1985 Mercedes-Benz 500SEC

When I brought home a nautical blue W126 last month, I was pretty chuffed to find a car in such an attractive and unusual color. But ever since then, I’ve been seeing nautical blue Benzes pop up left, right and center. I hadn’t really noticed them before, but it turns out that color code 929 isn’t as rare as I first thought. Still, it is gorgeous, and looks just as nice on the C126 coupe as it does on my W126 sedan. This particular car was spotted by fellow contributor Andrew H. It’s a Euro-spec 500SEC, powered by a version of the 5.0 liter M117 motor unsaddled by US emissions restrictions. That means it should be good for about 250 hp, give or take. Performance won’t be blistering – the SEC is more of a grand tourer than a sports car – but that motor is definitely more potent than the one offered in the US-spec 500 from the same period.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1985 Mercedes-Benz 500SEC on eBay

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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. On acceleration from low RPM there was a definite hesitation and the car felt sluggish, slower than the other 300s I had driven before. The economy gauge on the dash also wouldn’t peg left on idle, as I know it should. In fact, at startup it was nearly in the middle. I’ve had a Mercedes with the M103 engine before and I knew this could be caused by vacuum leaks or problems with the CIS-E fuel injection system. So it was off to a mechanic for diagnosis.

Mechanic 1 said that there was a vacuum leak inside the fuel distributor and that I needed to buy a new one. He said I could take my chances with a cheap one from eBay, or he could get me a re-manufactured unit for $600. I had never been to this shop before. I only went there because my preferred mechanic couldn’t fit me in for another week. I wasn’t sure I could trust him. So I held out for a second opinion.

A week later mechanic 2, a Benz specialist to which I used to take my 190E, said the fuel distributor was fine. He said that the car was running rich – which would explain the poor starting and running and condition – because the 02 sensor had failed and the duty cycle was stuck at 90%. So the first line of attack was to install a new 02 sensor.

Unfortunately, even with the new sensor onboard he couldn’t dial in the fuel mixture correctly, though he was able to lean it out considerably. Cold starts were still hard but the car was running much better than before.

Suspecting a short or another sensor problem somewhere, he eventually diagnosed a broken fuel injection ECU/ECM, the black box behind the carpet in the front passenger footwell. Reading the threads on the forums, I gather that the ECU provides pre-programmed settings for the air/fuel mixture on cold starts before the 02 sensor reaches operating temperature and takes over. Apparently ECUs rarely fail, but when they do, they produce symptoms like the ones I had been experiencing.

I ordered a used ECU from eBay that matched the part number on my old unit. Once it arrived, I put it in myself (it’s as easy as changing a battery) and crossed my fingers. The car started from cold on the first turn of the key and settled into a smooth idle. Success! I took it back to mechanic 2 for a final adjustment of the fuel mixture, and then took the car for an emissions inspection. It passed with flying colors.

Now that it’s finally running properly, I love it. The interior, in mint condition, is a very comfortable and relaxing place to be. I look forward to doing long distance trips in it with my wife, who approves of the passenger airbag. All the electrical accessories work, including the heat, A/C and original Becker radio. The nautical blue exterior really is gorgeous and I’ve received numerous compliments from strangers in the short time I’ve been driving it. There are a few blemishes in the paint, some small scratches here and there, but that’s about it. I’ll probably have it gone over with a dual action buffer at some point.

Some people complain about the 300SE/L being too slow, but I think the performance is fine for what it is. It pulls quickly enough in city traffic and cruises admirably on the highway. The handling is also nowhere near as boat-like as I feared it would be. I think this is where the short wheelbase SE really excels over the long wheelbase SELs. I do miss the E34 525i which this car replaces – it was admittedly a much more spritely car to drive. In an ideal world, I would have kept both.

I texted the seller in the vain hope he might offer me some money back. He had, after all, assured me that it needed no repairs. I’ve received no reply, and I suppose his silence speaks volumes. I think I learned a valuable lesson here. I will probably never buy another car sight unseen again. Not unless it’s from someone I know I can trust. I will also not be going back to mechanic 1.

