1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

I’ve been living with my W126 300SE for several months now. In that time I’ve clocked up about 1,500 miles and taken the car on a few road trips in the mid-Atlantic region. Apart from a couple of initial hiccups (which I wrote about here), it has been a pleasure to own and a real joy to drive. Comfortable, stately and classically good looking, my friends joke that all it needs is a set of ambassadorial flags on the front bumper. It’s true that the 3.0 liter motor lacks the low-end torque made by the larger V8 models – I have to use the kick-down switch at the bottom of the throttle pedal more often than I did in my smaller W201. But once up to cruising speeds on the highway, the 300 behaves much like the 420 and 560. The six cylinder M103 motor is robust and relatively easy to fix (except for the fuel injection system, which can be a bloody nightmare when it goes wrong). And the proportions of the short-wheelbase exterior are, to my eye at least, just right.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on eBay

Craig finally buys a 300SE, but it’s not all plain sailing …

Craig finally buys a 300SE, but it’s not all plain sailing …

As readers will know, I’ve been on the lookout for a 300SE for a while now. In fact, one of the first cars I wrote up for GCFSB was a 300SE, which should tell you something. After a couple of false starts, I finally have a W126 I can call my own.

I found it on Craigslist while looking for cars to write up for the site. It stood out because it was in exactly the spec I’d been looking for. It was a 1989, a Gen II car with the more modern looking leather seats and updated exterior side cladding. It was in a great color combination, nautical blue over mushroom cream leather. And, unusually for a 1989 six cylinder, it was equipped with a passenger side airbag and upgraded Bose sound system, options that are more commonly found on the V8s. It also had only 116k miles on it, and was priced fairly. Unfortunately, it was located in Austin, TX, while I’m in Washington, DC.

After a lengthy back and forth with the seller, apparently an enthusiast who assured me it was in excellent running condition, I decided to buy it sight unseen and have it shipped to me. After a couple of weeks of delays on the shipping company’s end (I went with the cheapest option, and it showed), the car finally arrived. At first I was thrilled. It looked great.

But my excitement soon turned to disappointment as the hauler tried unload it. The car wouldn’t start. To be more precise, the car would start with a puff of black smoke out the back and die immediately. It did eventually start on the fourth or fifth try. It then ran rough for a minute or two, like it was misfiring, then smoothed out. My heart sank.

We eventually got it off the transporter and I gingerly began driving it, uncertain what the problem was.…

Double Take: Mercedes-Benz 300SE

Double Take: Mercedes-Benz 300SE

I planned to leave the W126 300SE alone for a while since I’ve posted quite a number of these over the last few months. But I couldn’t resist when I noticed not one, but two really nice examples pop up on eBay this week. While these short wheelbase, six cylinder cars are often overlooked in favor of the 420 and 560 SEL, they offer all the class and sophistication of the larger models with somewhat lower running costs, making the 300 a nice entry point for W126 ownership. They certainly don’t have the power of the V8. But on the plus side, the M103 motor is famously stout and will run forever without needing too much work. The only real weak spot is the headgasket, which tends to need replacing every 150k miles or so. I’ve test-driven a few of these recently myself, and I was pleasantly surprised by the driving experience. The 3.0 liter engine provided more shove on the backroads than I was expecting, certainly enough to get the car moving, even if it won’t win any drag races. And out on the highway it cruised effortlessly, which is what these cars are all about.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on eBay

1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE


Time for another of my wistful W126 posts. Although it’s generally seen as less desirable than the V-8 powered 420SEL and the 560SEL, I think the short wheelbase 300SE remains the hidden gem in the W126 lineup (though not for much longer if I keep posting them, I guess.) It’s not quick off the line, but that’s sort of besides the point. These are for cruising along on the interstate at 70MPH in quiet comfort, and a six cylinder model will do that just as well as a V8 while returning slightly better gas mileage (maybe 20MPG on the highway, if babied). There’s nothing quite like the way these feel. When the door shuts with a satisfying thunk like only a 1980s Mercedes door can, and you slide yourself into the helm and stare down the long hood to see the three pointed star at the end, you feel richer than your true bank balance suggests. It’s quite intoxicating.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on eBay

