This Mercedes 560SEC Is Laying Low In Montreal
Photography By Quarim Brown
I’ve pontificated in the past about how incredible the internet is when it comes to the classic car community. Years ago I was a DJ in New York City and routinely played tracks from a slightly mysterious producer by the name of Tiga. He had this incessantly catchy track “Shoes” that for a few months was essentially on repeat in my set. I never had the chance to meet Tiga when I was a DJ all those years ago, but just the other day he happened to reach out as a reader of the site about his new 560 SEC that he’d just taken delivery of.
Needless to say I gave him a call.
Ted Gushue: How’d you find yourself behind the wheel of this 560SEC?
Tiga Sontag: I’ve always loved cars. I’m one of those. I have two sons and one of them only wanted to play with cars and talk about cars from day one. His first words were to do with cars. It made me realize it’s a primal thing. I don’t want to say it’s just guys, but …
I’ve always loved cars. I guess it starts with the toys and all the stories in my family. My dad had an old green W124 Mercedes in the country. I was very attached to the car when I was super young. I remember my mom telling me that I cried when he sold it.
TG: This was in Montreal?
TS: Yeah. I grew up half in Montreal and half in India.
TG: What was car culture like in Goa when you were a kid?
TS: Really it’s a motorbike scene. My father was always really into motorcycles.
They basically have just two cars in India. They have Ambassadors and what’s the other one? Up until recently there were just two models of cars, and you had to be making a lot of money if you wanted to land one.
TG: Yeah. I found something similar in Bali. Because the roads are in such a bad condition people have become hyper-focused on the scooter culture. There are these guys that have built little cottage industries restoring 1960’s Vespas that were actually produced in the country.
TS: Yeah. In India there’s a similar thing, I don’t know about Bali but in Goa, there’s this similar thing around motorcycles. Royal Enfields were popular.
TG: I think where you grow up has a lot to do with why you become attached to a certain era of a marque. The 560SEC, for instance, how old were you when that was around?
TS: I must have been about four, five, six. I think my father also had a Bug at one point. That was probably when I was born. I don’t like those.
My dad always liked cars. I know he had a very flashy Corvette. My dad was into gambling when he was young, before I was born. I know about that through the urban legends around my house. I’m not a Corvette guy at all but he had one of those first modern body Corvettes. I think they switched in like ’68 or something?
TG: Like a Stingray?
TS: Yeah, exactly. The first Stingray. I don’t know what year that is. It’s like ’70. I don’t know.
But I remember he had one of the first. He won it and lost it in gambling. He had Lincoln Continentals when I was younger. Like you said, the cars you’re exposed to when you’re young make a mark on you. But I did love that early Mercedes. I never cared much for his series of Lincolns.
One of the first cars I was madly in love with was a Porsche 928. I remember convincing my dad to take me to the dealership and I got him to pretend that he would buy one so I could get the brochures and I could sit in it. I guess I was about ten or so.
TG: Very cool.
TS: I’ll probably jump around a little bit, but my tastes are broad. That’s surfaced in the music album covers. I was always very into James Bond movies. I was very into European culture as opposed to Americana. There are some kids who liked The Dukes of Hazzard. That was not me. I liked the kind of Euro edge.
I think I wanted to be a bad guy, like a villain. I always liked the bad guy cars. European bad guy cars, like Mercedes S-Classes. I remember there was one Bond movie with this giant chase sequence. I think it’s in For Your Eyes Only where there’s a chase in this tunnel with an assassin. He’s in a W124, that year of Benz. Bond kicks him off the cliff.
Somehow that always stays with me. They were sleek, understated, like you didn’t have to show off so much.
TG: What was the first car you ever bought?
TS: I drove my parents’ cars to start with. My first car was a Saab 900S. That was my mom’s. Then we had a Nissan Stanza GXE which I hated, but grew to love. It was kind of quick. Then the glory years came. My father had a … I’ve done like a million interviews and this is stuff I’ve never told anyone… My dad had a Acura Legend, they were Legend coupes, and they were actually quite nice cars. I drove two of those.
I started pretty high up with my first car. I had an Audi S4. That was the first one I bought completely with my own money. I didn’t start too junky because I borrowed my parents’ cars.
TG: At what point in your recording career did you start to feel that you could make some sort of an investment or join a collecting community like the Mercedes-AMG community?
TS: Specifically as investments only really just in the past three years. My tastes have become more exotic too.
I went through a muscle car phase. I had a ’68 Camaro, a 396 big block. That was pretty hardcore. I think that was mid-90’s. That was a phase. It wasn’t really me. I was deliberately flirting with the idea being a bit red neck, for the irony. I did grow to love the car, but it didn’t last long.
It’s really weird because I work with so many young people now, and I tell everybody for me it was really simple. The formula was simple. You work, you make money then you spend all of your money on a car. For me that’s how I was brought up. When I bought my first Audi S4 wagon and as I went through different cars, I had one for a while, you just spent all your money on your car. It wasn’t like, “Oh, can I afford it?” It was just like, “Yeah, I’m not going to get anything else here.”
It went like that for a while. Things like your apartment, all those other things were second consideration. I guess some people still treat it like that.