– Craig

1987 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL with 28k miles

I’ve made no secret of my love for the W126 on these pages. Produced between 1979 and 1991, they date from a period when Mercedes-Benz produced over-engineered cars with an unrivaled reputation for durability and quality. The W126 sat at the top of the range, offering the highest levels of luxury, safety and refinement that money could buy. Whenever I see one on the road today, especially if it’s in nice condition, I immediately think “old money.” Many well-heeled owners, too attached to part with them and wealthy enough to afford the upkeep, simply held on to their cars, replacing parts as necessary. It’s not unusual to see them being driven by their original owners, and buyers usually don’t have to look too hard to find one-owner examples in good condition. With a $20k price tag and only 28k miles on the odometer, this one falls into “collector” territory.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1987 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL

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1990 Mercedes-Benz 500SEC

I probably don’t feature as many vehicles from the other side of the pond as I should, but today’s car is a great starting point. This 1990 500SEC for sale in London sports the amazing color of Nautical Blue and to make it even better, is for sale at a reasonable cost. But because this is a right hand drive car, there are a couple different things than what you are normally used to seeing on the C126.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1990 Mercedes-Benz 500SEC on eBay

Year: 1990
Model: 500SEC
Engine: 5.0 liter V8
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Mileage: 169,021 mi
Price: £6,250 ($7,840)

Flagship from the 90’s Mercedes W126 500 SEC pillar-less Coupe. Finished in Nautical Blue, automatic gearbox. Covered 169,021 documented miles. HPI Clear. Options on this car from new include. Heated seats, electric front memory seats, air conditioning, self levelling steering wheel, electric mirrors, sun roof, cruise control and two tone horn. Tool kit and first aid kit present.

Recently acquired this car however, due to business commitments it has to sell. The previous owner lovingly looked after the car and had it in his ownership for the past 12 years. The vehicle was dry stored in a garage, hence it presents in very good condition with 169,021 miles. It has its original book pack and service book including 3 sets of keys. The service book is fully stamped (Mercedes history up to 96k and independent specialist thereafter) and there are accompanying service invoices to verify the provenance of this outstanding car. In addition, the service file has old MOT certificates.

The Mercedes-Benz W126 was a series of S-Class automobiles manufactured by Mercedes-Benz between 1979 and 1992. Premiering in September 1979 as the successor to the W116 line, the W126 was the second generation to officially bear that prestigious designation, an abbreviation for the German Sonderklasse or “special class.” It introduced many Mercedes-Benz safety innovations, including the first seatbelt pretensioners.
The W126 was initially offered with straight-six, V8, and a turbocharged diesel engine for the sedan. A C126 2-door coupé versions was introduced in September 1981.

The W126’s twelve-year production run between 1979 and 1991 was the longest of any S-Class generation since the first “S” designated top-class models were built in the mid-1950s, the 300 S and 300 Sc.

Please call to arrange a viewing – 07703 662 064 – Matthew

I’m glad I found this car because it shows how different cars are optioned in different parts of the world. This is actually a 500SEC which means it’s the five liter V8 as opposed to the 560 with the 5.5 liter that North Americans got in the later years of the W126 SEC. The 560SEC, as well as a 420SEC, was also available in the UK for purchase in right hand drive models. What’s interesting is inside the car you have a non-airbag steering wheel and manual climate control but you do get heated front seats. Another interesting thing with the right hand drive cars is the parking brake release is a giant pull handle as opposed to a small lever that is flush with dash. It’s all the things that make these cars different from one market to another but I guess you were none the wiser if you bought this thing new in 1990 to being with.

Otherwise, this is a really nice example. The paint is spectacular and the interior is surprisingly very clean for having almost 170,000 miles on it. One thing is highly overlooked is that these cars still have ‘euro’ bumpers despite having the same shape as North American spec cars. The euro bumpers protrude out from the rest of the body far less than what you are normally used to seeing. It gives the profile of the car a much more compact look and in the eyes of most, it’s more attractive.

The price of the car is only £6,250 ($7,840) and that raised an eyebrow. Like Carter’s S6 4.2 Avant and Craig’s M5, this example seems like a heck of a deal. If this was a left hand drive car in the US, you could easily ask over $12,000 for it seeing how the market for clean SECs is taking off.

– Andrew

Tuner Tuesday: 1985 Mercedes-Benz 190E AMG Widebody

If you want a fast tuner small sedan from the 1980s, you basically have two options: Alpina is the go-to favorite, and if you’re a bit different you find a Hartge. That’s it, really, because while companies like Abt modified Audi 80/4000s and occasionally you might run across a Callaway Turbo Jetta GLi, there just wasn’t much else out there. For Mercedes-Benz, you could of course buy their in-house tuned Cosworth 190E, but AMG seemed to focus on the larger W124 and W126 chassis instead of the W201. That is, of course, except for their 911-fast 190E 3.2 and 3.4 – cars seldom seen. Before we go any farther, this isn’t one of those mega-motored cars, from everything I can tell. What it appears to be, though, is a clean and tidy looking 190E in a quite rare color with some pretty awesome period AMG details; in this case, the ultra-rare widebody kit from Affalterbach:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1985 Mercedes-Benz 190E AMG on Craigslist

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