1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

I continue to keep an eye on the W126 market. Mint examples of the V8-powered 560SEL can sell for as much as $20k, though higher mileage examples that are rougher around the edges can be had for just a few grand. The W126 hasn’t yet achieved collector status – there are probably too many of them out there – but they remain an attractive proposition for those who want a luxurious, usable car for not too much money. This version of the S-class perhaps marked a watershed moment in Mercedes-Benz history, being among the last cars built to a standard rather than cost. I’ve written before about my love for the short wheelbase, six cylinder version, the 300SE. Though generally less desirable (and therefore cheaper) than the V8 420s and 560s, occasionally a really nice one pops up for sale with a higher price tag attached.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on Raleigh, NC Craigslist

1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1The other day I wrote up a Euro-Spec 190E 2.3-16, noting that the seller must have good taste in cars since there was a W126 pictured in the background. It turns out that W126 is also for sale. It’s a 300SE. These are my favorite old Benzes. Imposing and timeless, these old S-classes still look beautiful today and remind you of an era when Mercedes built stately cars of bank-vault solidity. It’s a real treat to see one in mint condition, which is not that uncommon. Many of the original, wealthy owners have held on to these since new and maintained them at whatever cost necessary. Looking like it just rolled out of the factory, this appears to be such a car.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on eBay

1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

The W126 generation S-class is stately and sublime, hailing from an era in which Mercedes built their cars to standard rather than cost. These cars offer graceful and classic MB styling, tank-like solidity and a relaxing and comfortable driving experience. The good news for anyone looking to pick one up today is that there’s a car out there to suit every budget. You can find everything from two grand hoopties to $20k+ museum pieces. While the 560SEL, the unadulterated, full-cream model, might be the most obvious choice for those looking for an 80s German luxury car, I’m often tempted by the more humble 300SE. The short wheelbase model is arguably prettier and better proportioned than the SEL, and the six cylinder engine in the 300 is cheaper to run and maintain than the V8s in the larger models.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on eBay

1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

As some readers will know, while I toyed with the idea of replacing my W201 with another old Mercedes for daily driving duties, on a whim I went with a similar era BMW instead. My E34 is a fine car, but I really miss driving a Benz. For that reason I like to torture myself by browsing them online. Lately, I’ve been obsessed by the W126. There’s one always parked outside my apartment building in DC. It has rust, faded paint, a broken bumper and a broken headlight. You could say it’s pretty beaten up. And yet, I’m still charmed by it every time I see it. I often think about buying one myself. At the moment I have a very long commute, which rules out the V8s on grounds of fuel economy. The diesels have their own problems, leaving the 300SE/SEL. I wouldn’t exactly call these “frugal,” but they do offer the best fuel economy in the W126 without going down the diesel route.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on eBay

1993 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1993 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

W1401

You spend a billion dollars on developing a car, it better be damn good. That’s what Mercedes-Benz was faced with when debuting the W140 S-Class. It had to every bit as good as the legendary W126 it was replacing and more. When it launched in 1991, opinions were mixed. Some say it was the last great over-engineered Mercedes that was built without cost in mind. Others say it wasn’t attractive with it’s body panels that look like slabs. Either way, 25 years later these cars still have me amazed at what it took to get this car — along with all of it’s advancements — into the hands of buyers who were willing to pay over 25% more than the W126 it replaced.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1993 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on eBay

1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

300SEMainSide

$7,000 doesn’t get you a whole lot of new car these days, but it is surprising just how much old Mercedes it will buy you. In fact that’s the asking price for this W126 S-class. Produced between 1979 and 1991, the W126 represents the pinnacle of Mercedes-Benz design and engineering from the period. Penned by the illustrious Bruno Sacco, it remains an extraordinarily handsome car, with taut lines and stately proportions. I saw one parked on the streets of Washington, DC the other day and literally got off my bike to stop and admire it for a few minutes. These cars are timeless and, even today, look perfectly at home parked in front of an embassy, ready to ferry a diplomat to some high level meeting.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on Autotrader

1988 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1988 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

I wasn’t an ordinary kid growing up. While most of my contemporaries were lusting after souped up Hondas and breathed on Volkswagens, I had my eyes on another car: the W126 S-class. Specifically, I was a fan of the 300SE. Ever the practical person, I realized that it might be more feasible to run the lesser engined S-class, with its durable inline-6 and slightly shorter length. This 1988 300SE for sale in Florida looks sharp in its black over saddle combination and is showing only 85,000 miles on the clock. With a low starting bid, I have a feeling this one is going to see a lot of action with bidding.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on eBay

