The C126, the coupe based on the W126 S-class, is a firm favorite around here. And for good reason: the lines penned by famed designer Bruno Sacco have aged very well, and these cars still command great road presence even today. With the C126, you get the stately good looks and bank-vault build quality of an S-class, but repackaged into a slinky, pillarless bodyshape. Collectors might want to park their money in ultra low mileage examples. But I think these cars deserve to be driven and enjoyed – they’re wonderful grand tourers, ideal for covering vast distances while keeping the passengers inside cosseted in safety, comfort and style.
Now that we are just about done drooling over Craig’s new 300SE, it’s time to take a look at another W126. This 1985 380SE for sale in Kentucky offers up another shade of blue on the S-Class, the darker Nautical Blue Metallic. This one also has two extra cylinders with the M116 3.8 liter V8. Fortunately for everyone, this Gen 1 W126 has been highly cared for and shows only a hair over 45,000 miles. But are you willing to pay the price?
Engine: 3.8 liter V8
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Mileage: 45,100 mi
“ONE OWNER! Garage kept Only 45k Original Miles! Owner invested $6400 in upgrades recently…you will NOT find this year and mileage anywhere on the internet. Near perfect condition! Very Very minor paint chips…almost cannot see them. Trunk appears to have never been used. Leather is perfect and the overall interior is pristine. This is a one of a kind car and there is NOT anything like it on the entire internet for this year, make, and model. No fading in paint and the tires are newer. Chrome has no blemishes. Just a beautiful car. Mechanically it runs and drives like new. You will not be disappointed.”
From 1980 to 1985, the 380SE was sold along side the 380SEL, 500SEL and of course the diesel 300SD in the US. In 1984, the M116 in the 380SE/L was upgraded to a dual-row timing chain to fix chain failure issues that the earlier engines suffered from. The dual-row 380SE/L only lasted until 1985 until it was replaced by the 4.2 liter V8 M117 that birthed the 420SE/L that carried on until the end of W126 production. This being a 1985 car, it’s a far more desirable car in the eyes of enthusiasts and anyone who just wants to maintain these cars to go forever.…
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.…
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.
Buying a high mileage car can be a bit scary, even if it’s a Mercedes with a reputation for longevity. Odometer readings can have a profound psychological effect on our perception of a car’s health (and worth), making people leery of high mileage cars. But in truth, at a certain stage in a car’s life, maintenance history and upkeep become far more important than any number on the dash. This is particularly true of the W126. A low mileage car that has been sitting is liable to cause you more problems than a high mileage one that has been driven and cared for by a meticulous owner. The upshot is that if you shop around and choose wisely, you can score a bargain on a high mileage car. This 300SEL, for example, has 286k miles on the odometer and a cheap price tag attached. Offered for sale by a knowledgeable and friendly Benzworld contributor, it offers a budget friendly entry point into W126 ownership backed up by plenty of maintenance history.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.