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Near-flagship status: 1988 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL vs. 1989 BMW 735iL


This post is in our archives. Links in this post have been updated to point to similar cars available to bid on eBay.

German manufacturers were riding high in the 1980s, solidifying their reputation as makers of some of the world’s best automobiles and introducing new models at a rapid clip. When it was introduced in 1980, the W126 Mercedes-Benz S-class was at the pinnacle of automotive technology. Almost a decade later, it was beginning to show its age but people still loved this car for it’s stately manner and stellar build quality. BMW took the executive car fight right to Stuttgart’s doorstep in 1987 with the introduction of the E32 7 series sedan. Larger and more powerful than its predecessor, this luxury sedan offered V12 power, eclipsing the 5.6 liter V8 at the top of the S-class range.

Today we’ll look at two of the lower-end models in the executive portfolio of Mercedes-Benz and BMW, both with under 30,000 miles on the clock. We’ll start with this 1988 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL for sale in Arizona.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL on Hemmings Motor News

Year: 1988
Model: 420SEL
Engine: 4.2 liter V8
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Mileage: 26,850 mi
Price: $28,500 Buy It Now

1988 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL, As good as it gets. Sep 2012 Starfest Concours class winner at MBCA meet in Arizona. The absolute best color combo. This car is for the owner who wants the best, Ready too drive or for more show wins, you choose. All of the usual options befitting this motorcar as well as 412 electric sliding roof. I am paring down my collection and need room. Please contact me with any questions. All docs and mileage is correct. Nothing needed for this car, just a new caretaker.

Price: $28,500 401-225-2090

After the W126’s facelift in 1986, there were two V8 models offered stateside, the top of the line 560SEL and this car, with its 4.2 liter V8. Along with six-cylinder and diesel options as well as short and long wheelbase lengths on certain models, the S-class was more customizable than its Bavarian counterpart. We’ve seen a few ultra low mileage W126s pass through GCFSB, but few have managed to break the $20,000 barrier. Last August, we saw a 1989 420SEL with about double the mileage sell for $13,500. Is this car worth more than twice that figure? Time will tell. But I think it’s safe to say with the increase in values of the 560SL roadster, the W126 might gain a bit of ground as well.

Next up, we’ll take a look at a 1989 BMW 735iL for sale in New York, this one being the long-wheelbase model powered by the 3.5 liter inline-6.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 BMW 735iL on eBay

Year: 1989
Model: 735iL
Engine: 3.5 liter inline-6
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Mileage: 22,062 mi
Price: Reserve auction

Selling this very rare and well preserved 1989 BMW 735il with 22,062 miles, NO accidents, rust or paintwork. 1-owner garage kept car. Interior and exterior are all in great shape. Car is mechanically sound, runs and drives great. No issues/stories.

Questions or concerns please call or text 516-655-0940

I always wonder about low mileage examples of cars that would have otherwise been used as intended. Given it was a one owner car, was it a stockbroker who kept a spare car at his house in the Hamptons? Or perhaps this was a commuter kept in the city for those jaunts down to lower Manhattan to the office. In any case, it would be nice to know more about the servicing history of this car. Not much color was provided by the dealer, but hopefully some history could be tracked down given its one owner history. The E32 7 series trails the W126 S-Class in terms of value. These are fairly complex cars to maintain given the period, no doubt a factor in keeping values a bit low. We haven’t seen many exchange hands at GCFSB, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would suspect a good example like this should bring somewhere around the $9,000 to $12,000 range.



  1. Brad
    Brad May 9, 2015

    Both gorgeous. Oh where have the Germans gone? So sad.

  2. Jeff Miller
    Jeff Miller May 9, 2015

    I’d take the Benz. But, there a perfectly good examples for under 20k. There’s even a white 560sec with similar mileage on ebay with a 29,500 BIN. Not sure this 420sel is worth the premium.

  3. GWG
    GWG May 9, 2015

    Beautiful cars. I’m more partial to the Mercedes, the W126 to me is just unparalleled in terms of style, wonderful ride and build quality that shows in so many details.

    This 420SEL looks like a really great example, but for me a collector car would have to be a 1991 with the last year’s refinements, including the lovely sound system and passenger airbag.

    When I bought mine, I had a hard time deciding on which engine to go for and test-drove quite a few. The 560 is really quite fast, even compared to many current cars, but in this kind of car, I found it a little overkill and not needed for this car’s intended purpose: effortless, relaxing long-distance driving. To me it seemed, it would be more at home on the German Autobahn, where the higher runnings costs might make more sense.

    I wasn’t really impressed by the 420 – it didn’t really feel faster than the 300 but was heavier in front, used more petrol and costs a little more to maintain. I also like the serviceability of the 300 more. I liked it so much in the W126 that I decided to also go for a 300 in the SL I recently bought.

  4. Aaron
    Aaron May 21, 2015

    W126 all day long. I agree with the above comment re: the better interior of the latest cars–particularly the seats which, in the 1990-91 cars, don’t sag or get all bouncy with age. That one detail alone always keeps my interest in the final run cars.

    And that being said, my ’91 420SEL just rolled 316K last week and the seats still feel as they did when the car was new.

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