Recently, I’ve been going on and on about how great a car the W116 Mercedes-Benz 300SD is. This came about from my look at the incredible 1980 with 8,200 miles on it for a not-so-inexpensive price of nearly $60,000. Granted, that is the most expensive W116 300SD in the world and it probably isn’t in line with what the car is really worth at all. Thankfully, there are some nice other examples out there – I’m not talking about Craigslist specials that look like they’ve been housing a family of possums for the past 11 years. One such W116 is this 1979 up for sale in Phoenix, Arizona. Painted in the rare Milan Brown, this 300SD has a cool background story of being in the same family since new, but most importantly, has been thoroughly loved throughout the years.
Last week I took a skeptical look at a 1979 Mercedes-Benz 300D with a claimed 24,000 miles. I say claimed because either that mileage is incorrect or someone had lots of hard love with it. Somehow I ended up on a tangent on the W123 vs W116, cars I both currently own, and how I much prefer the W116 chassis. I showed this in the 300D listing, but one of the coolest things that was included when I bought my 1980 300SD was a little snippet from a car magazine from sometime when these cars were new in 1978-1980. It reads, ”In the final analysis, that’s what makes the 300SD such a special car. It is prestigious as anything but a Rolls, but also frugal as an economy car and faster over the road than almost anything. It also feels so secure. All things considering, including the fuel economy, the 300SD is the best sedan in the world. Period.” High praise for sure, but you’d expect that level of car from something that cost over $30,000 (roughly $100,000 now) when new. It’s tough to say the W116 300SD didn’t stand the test of time either as nearly 39 years later, I’m still driving mine every day. Not a single thing rattles or shakes in the interior and I get a consistent 27 miles per gallon. Now if I could just find some nice Euro bumpers I’d be all set.
All that brings me to today’s car, a 1980 with just 8,197 miles on it. The story with this car is that the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in California got it’s hands on it after first servicing with 1,300 miles and then giving it a full reconditioning in 2009. I believe the Classic Center actually bought this car a few years and put it up for sale with 7,900 miles for a tidy sum of $50,000. Now, this car has the nearly 8,200 and the price has gone up even more. How much?
I’ve been featuring a lot of really pristine cars of late almost entirely thanks to their low mileage. The reality is these cars are actually pretty few and far between. The overwhelming majority of cars, even German ones that hold a special place in our hearts, are used on a daily basis to rack up the miles and in turn, the wear and tear. But today’s car, a 1985 Mercedes-Benz 300SD up for bid in California, managed to defy the norm and not only rack up a bunch of miles, but stay almost perfect in the process of doing so. How so? Well, it probably took the perfect storm.
I love a really well-kept Mercedes-Benz W116. Maybe because I own one, but I can’t be alone in feeling this way. These cars feel as solid as anything when everything is sorted and won’t cost you a ton of money to buy and maintain one. All the gas-powered W116s are fine cars and the first ever production turbo diesel car to go on sale in the United States in 1978, the 300SD, was a gem as well. I have a hard time justifying ever selling my 300SD because for the money, nothing can replace it equally and frankly, there is nothing wrong it. So when I see these W116 300SDs come up for sale now and then I always take a closer look to see how other owners treat theirs. Today’s 1979 model for sale in Oregon has me envious and jealous thanks to a few OEM upgrades.
The last few W126 Mercedes-Benz I looked have fell more towards the collector car status in this 1987 300SDL with an outstanding interior and this nearly perfect 1987 560SEL. Today’s W126, a 1984 300SD for sale in California, isn’t one of those cream puff cars but it is far from a beaten up example either. This OM617 S-Class has just enough miles where you don’t feel bad about piling on some more but not too many where you feel like an engine overhaul is around the corner. Finished in Lapis Blue with gray leather this 300SD could be the perfect daily driver. What do you think?
