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Old 05-05-2003, 01:09 AM
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European to US conversion 1991 300CE

I have the oportunity to buy a Euro spec 1991 300CE 5 speed manual. Anyone been thru the conversion process? What will I need to do, and how much will it cost?( assuming all work performed by others).
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Old 05-05-2003, 12:20 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Southern California
Posts: 2,007
The conversion process would probably cost more than the car is worth if you could even find a shop who could do the work correctly IAW all the legal requirements. Back in the eighties it was common for new and late model used Euro models to be "converted" to US spec by a cottage industry, but it turned out that the process was riddled with fraud. The roof collapsed in the nineties, and a number of "conversion specialists" were convicted and served prison time (One had a shop in Hermosa Beach about a mile away from my house), and many owners of so-called "gray market" cars had them confiscated by the Feds with little recourse for recovery.

IMO forget trying to convert a 12 year old car to US specs. You're better off finding a US spec 300CE and having it converted to a five-speed manual if you really want a manual.


Last edited by Duke2.6; 05-05-2003 at 12:28 PM.
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Old 05-05-2003, 12:32 PM
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Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: Orlando, FL
Posts: 788
My dad did this in 1989 on his (now my) 420SE. This is what usually happens. Euro lights replaced with US spec lights (definite downgrade), taillights are replaced with US taillights with side reflector, side intrusion beams are installed in doors, speedometer face is changed to MPH face, bumpers had reinforcements put in (worthless rusty piece of iron in my case, I removed it), if it is not certified for US emissions it will be converted so it will....a lot of euro cars did not have cats on them even in later years, so if it doesn't have one one will be retrofitted, and they may also mess with tuning/engine electronics (timing, idle speed etc) and what not to "conform to US regs".

I'm not sure if I got everything there, but that is definitely most of it. Also, since this was done in 89, some things might be different now.

My dad never said what it cost, but he did say it cost a lot (but then again, my dad is a tightwad, so anything is a lot for him). Sorry I can't give you any specifics on price. If you decide to do this, make sure you thoroughly check out the conversion and shipping companies. The company that did my car did a pretty half ass job and screwed a lot of things up and also stole the radio. Just make sure you know exactly what you are getting into and who you are dealing with before you do this.

Some people will tell you not to do this because of the foreign VIN issue and parts issue. This may be true to an extent and people have their horror stories with insurance (VIN discrepancies) and parts and service, but I can tell you just from my personal experience my dad never had any problems with insurance and service and here recently I started fixing lots of things on my car and have yet to find a US part that does not fit my car. Again, this is just my experience with a W126.

Good luck and keep us posted.
'86 420SE Euro
904 Midnight Blue, Gray Velour
Dad bought it new, now I own it.

"A Mercedes-Benz is like a fine wine, it only gets better with age."
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Old 05-06-2003, 12:24 PM
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Join Date: May 2002
Location: Mass
Posts: 1,127
In the early to mid '80s, conversion was often a good deal. You could get potentially better models than were being offered in the US, often for much less money in the end. The dollar was relatively stronger then, and the regulations were softer. Also, European cars in the US were much more expensive in real adjusted dollars back then. They were going for lower volume/fatter margins as a business model in the US, while doing a higher volume/lower margin strategy in Europe. My 300E was $40k in 1986 dollars. That would be $64k today!

I cannot imagine it being worth the bother or expense now.
Even your 1991 model would likely have to meet tough 2003 standards on every front.

We had a Grey Market 1981 BMW 745i in the family.
Sweet machine. 240hp turbocharged, ABS (before this was even available in US), no cat, thin bumpers. A kneck-snapping rocketship when the big turbo abruptly kicked in.
Always a pain getting it to pass annual state emissions test.
Had to tweak the mixture lean, then set it back after the test.
Also, the cooling system was not up to even our New England summers. Clearly designed for moderate German climate.
Mailorder parts were surprisingly easy to come by, even in the pre-internet days.
1986 300E 5-Speed 240k mi.
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