Benz Generation

A new kind of green is recharging a status symbol from the Reagan days

The 1980s diesel Mercedes-Benz sedan, once beloved of Beverly Hills housewives, Santa Monica dentists, Century City agents, and Sheila E. (she name-checked the car in her ode to “the glamorous life”), has bragging rights once again. Converted easily and cheaply to run on biofuels, these onetime icons of conspicuous consumption now transport hipsters from Echo Park to Venice on tanks of vegetable oil.

At Lovecraft Bio-fuels (4000 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-644-9072 or, conversion kits geared to the Mercedes sedans of 1977 to 1985 are offered for $595. While all diesels can be adapted, German engineering makes the Mercedes engine an optimal candidate, says Lovecraft’s Jason Kuczenski, whose own ride is a gold 1984 300 SD. Now, thanks to Ronald Reagan, there are still lots of the ’80s models around. The president’s intent was to stimulate the economy after the energy crisis by encouraging diesel imports. Last year Jeffrey Phillips opened the green lab (1539 E. Walnut St., Pasadena, 818-288-2224), and the ’80s Mercedes accounts for 90 percent of his business, at $875 per conversion. Priced at $35,000 when new, these typically well-maintained vehicles can be picked up for a few thousand today. Echo Park musician Eric Layer found his burnt orange 1981 two-door coupe for $2,000 on Craigslist. Actress Sarah Jane Morris (Brothers & Sisters) bought her yellow 1980 300 SD (dubbed “Ol’ Buttercup”) for $5,800 on eBay, then had it converted at Lovecraft. “The thing that I love about it,” she says, “is I can pull up to a red-carpet event and feel totally stylish stepping out of this beautiful car.”

Illustration by Gary Neill