1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SE Euro spec

1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SE Euro spec

It’s a testament to their design and engineering that you still see plenty of vintage Mercedes-Benzes on the road today, being used as any normal newer machine would. These cars were ahead of their time in performance and safety with style that has aged gracefully on many models. One of my favorite periods for the classics in the late 1980s, when cars like this 300SE were occupying space on the showroom floor amongst the R107 SLs and newly introduced 190 series sedans. This particular 300SE is a Euro spec model, with slimmer bumpers and flush headlamps that accentuate this car’s styling that blends modern and classic elements.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on eBay

1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

Over the last couple weeks a bunch of Mercedes-Benz 560SELs with low mileage cropped up, prompting us to feature a few of them. There’s no doubt that these were one of the most loved S class generations of all time. Advanced for their time, they also offered plenty of classic Mercedes style and durability to go along with the package. While I am a big fan of the flagship Benz of the period, I’ve maintained that my choice would be a short wheelbase 300SE, with the 3.0 liter inline six. It won’t win any races, but it’s a smooth engine and with less length, a more manageable drive around town.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on eBay

1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE

I feel sometimes as if I’m one of the few that appreciates the W126 300SE for what it is rather than what it isn’t. Sure, it doesn’t have a long wheelbase or a V8 under the hood, but it’s still a member of one of the most popular S class generations of all time. These cars were known for their durability and were a symbol of high status in the 1980s. Good ones are getting harder to find these days but if you aren’t up for the length or thirst of the larger W126s but still want the look, the 300SE could strike a nice balance. This particular one for sale in Michigan has been owned by one family and appears to have escaped the ravages of the northern winters.

Year: 1989
Model: 300SE
Engine: 3.0 liter inline-6
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Mileage: 88,488 mi
Price: $9,950

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1989 Mercedes-Benz 300SE on Hemmings Motor News

A very nice Mercedes Benz 300, 4 door sedan. This is a one family owned vehicle and is in exceptional condition, with only 88,488 actual miles on it. The exterior color is silver and the interior has tan leather seats. Power options include A/C, cruise control, seats, windows and locks. Safety features include anti-lock brakes and driver/passenger airbags. This vehicle is far above average and “books and records” are available to verify the mileage.

You don’t often see a silver Mercedes paired with a parchment interior and honestly, I’m not a fan of the look. Generally, I am not big on tan interiors to begin with, but in my opinion this interior would be better paired with Smoke Silver, black or a dark blue hue. The last 300SE we featured was listed at this exact same price and had but a few thousand miles less on the clock.…

1987 Mercedes-Benz 300SE 5-speed manual

1987 Mercedes-Benz 300SE 5-speed manual

On a recent trip to a BMW dealership, I perused the lot which was filled with a glut of new 3 series sedans. One thing was alarming. Out of about 50 cars, not one of them had a manual transmission. I’m fully that a lot of automatic and semi-automatic transmissions have advanced to the point where they are faster and more efficient than a normal manual transmission. However, that doesn’t make them any more fun. There will always be people out there, like myself, who just prefer to do things themselves. For me, changing gears is one of those tasks.

Not long ago you could still request a third pedal in cars you normally wouldn’t think would come so equipped, like this 1987 Mercedes-Benz 300SE. Most people wouldn’t want a manual transmission in an S-class sedan, which is reflected in the fact that few of these cars came so equipped. But, if highway cruising makes up the majority of your driving, a sizeable sedan like this with a smooth inline six and 5-speed manual could be just the ticket.

509

Year: 1987
Model: 300SE
Engine: 3.0 liter inline-6
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Mileage: 166,500 km (103,458 miles)
Price: €5,800 (~ $7,611 USD)

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1987 Mercedes-Benz 300SE 5-speed on Mobile.de

Automatic climate control, electric seats, ABS, leather seats, four electric windows, 15 hole alloy wheels, radio plus speaker preparation. Very nice car of French origin.

When I was younger, I remember getting into a W126 with a manual transmission on holiday in Europe. These aren’t the most dynamic cars but as a passenger, you felt connected to the road in a reassuring but comfortable manner. A lot of cars, especially those in the luxury class, tend to be aloof. Everything about the W126, from the solid catch of the door latch to the way it irons out undulations in the tarmac below gave a sense of involvement.…