost all the time. When it starts getting warm in the spring off goes the hard top until December! I am the third owner of this Beauty and it has never seen rain and has been garage kept its entire life and I even have the original window sticker when it was delivered to the dealership ($45,000) I would like to see these cars get more attention in the antique market. They drive like a Mercedes and have that unique look. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about your 380sl and have many blessed years enjoying it!
  • 5
    Ruth and Gary LaMott Traverse City October 8, 2014 at 17:50
    We own a '83 380SL. Would love to get a group together of SL owners for a fall color tour. We have had ours for over 9 years and love it!
  • 6
    JOE KINSMAN N. CHARLESTON, SC October 8, 2014 at 18:18
    Hi norm I know how you feel, I have a 1983 380 SL and can only be appreciated by a true roadster fan on the open road. Your auto is worth more to a true fan then you think, I am waiting, for a buyer soon. My Merz is in prince condition and has 44,600 miles it spends more time in the garage under cover and I hope it sells in the next year or two.
  • 7
    T r berry Hartland mi October 8, 2014 at 19:06
    Nice one of my favorites also.
  • 8
    Steve sumpter Costa Mesa, Can. October 8, 2014 at 19:28
    I have the same car, same year, and same color. I share your passion for this car. I to had to replace the timing chain and the soft top.. I still think this is one of the best looking convertibles out there. I also own a 67 Mustang convertible so I get my need for speed and sunshine at the same time. The prices are slowly climbing so you won't be upside down for very long.
  • 9
    CJ United States October 8, 2014 at 19:31
    I always thought the 380SL's looked great too, although I don't like the carnival bump-em car look of the US mandated bumpers. I bought a '73 380SL because it has the euro style bumpers but soon found out the car has no performance and is a gas hog. Also the heating/cooling system is a nightmare to keep working. I was glad to sell it for nearly what I had in it. That was my second and last Mercedes.
  • 10
    George Schraut Oxford, MI October 8, 2014 at 19:39
    The 380 is a great driving & riding car but terribly under powered compared to the 450 before it and the 560 after it
  • 11
    Ted Sonoma Mountain, CA October 8, 2014 at 19:51
    Odd choice for someone in the classic car world. The 380 is surely the worst of the series, due to its small (underpowered, yet thirsty) engine. Well known for timing chain failures. No wonder it has cost him a fortune to maintain. The 380 is no where near as nice as a 450 or 560, and will be certainly be more expensive to own. Hagerty's "value" for a 380SL posted on this page is far, far optimistic. An absolutely pristine 380SL that has already had the timing chain upgrade, would be worth more in the range of $5000-7000.
  • 12
    Doug New York October 8, 2014 at 20:14
    Very nice story and beautiful mercedez. I have a similar one, 1988 560 SL Lots of fun!
  • 13
    Ron Warne Toronto October 8, 2014 at 20:36
    I also love this car and would eventually like to get any SL series from the 1980's . I've been told the 560 is the ultimate although the 380 and 450 all look just as good to me. I've been told f the car is original all the seals and rubber has probably dried out and needs to be replaced. Those are the cars you find in the 15k or lower price range , anything else that's had the work done is upwards of 20k and up and up. I think it is one of the nicest looking cars ever built. I have a 77 MGB , it's fun but I'd trade up to a Mercedes if one came knocking at my door.
  • 14
    Michael Banahan Oceanside New York October 8, 2014 at 22:36
    To norm lee I feel you're passion I picked up a 1998 500sl azure blue with forty eight thousand miles the panaromic room is to nice to remove
  • 15
    Max Stone Lafayette, Ga. October 9, 2014 at 05:08
    I purechased a 1984 Mercedes 380sl about a month ago and it is just about perfect. The car has 89,666. miles and drives like a dream. I am 73 years old but still love the old cars that a shade tree mechanic can work on with out spending mega bucks on tools. I redid 2 1966 Mustangs and gave them to my sons when they became of age.
  • 16
    Ray United States October 9, 2014 at 06:12
    MB 560SL was my dream car. 3 years ago my wife bought me one . 87' Black on Black. It only sees the road during the Spring and Fall. Each season when I go to the garage, and take the car cover off, is like Christmas. A gift that keeps on giving.
  • 17
    Mali Eugene Florida October 9, 2014 at 08:36
    I enjoy your appreciation for such a classic vehicle. I just purchase my dream car as well 1977 Benz 450SL, I'm so happy to have Starlet. I'm just looking for a great mechanic that works with classic MB so she can get some minor repairs done. Can someone recommend a good and honest mechanic please?
  • 18
    Martin San Francisco October 9, 2014 at 21:28
    Your 380 SL is a beauty, but why didn't you go for a 560 SL??
  • 19
    Howard Brock New York October 9, 2014 at 10:34
    I have a 1989 560 SL which is the last year for that body style. 52k and mint.
  • 20
    Paul Driessche Clio, Michigan October 9, 2014 at 11:36
    Great car! I purchased a 1981 380SL a little over three years ago. I couldn't agree more about the drive up the Old Mission Peninsula. My Mercedes has high mileage and will never be a show car, but to drive it is a dream. I recently returned from a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and, though I have been there many times, it was amazing. Not only was I much more immersed in the scenery when the top is down, but the way this car handles on the mountain roads was unforgettable! Maybe I'll see you next time I am on the wine trail in Traverse City!
  • 21
    ulf Leiste Naples FL October 12, 2014 at 10:13
    Congrats to CJ on his 73 380SL ,he bought the car 7 years before it came on the market :) I have a 1985 Euro 300SL I bought 1990 in Germany ,brought it to the US and it now has 300000 Miles on the original engine
  • 22
    Jim Geronimo Erie, PA November 3, 2014 at 16:27
    1) Hi Ulf, we met in Naples in 2013 when you provided service to and from the Ft. Myers airport for us! What a super guy!!! 2) Norm...why are you selling this car?
  • 23
    Jen Fl. April 30, 2016 at 01:35
    I enjoy my 1985 Euro Grey Market 500SL . It's an open roadster, soft-top convertible or snug hardtop coup. It has 109K original miles. Purchased from l original owner in 1990 with 38K miles. It was purchased in Belgium and shipped to California while vacationing in Europe. Always garaged. Interior is like new. Seats always covered with sheep skins. I had it piggy backed to Florida 6 years ago when I moved. No rust. Always garaged. Now in shop having new fuel pump, power steering box, breaks, A/C charge w/kit, all belts, gaskets, seals, distributor, spark plug wires, tie rods, new horn, and new tires. You fall in love with the body and V-8 power of these cars. Car has never not started or left me stranded. I just figured it was time to give it good overhaul. Plan to have it painted next couple years. This car has behaved much better than my present 330i, and previous 430 CLK which are not as well built and very service needy. Love my Roadster.
  • 24
    Ben 93255 May 9, 2016 at 15:09
    I have a 1983 380 SEL with a overheated engine and a good transmission. I also have a 1985 280 SE (gray market) with a transmission that will not go into Drive. It ran low on fluid. It is ok in 1st and 2nd. Can the trans in the 380 SEL go into the 280 SE? Anyone.

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