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1985 Mercedes-Benz 300SE (W126) Review for Carspin.net

Discussion in 'The Mercedes-Benz Lounge' started by cawimmer430, Nov 4, 2005.

  1. cawimmer430

    cawimmer430 Well-Known Member

    Classic in the making

    In 1986, my father made a choice based on appearance and lifelong desire. At a used car dealership in München, Germany, he signed a check for a used 1985 Mercedes-Benz 300SE of the W126 S-Class series. Throughout his working life, my father had come into contact with cars bearing the three-pointed-star. As a young man for instance, he had to chauffeur his boss in the company 190D “Fintail” or drive the occasional Mercedes truck. The various stories my father shared with me encouraged my passion and love for the world oldest carmaker. This time it was different. It would be the first Mercedes-Benz he’d ever owned in his life.

    The W126 S-Class range may be more famous for cars like the mighty 560SEL, but the bestsellers were without question the efficient and robust 6-cylinder models. The W126 S-Class officially debuted in 1979 and would be the longest produced S-Class ever with production ending in 1991 (although production continued in South Africa until 1993). The starting models were the 280S, 280SE, 380SE (SEL) and 500SE (SEL). In 1985 came the facelift and new engines. The carburetted 280S was dropped and the 280SE was replaced by the 260SE and 300SE (SEL). Two new V8’s joined the range, the 420SE (SEL) which replaced the 380SE and the mighty 560SE (SEL). W126 aficionados consider the 300SE to be the best real-world W126 S-Class because of its blend of decent performance and fuel economy. Incidentally, SE stands for “S-Klasse” and “Einspritzer” (S-Class & Fuel Injection).


    For 15 faithful years, the 300SE transported our family in style and comfort around Germany and Europe. I remember sitting in the back row and how the most enjoyable thing to do was staring at that proud three-pointed-star on the long bonnet. Because we only used the car in the summers, the 300SE never experienced a winter and thus was never exposed to the elements of Alpine winters and salt. With the arrival of our new E320 in July of 2002, a family decision was made to keep the car because of its soon-to-be classic status and because we had taken such good care of it. Wouldn’t it be a shame to have this excellent condition Benz fall into the hands of someone who is just looking for a cheap buy? This is how I became the new owner of this old but trustworthy Mercedes S-Class.

    Truth be told, my first experiences with the car as a now experienced driver weren’t positive. From a European perspective, the car is fairly large and driving it in provincial Germany can be a bit of a drag at times. Local roads resemble a race track with tight bends and narrow passages that make piloting such a car an adventure. The 300SE isn’t much of a handler when being driven athletically through corners and the like. Another aspect I didn’t enjoy was the vague steering. It felt so lifeless and was slow to respond to driver input. Having come straight from a ’92 Mitsubishi Galant GTI, I was used to something a little more responsive.

    But having owned and driven the car for some time now, I can report that ownership has been nothing but pleasure. For one, the car is incredibly reliable, both mechanically and electrically. The absence of winter experiences also means that the car was rust-free and in even better shape than the best well-taken-care-of W126 with winter exposure.
    North American readers may be shocked to find an S-Class with cloth seats and manual windows, but truth be told, this is totally irrelevant and doesn’t change my opinion about the car one bit. The original owner was obviously very money conscious, as the only cost options were a sunroof, automatic transmission, electric windows upfront and front armrests. Sadly the original owner had stuck to the standard plastic hubcaps, a lower end Mercedes trademark that started as far back as the late 1970s. And before I forget, the car didn’t even come with air-conditioning! My father had a noisy after-market Italian A/C unit installed, which doesn’t work anymore thanks to its cooling fluid being outlawed due to its ozone damaging nature. Weren’t the ‘80s great?


    The motor under the hood is the 6-cylinder inline M103 E30 displacing 2996cc’s and producing 188-horsepower (or 180-horsepower depending on the type of catalytic converter installed) with 2-valves per cylinder. “That’s so underpowered…” is the typical response I get. How wrong you are. The 300SE is an impressive performer combining agility with explosive acceleration. Although the engine response is no match to modern motors, once it gets going, it goes. The car accelerates with enthusiasm and the engine never feels short of breath. A 0-62 mph time of less than 9 seconds is what the 300SE can do- and the top speed is a personally verified 225 km/h (141 mph).
    The 4-speed automatic is characteristically Mercedes-smooth, although a bit slow at times. The P-R-N-D-3-2 layout is useful and if quick power is required, a bump down into “3” usually does the trick as the 300SE has more than adequate power reserves. However, I would never change it for the crude 4-speed manual (later 5-speed) that came standard in the 6-cylinder W126’s.
    Considering the size, weight and my driving style, the 300SE returns respectable fuel economy. 10-12 liters per 100 km (23.5 / 20 mpg) is pretty impressive for a car of this vintage. Especially on long highway drives at a steady cruising speed of around 160 km/h (100 mph) does the 300SE return impressive fuel economy.

    The vague steering may be terrible for local country roads, which often requires precision input when driving in a sporty mood, but it is perfectly calibrated for high-speed Autobahn driving. Here, the 300SE inspires confidence and relaxation and there is little stress on the driver. Undoubtedly, this is a testimony to the W126 S-Class’s purpose of existence: a comfortable long-distance cruiser.

    My ownership has now seen the car experience Bavarian winters. The lack of ESP and other modern safety accessories means a gentle foot and experienced hands at the wheel. The 300SE is particularly hard to pilot on icy and snowy roads, its RWD layout not helping much either. Despite a malfunctioning non-Mercedes A/C unit, the car has an intelligent layout of opening cockpit air vents and allowing the engine heat to warm the cabin. Good thinking by the boys at Sindelfingen.

    [Broken External Image]:http://img47.imageshack.us/img47/2843/bear300sew126060qq.jpg

    I have few complaints about the car, and they’re probably so trivial it doesn’t matter. For one, parking can be problem in the bigger cities where huge cars are at a disadvantage. Also, I look forward to replacing the plastic hubcaps on the wheels with the classic steel wheels known amongst W126 aficionados as “Gullideckel”. Do I feel odd driving such a big old barge? Not at all. Any drive in this old Mercedes is fun experience. The car really comes into its own as a high-speed cruiser, and I’d say it’s the most fun to drive at high-speeds.

    Although it is unusual to see someone in their early 20s drive an S-Class, the W126 is enjoying a renaissance with younger buyers who value the cars incredible build quality and youngtimer status. The 6-cylinder models especially are highly sought after and fetch higher prices than the thirstier V8’s, even if both cars are in superb condition etc. Perhaps this is one more reason to hold on to a car that is a classic in the making. I do look forward to many more miles of joyful motoring in the 300SE.

    [Broken External Image]:http://img47.imageshack.us/img47/3315/bear300sew126019ff.jpg
  2. Alx

    Alx Well-Known Member

    Thats a really nice story... i share your passion, certain things may have let me down, but for the most part i am lover as well, and appreciate the style and class of elegeance!
  3. cawimmer430

    cawimmer430 Well-Known Member

    Thanks buddy. :usa7uh:

    I am in the process of writing a few review for Carspin of cars I may not have posted on the old GCF forums. Stay tuned for more. :)

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