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

1990 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC

1990 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC

Based on a slightly shortened version of the W126 S-class sedan, the SEC coupe was introduced in 1981 and sold until the platform was retired in 1991. Retaining the elegant and stately looks of its limousine cousin, as well as its extraordinarily high levels of build quality and safety, the two-door, pillar-less body shape took all the elements that made the S-class such a great car and repackaged them into something a little more rakish and sexy. It’s no accident that ads for these cars often make reference to Miami Vice: the SEC is associated for many with the cocaine fueled excesses of the 1980s. But look past the wide boy image and you’ll find a grand tourer that is more about driving vast distances while riding a wave of torque than racing between stop lights. As with the sedan, values for these are a bit all over the place these days, with mint examples fetching $20k plus. But what if you’re looking for a budget-friendly entry into the SEC world? This high mileage example for sale in Tuscon, AZ with a few disclosed faults may fit the bill.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1990 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC on Benzworld

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

1985 Mercedes-Benz 500SEC

1985 Mercedes-Benz 500SEC

Last week I wondered what kind of W126 S-class you could buy if you had an unlimited budget and wanted one in practically brand new condition. That search yielded a gorgeous, pearl black on black, ultra-low mileage ’89 560SEL, which ultimately sold for a very respectable $21k. I thought I’d play the same game this week, only this time I went on the hunt for a coupe. The SEC (or “C126”), designed by legendary Bruno Sacco, was based on a slightly shortened version of the sedan chassis. While the car retains many of the same graceful and elegant lines of its four door sibling, the coupe sports a sexy, pillarless profile that changes the character of the car. If the 80s stock broker was chauffeured to Wall Street in the SEL during the week, he drove the SEC to wild parties in the Hamptons on the weekends.

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

1989 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL

1989 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL

The nice thing about the W126 platform S-class is that you can still find a car suit to suit every budget. A quick look on local Craigslist throws up several examples in various states of repair for a few grand. And some of them look pretty clean. But of course, as the old adage goes, there’s nothing as expensive as a cheap Mercedes. And cars at that end of the market, particularly the V8s, are likely to need some costly repairs at some point or another, just as a matter of course. But what if you were in the enviable position of having an unlimited budget and a desire for a W126 in almost brand-new, showroom condition? What kind of money would you have to spend, and what would it get you? Perhaps this mint condition, range-topping 560SEL with an incredibly low 39k miles on the odometer is the answer.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1989 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL on eBay

1990 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL

1990 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL

Readers of my posts will know that earlier this month I was on the brink of swapping my E34 5-series for a short-wheelbase W126. But the vicissitudes of life have a way of intruding into even the best-laid plans, and at the last minute I had to pull out of the deal. Both the buyer lined up for my car and the seller of the W126 were saintly in their understanding, for which I remain grateful. So I continue to daily drive the 525i. Since I’m going to hang onto it for a while longer, I decided to do a bit of tidying up, replacing the sagging headliner and refreshing some front suspension components. Meanwhile, I continue to keep a watchful eye on W126 market. A short-wheelbase 300SE was top of my list, but closely followed by the 420SEL. With these, you get the additional torque of the 4.2 liter V8, but without the costly-to-repair hydro-pneumatic suspension that comes on the 560.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1990 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL on eBay

1984 Mercedes-Benz 500SEL

1984 Mercedes-Benz 500SEL

Early buyers of the W126 in America had to make do with the relatively anaemic 3.8 liter V8 in the  380SEL. Thirsty and underpowered, it was a bit of a disappointment. Meanwhile, European customers were offered the better performing 500SEL, which was powered a 5.0 liter version of the M117 block good for about 240hp. Although MB USA eventually relented in the face of demand and brought the car over by official channels, early Euro-spec examples pop up for sale in the US every now and again, since many of them made it over to these shores via the gray market.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1984 Mercedes-Benz 500SEL on eBay

1988 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC

1988 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC

Last week I looked at a low mileage 1991 560SEC and explained while I think they are amazing cars, buying a ultra low mileage one isn’t the best decision if you want to fully enjoy them. Today’s C126 for sale in New York has a little more miles and is a little less pricey that maybe makes it a little better option if you are looking for a great SEC.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC on Craigslist