File this one under another great Mercedes-Benz that you usually see with hundreds of thousands of miles on but for whatever reason has almost none. This 1984 300SD shows a crazy 11,300 miles and looks every bit the part. You can totally see why people plunked down almost $40,000 (over $93,000 in 2017 dollars) for these when they are new. It’s frugal, handsome, secure, has enough to power to get out of its own way and all this won’t cost you a fortune to keep going. Except this car, as you might have guessed, will need a small fortune to take home with you.
Engine: 3.0 liter 5 cylinder
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Mileage: 11,300 miles
Single owner SD through 2015.
Rare 904 Midnight Blue with Creme leather.
Spectacular preservation from new.
Spotless engine bay.
Runs and drives beautifully.
What is there to say about this car? I overwhelmingly prefer the gen 1 (1981-1985) W126s over the later ones even though they do look a little more dated, but I think that’s the beauty of them. Give me a clean set of 14 inch Bundts with a OM617 and I’m as satisfied as I can possibly be in owning a car. This is a great color combination with the Midnight Blue and tan interior even with those terrible North America spec headlights.
Like I said, all this is going to cost you. $35,000 is a ton of money for any W126 but it’s tough to fault the seller for asking it. The market for clean golden-era Mercedes diesels isn’t slowing down but I wouldn’t bet on this car gaining anymore value once you start driving it. As I’ve said before, miles don’t scare me one bit so I’m really not the guy that this car appeals to. Cars like these are always fun to see in their original glory, but I’ll gladly take home one of these for less than a third of the price and still enjoy it just as much.
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.
Another day, another old diesel Benz. I know, I know. But when I saw this one I couldn’t resist. Yesterday I wrote up an ‘87 300SDL. While that car presented very nicely, in truth the better W126 diesels are either the early, short wheelbase models (’81-’85), like today’s car, or the very late ones (’90-’91), during which time the short and long wheelbase diesels shared the same engines. As noted yesterday, the diesel motors in the cars in the period in between had a few design faults that could potentially affect their longevity (quite unusual for a Mercedes product). This particular car is an ’85, the last year in which you’d find the legendary OM617 engine under the hood.
A W126 diesel provides all the comfort, style and luxury of the legendary S-class while giving your wallet less of a pounding at the pump. There were three diesel engines available for this platform: one five cylinder unit (a 3.0 liter offered in the 300SD between 1980 and 1985) and two six cylinder units (a 3.0 liter offered in the 300SDL between 1986 and 1987, and a 3.5 liter offered in the 350SD/SDL between 1990 and 1991). These later engines were afflicted by a number of reliability problems, quite out of character for a Mercedes diesel product. So if you really want an oil-burning W126, the safest bet is to stick with one of the earlier cars, like this one. Not only does this ’82 300SD have the more reliable five cylinder engine, it’s presented in a particularly fetching and suitably classy shade of green.
For some time, the W116 has been stuck in no man’s land value wise; not as new or attractive as the W126 that replaced it, and not as classic a design as the W108 series had been. It’s not that it’s an unattractive car at all, but unfortunately it’s bookended by arguably better looking models and unfortunately – outside of some real stunners – the value of Mercedes-Benz sedans falls below coupes and convertibles. For a classic Mercedes-Benz enthusiast on a budget, then, the W116 offers a lot of vintage Mercedes-Benz build quality and longevity on a budget. There are plenty to choose from, too – lest we not forget this is a S-Class Mercedes, so the price was stratospheric when new and even lightly used. Option out a 6.9 to the tune of around $50,000 in 1980, and you’d have the equivalent buying power of nearly triple that amount today – roughly $143,500 in 2015 money. And they were laden with top-end technology for the time; recently I covered a series of Volkswagen Rabbits, where everything outside of the tires was an optional extra. In the S-Class, you had electric nearly everything, electronic climate control and in the case of the 6.9 you threw in hydropneumatic suspension. These were, and still are, impressive vehicles, many of which were maintained to a high level yet are available for a fraction of their original investment. Today I’m taking a look at the slowest and fastest of the bunch – a 300SD and a 450SEL 6.9. Which is the classic S-Class that woos you?