It was the mid ’90s, I was married and running my own new media company in downtown NYC when Jim, after winning a sizable copyright abuse settlement for yet another rip off of his “Johnny Cash Flipping the Bird” shot, decided to use that dough to acquire the next car of his dreams: a silver Mercedes C36 AMG 1996 edition.
Jim turned 60 that year but it seemed to me that the Mercedes was Jim’s mid-life crisis car: most guys get sports cars when the old belly starts to pouch, the hair thins, the vitality ebbs, but what if you’ve been driving hot rods and race cars since before you had a driver’s license? You get yourself one of the world’s fastest sedans, tuned and tweaked on the Autobahn, of course. Most guys of his generation had mid-life crises when they were 40, not 60, but after five months of me cranking out these blogs I hope it has become abundantly clear: Jim was not most guys.
Oh, Lord, Won’t You Buy Me …
AutoWeek’s Dutch Mandel again helps me out with the Mercedes facts and figures: “When Cadillac introduced a CTS-V Series sedan, a potent production car, Jim got very close to pulling the trigger on putting it in his garage. But General Motors wanted something like $60,000 and he thought that was too much money. Besides, he said, ‘I got the best fuckin’ car for the money in my Mercedes.’
“Jim was right. He was an extremely proud owner of a Mercedes C36, I believe of ’96 vintage, a ferocious factory-built – and then rebuilt – hot rod whose German racing pedigree made it the darling of car cognoscenti. And then Jim did what Jim did best: He stuffed it with seriously stealthy equipment that in many states would get him thrown in the slam for yet another stint.
“The C36 was special in that it was a hot rod sporting a factory warranty. The company built an entry-level C-Class, shipped the “body-in-white” to an in-house tuning firm called AMG, who built the car to their exacting and powerful specifications. The 268-hp, six-cylinder engine filled the car with extraordinary quickness and top-end speed. I know this because my father also owned a C36, he called it ‘Dr. Rocket’ — interesting they both owned one since only about 300 were imported to the U.S.”
I must interrupt Dutch for a minute to point out that Jim’s vanity plate on the Mercedes was: 1 OF 900. We had thought that was how many were imported, but perhaps it was the total made that year? Total ever? If anybody can solve the riddle we’re all ears.
“Jim liked his C36 because it looked Plain Jane and went like stink,” Dutch recalls, “He liked it because he could fit it in the garage of his rent-controlled apartment house, ‘with about two fuckin’ inches of room, total, on either side.’ He liked it so much that when Jim drove it hard — and blew up the engine because of his antics — he called Mercedes and ordered another engine for it … and somehow got the factory to pay for it, saying it was still under warranty.
“With Jim’s ‘appreciation for law-enforcement’ he wanted to make sure he knew where his friends in blue were at all times. Jim hardwired a hidden grill-mounted radar detector and “jammer.” I believe he also installed a theft-deterrent device that went beyond the factory-alarm; who knows: he might have been able to electronically summon a pack of slavering pit bulls if someone screwed with his ride.
“Jim showed me all this on the one time I rode with him through San Francisco. I swore immediately it would be my last ride as passenger with him when he got the car sideways by using the accelerator, grabbed the steering wheel with one hand, climbed to 70 mph in a short city block and then reached somewhere under his seat to show me a firearm he kept at the ready.”