There are many high-end cars which, when they were new, were the cream of the crop on sale. Many of those cars featured an engine accompanied by the always-hefty price tag and were usually fitted with some sort of big 12-cylinder. The most common configuration was a V12 mated to an automatic transmission – or sometimes a jerky semi-automatic or automated manual – to make life easier when cruising along a Riviera or a corniche.
Now, if shopping for a new luxury performance car on a budget, you will be unsuccessfully scrolling through brochures and auto-magazines into infinity. However, if lowering one’s sights a bit while searching the second-hand performance car market, there are some pretty good bargains available – at a fraction of what they were sold at when they were new.
At the height of their respective lifespans, these cars were sold for between $120,000 and an astronomical $340,000 (in today’s money), which made them totally out of the reach of most petrolheads. Fortunately for car lovers, this has changed due to various circumstances – be it economics, fashion, or simply because the car has terrible reliability. Now, one of these luxury performance cars can be purchased for anything between the price of a new Chevrolet Spark and a fully decked-out Honda Clarity.
9 2000-2006 Mercedes CL600 ($15,000)
Back in 2001 (which, at the time of publishing, is 21 years ago), the Mercedes-Benz CL Coupe was the most luxurious grand tourer the German manufacturer sold. The CL is essentially a 2-door version of the S-Class, allowing for the über-rich customer to drive themselves in utmost comfort to the Riviera and back.
Mercedes offered a V8 in the base model (if it can even be called that) and a powerfully smooth 5.5L twin-turbocharged V12 in the top model, the CL600, which produced a ridiculous 500 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. Brand new, it would’ve cost $117,000 ($183,000 in 2021 money) but can now be purchased for around $15,000.
8 1975-1996 Jaguar XJ-S ($20,000)
The Jaguar XJ-S was a car that probably outstayed its welcome as it was produced from 1975, all the way to 1996. The car received updates and more modern touches, but by the early 1990s, it was already woefully outdated. The XJ-S was available with a luxurious 5.3L V12 in the top specification, which produced between 242 hp and 304 hp, depending on emissions controls (and which company-owned Jaguar at the time).
The XJ-S was sold at around $57,000 – or about $120,000 in today’s money – which was a lot of cash to spend on a car, especially in the early 80s during the economic crisis. These Jags can now be found for anything between $14,000 to $30,000 – much less than when it was new.
7 1999-2004 Aston Martin DB7 Vantage ($40,000)
The Aston Martin DB7 is famous for never being a Bond car, but it did act as a certain MI-7 agent’s spy car in the original Johnny English in 2003. The DB7 Vantage was fitted with the now legendary 5.9L naturally-aspirated V12, which Aston Martin offered in all its grand tourers.
The DB7 had around 420 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, mated to either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission, resulting in a 0-62 mph time of 5.0 seconds for the manual and 5.1 seconds for the automatic. New, the DB7 Vantage cost $104,000 (the equivalent of $157,000 today) but can now be bought for around $40,000, a third of the original cost.
6 1990-2002 Mercedes-Benz SL600 ($40,000)
The SL is Mercedes’ luxury convertible to go up against the likes of the Bentley Continental GTC and various Volante Aston Martins. There is a new SL coming in 2022, but the one which cemented the SL’s presence was the R129 generation, which fell into the category of over-engineered Mercs. It was a magnificent car with great engines, comfortable luxury, and some of the best-aged styling in the auto industry.
The SL600 was the top of the range in terms of luxury and refinement. However, the true top model was the SL73 AMG, with an engine that spawned the heart of the legendary Pagani Zonda. While the SL73 is unbelievably rare and expensive, the SL600 is much less so. One can be bought for around the price of a new Chevy Silverado 1500 – a far cry from the $230,000 it would have cost in today’s money.
5 1990-1999 BMW 850Ci ($40,000)
The original BMW 8-Series was BMW’s attempt to make a car specifically designed for grand touring. It cost an astronomical 1.5 billion Deutsche Mark (around $870 million) to research and develop. The car was only offered with either a V8 or V12, in the form of the 840i and 850i respectively. BMW also made a special edition 850CSi, which only came with a manual transmission.
Today, an 850i is worth around $40,000 as their popularity has steadily been increasing, with many investment firms believing it to become a future classic.
4 2003-2008 Bentley Continental GT W12 ($40,000)
The Bentley Continental GT we know today was originally reintroduced in 2003 when Bentley was acquired by the VW Group. It was based on the VW Phaeton platform and was fitted with the new 6.0L twin-turbo W12, which produced 550 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque.
At launch, the Continental GT was less than half the price of the Continental R and Continental T it replaced – both of which were coach-built cars – which broadened the customer range. Today, a 2003-2007 Continental GT costs around the $40,000 mark, instead of $150,000 back then.
3 1979-1985 Ferrari 400i ($70,000)
The Ferrari 400 series of nearly identical grand tourers are not the first cars one thinks of when the name ‘Ferrari’ is said. The 400 series started with the 365 GT4 2+2 in 1972 and ended with the 412 in 1989, with the 400 and 400i in between. All models had the Tipo F101 V12 fitted, producing between 306 and 335 horsepower, and gained slight improvements with each name change. The transmissions offered were a choice of either a 5-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic.
Whilst the 400 series was produced in relatively small numbers, it was not considered entirely desirable. The BBC ranked it at number 18 in its book, “Crap Cars” and a Top Gear host called it “awful in every way.” Due to this legacy, a 400i Ferrari can be bought for around $70,000, or about half of what it was worth when it was new in the 1980s.
2 1992-2003 Ferrari 456 ($60,000)
The Ferrari 456 was the 400 series replacement, albeit a much more expensive one. The starting price was around $225,000 in 1992 (about $340,000 now) and is currently available second-hand for around $60,000. The 456 features a 5.5L V12 derived from the Dino V6, coupled to a choice of either a 6-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission.
At the time of production, the car produced 438 hp and had a top speed of 192 mph, which made it the second-fastest 2+2 coupé, just behind the Porsche 959. Shaquille O’Neal famously had a 456GTA modified into a Targa with the rear seats removed to facilitate longer seat rails for better legroom. He also had a custom sound system fitted while they were busy.
1 2004-2006 Mercedes SL65 AMG ($50,000)
The SL65 AMG is probably the best value car on this list as it offers true supercar performance and GT luxury, for the price of a new Lexus ES. The MSRP, when new, for the Mercedes SL65 AMG, was an astonishing $185,000 – around $255,000 in 2022 – but it is now selling for around $50,000.
For about the price of a mid-spec Ford F-150, one would get a convertible hardtop, satellite navigation, soft leather seats, and a whopping great twin-turbo 6.0L V12. The engine produces 604 hp, about the same as today’s high-end super-saloons; however, it makes 738 lb-ft of torque – to quote a certain motoring journalist, “enough to restart a dead planet”.
The first V12 engine was used in Packard’s “Double Six” in 1912.
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