TG: Tell me about how the SEC came into your life. I’m scrolling through the photos here. The car is just immaculate.
TS: Yeah. The car is incredible. It’s perfect.
I guess three or four years ago, I just started to do a lot of nights on tour. I just like to spend a lot of time on each [inaudible 00:09:04]. I started looking at pictures and remembering cars I loved in the past.
Definitely there’s an era, ’87 ’88 until ’91 ’92, when I was thirteen years old to eighteen which is formative. There’s a zone there when I was into hip hop. I can remember Ice-T’s album cover. There was a lot of big Benz’s and a lot of things like coupes. Some of them were cheesy, like Koenigs and a lot of that stuff. But that whole era started coming back to me. These were cars I always wanted and these were cars I always loved. I could never afford them at the time, and I was like, “Okay, let’s start seeing what’s out there.”
At the same time I was like, “I think it’s kind of undervalued.” Because I have a lot of friends who are super into Porsches and there’s always obviously always the Ferrari contingent. I was like, “Okay, this late 80’s early 90’s German, I think it’s a bit undervalued.” They’re such dope cars, and it’s a little under the radar. I started to get more serious about it.
The wide body I’d never seen in real life. I had never seen one as a kid, I hadn’t even seen it in a poster.
I started seeing pictures of this one more recently. I just spent more and more time hunting. The clincher was when I realized that so many of them had gone to Japan because I spent a lot of time in Japan touring. I love everything Japanese. I dig the aesthetic. So that was when the penny dropped.
TG: I’m looking at the name plate. There’s a stamped part of it that’s in Japanese.
TS: Yeah. Exactly. Under the shifter there’s some instructions in Japanese. When you flip the gas thing it’s all in Japanese.
The Japanese make everything look so good. I was massively into radio control cars. That was all Japanese.
Even the logo on my record label is a rip-off of that.
When I got the car I got the service histories. In typically obsessive Japanese fashion it’s got just the receipts for everything. There are archived photos of the people doing the work to prove its authenticity. The Japanese connection also made me feel very at ease about a purchase because I spent enough time working with Japanese people to know there’s a certain baseline integrity which in the car world is kind of important.
I decided I was going to try to find one. Then I made friends with a guy, you probably know of him, Symbolic in San Diego.
TG: Yeah. I was just looking at their website.
TS: I got to talking to them. Gradually developed a bit of a relationship. They had access to a couple.
There were about forty of the AMGs that went to Tokyo. They were owned by either very wealthy people at the time or corporations. The reason a few of them started to surface these past few years is just age. A couple of the collectors were dying or they didn’t want to look after them any more. I guess among collectors there maybe it’s bad vibes to buy someone else’s car or something. A few of them started coming over.
TG: What’s it like to drive?
TS: Unlike a Jay Leno who’s actually driven everything, I haven’t driven that many cars. I’ve driven my share, but I’m not a track guy. I’d like to be one day.
I can’t compare it to too much. It drives really well. It’s actually surprisingly chill to drive. The engine, which was pretty crazy for the time by today’s standards, 300 hp, doesn’t feel so crazy. The curve is pretty smooth. It’s an automatic with a relatively smooth automatic transmission. I love how it drives. It drives like a heavy S-Class.
I guess it doesn’t feel too modern. Cars are so good now. The cars now are so great, it doesn’t even matter. They all drive so well.
I love how it drives. There are other things about it that I love. I love that it’s very low to the ground. I always adored the interiors. I’ve had a lot of the newer S-Classes. I had a BMW 750. I have a lot of the new premium German cars and the interiors can’t touch the old ones. The quality of the leather, the wood. Nothing is plastic. I guess everyone says that, but it’s really true.
With my car, I love the fact the car was fully hand built by AMG. You look inside and every single part is an AMG part or a Bosch part but it’s special. It’s pretty amazing. I don’t even know all the details, but when I sit down with a mechanic, they just start pointing out, “Oh, that’s the original AMG anti-lock brake box. These cables are different. The bolts are different.” Cliché or not, when you feel that kind of hand built bespoke vibe it’s pretty cool. It feels nice.
TG: What kind of reaction does it get from your buddies?
TS: A mixed reaction. At some point in my life I fell in love with that stealth idea. That slightly more undercover idea which I guess typified by older M5’s. I’m kind of like that in how I dress. It’s an aesthetic. So it’s funny because this car you get a mixed reaction. For car people, if they know, they can pretty much freak out because they’ve never seen one on the road and they can’t believe the condition it’s in. I get some wild thumbs up and giant grins and some real staring.
Then there are some people who I think it’s a kit car. If they even notice it, they think I’m like a drug dealer from ’89 who made a lot of money and lost it all and is still driving this thing.
I think a lot of people don’t notice it. They think it’s an old late 80’s coupe. But in general I think that Montreal’s not really a car city. It’s not like California or something.
Among my friends I’ve got pretty crazy cred. Even among the little car community here that knows it because there’s not many of them. There’s certainly not many people that are going to those extreme levels to pick a car. There’s loads of people driving their vintage Porsche’s, there are E-type people and you’ve got your Ferrari people. There’s not that many people who are like me. It’s still kind of niche.
I’m happy with it. I love it.