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They’ll never be another Mercedes-Benz like the W116 S-Class. In the late 1960s when these were developed, the philosophy was just different. I’m really not trying to be the “They don’t make them like they used to!” guy, but these were just built differently. Bank vault-like doors are replaced by doors where closing as softly as possible is the goal. Don’t get me wrong, I love new cars and would absolutely love a new S-Class, but a properly sorted W116 is just so satisfying. That explains why I still have one in my modest collection.
Today’s car, a 1977 280SE up for sale in California, pre-dates the 300SD turbodiesel and is the little brother to the 450SEL and legendary 6.9. It isn’t a powerful car by any means, but sturdiness and longevity is the name of the game here. Which is probably why we are still checking it out some 46 years later.
At some point, you have to throw in the towel. A car that gets too far gone and well past the point of mathematical sense to fix, or try to dish it off as a parts car. Ideally, you are never faced with the situation, but when you are, you probably have to take a real hard look from an outside perspective. I think today’s car, a 1975 Mercedes-Benz 280SL, is one of those situations.
This is admittedly a rare Euro car with the slim bumpers, nice headlights, and M110 inline-six engine. Other than that, it is a typical R107 that there are more than plenty out there at every price level. The problem is, the condition is not good – not good at all. Is it worth saving?
The US-spec C107 Mercedes-Benz SLC probably isn’t going to win any beauty contests. Mercedes had their hands tied with bumper and headlight regulations and probably knew people were going to buy their cars regardless, so they put a band aid on it and that is what we live with. In countries who didn’t have to live with antiquated regulations, things were much better. Slim chrome bumpers and flat headlights plus some engine and transmission choices that made everything just a little bit more exciting. Luck would have it, this is what we have today.
This is a 1980 280SLC that was sold new in Germany and imported to California some time ago. It has the M110 2.8 liter inline-6 paired with a 4-speed manual gearbox, a combo that is rare to say the least. This seems like a far cry from the lumpy V8 and sluggish automatic that was offered to the US buyers when new. Is this a Porsche 911 or E30 BMW M3? Of course not. It’s a car that wasn’t very attractive nor fun to drive and is now slight less of that. Right?
Update 11/17/19: This 280SE sold for ask – $3,692.
For as many really cool cars that I take a look at that have price tags north of $50,000 and a lot of times even $100,000, there are still some cars out there for almost no money at all and not because they’ve been sitting at a bottom of lake and/or running on two cylinders. Case in point, today’s car, a 1984 Mercedes-Benz 280SE. This is a German-market car that was never sold in the US and is as bottom of the range as you can get in the W126 hierarchy. Cloth interior, manual climate control, manual rear windows, and a not-so-powerful (but trusty) inline-six gas engine. Still, this is bottom of the barrel price for what looks like a really clean car. How can you say no?
For every Craiglist-special Mercedes-Benz R107 out there with its average condition and crazy price, there is one R107 that is actually worth the money. You wouldn’t believe the number of 450SLs and 380SLs I dig through day after day with phrases like ”Great condition” and ”A real peach” only to see they have tires on them from 1996 and the canvas top is full of mold. I chalk it up to nearly two-thirds of the 300,000 R/C107s built ending up in North America over the unheard of 18 year production run. Combine that with their durability and most people treating them like some sort of investment, and you now have a market flooded with R107s. As the baby boomers hit retirement and their three-bedroom ranch house has a for sale in the front yard, so does the SL in the garage. The overwheling majority of the time they are over priced (in my eyes) and there just aren’t many buyers out there for them. The W113 Pagoda is a much more attractive car and the R129 is a much more livable car with its modern amenities. You are left with the R107 right in the middle with its giant bumpers, four eye head lights and underwhelming performance numbers. However, there is a beacon of light for the R107. This car is none other than the 280SL 5-speed.