1983 Mercedes-Benz 300SD

1983 Mercedes-Benz 300SD

Powered by the legendary five cylinder OM617, the sort of motor for which Mercedes-Benz earned their reputation as manufacturers of “million mile engines,” the W126 300SD was a classy and reliable ride, offering a frugal option for S-class owners not perturbed by a clackety-clack sound coming from the front end of their luxury car. This engine would be replaced in 1985 by the OM603 six cylinder unit (later enlarged to 3.5 liters) that, while offering more power, was susceptible to a number of very serious problems (a fault with the trap oxidizer – part of the emissions system – that could ruin the turbo, cylinder heads prone to overheating and cracking, bent rods and head gasket failures). So those looking for a diesel W126 would do well to consider an early, first generation car like this one.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1983 Mercedes-Benz 300SD

1991 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC

1991 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC

The Mercedes-Benz 560SEC quickly went from another used, old Mercedes to a modern classic that everyone suddenly wants. Yes, the W126 coupes have always been more desirable than the sedans but recently a huge demand gap has grown between the two. Finding a coupe for sale at typical well-used Mercedes prices is rare or when you do find a really nice one, be prepared to shell out a lot of money. The latter is the case today for this 1991 offered for sale in California.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC at Mercedes Heritage

1983 Mercedes-Benz 500SE AMG

1983 Mercedes-Benz 500SE AMG

“Pre-merger” AMG cars date from the period when the company was not yet officially part of Mercedes-Benz and instead existed as an independent tuner (it would be folded into the MB family in the early to mid 1990s). Back then, customers could upgrade their cars with AMG parts by choosing from a menu of cosmetic and mechanical upgrades and having them shipped from the production line to Affalterbach for modification (or, if they were in the US, having those parts installed by a locally authorized dealer, like the storied Beverly Hills Motoring Accessories). Early period AMG cars that show up for sale today offer a neat slice of the exotic 80s tuner world, but they present a number of difficulties when it comes to authentication. This gray market, seemingly AMG modified 500SE is a good case in point.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1983 Mercedes-Benz 500SE AMG on eBay

1985 Mercedes-Benz 280SE

1985 Mercedes-Benz 280SE

The other day, Carter wrote up a gray-market, Signal Red 280SE. The Euro options and unusual color made for an attractive proposition, but that particular car had some mechanical needs making it a light project. This car, on the other hand, appears to be in need of no such work. Available in Europe but not sold in the US, the 280SE paired the 2.8 liter, six cylinder M110 gasoline engine with the short wheelbase version of the W126 chassis. While that might seem a small motor for such a large car, it made about 185 hp in Euro guise, a perfectly adequate, though certainly not blistering, amount of power. Like the US-spec 300SE/SEL, it might need a bit of shove at the low end, but once up to highway speeds it should cruise around capably.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1985 Mercedes-Benz 280SE on eBay

Winter Project: 1982 Mercedes-Benz 280SE

Winter Project: 1982 Mercedes-Benz 280SE

While Andrew and Craig have been the typical purveyors of all-things Mercedes-Benz over the past few months, I’m always drawn to the clean, simple and classic look of the 70s and 80s MB products offered in the rest of the world. Today’s 1982 280SE is a perfect example of this. A W126.026, this European specification S-Class is powered by the M110 double-overhead cam inline-6 which was never offered to U.S. customers. Admittedly, the engine looks a bit lost in the bay you’re used to seeing V8s in, but it’s a proven unit with adequate power – 185 raging ponies, to be exact. However, the 280SE is the short wheelbase model and with European bumpers and missing some of the heavy luxuries, performance should be on par with some of the U.S. spec early V8s, if not better. Even if buying the short wheel base, six-cylinder model may sound a bit ego-deflating, these Euro-spec cars always get my attention:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1982 Mercedes-Benz 280SE on eBay

1986 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL

1986 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL

4I have an itch to buy a W126. Yesterday I test drove a 420SEL that popped up for sale on my local Craigslist (not today’s car – we’ll get to that in a moment). The one I drove was offered at a fair price and when I noticed that it was parked only a few blocks away from my house, I felt obliged to take a look. I had never driven an SEL before. Here are my first impressions: 1. They really are huge. The hood alone seemed to stretch out for miles in front of me. I dreaded to think how far back the trunk extended. “What a nightmare this must be to park in the city,” I thought to myself, as I delicately threaded the car through DC morning traffic. 2. They look glorious in person, even when a bit dinged up, as this one was. 3. When you push down on the throttle you don’t so much surge forward, as waft gently toward the horizon on a magic carpet of dignified torque. Despite being smitten with the car I let it go in the end, concluding that, with snow and ice season just around the corner, I couldn’t justify picking up a RWD, nose-heavy V8 as a daily driver. But I did spend the afternoon gazing wistfully at other 420s for sale on the internet. That’s how I stumbled across this lovely, low mileage example for sale in Florida.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1986 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL on eBay