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Mercedes-Benz S Class

Mercedes-Benz S Class Published: 6th Feb 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Hailed as The Best Car in The World, yet the sophisticated S Class remains an absurdly underrated and overlooked bargain Benz

When it comes to claiming The Best Car in the World accolade, the Mercedes S Class is up at the very top. No other saloon mixes status with discretion, luxury with pragmatism or vanity with value. The choice of directors and heads of state, you can sample first class travel at economy seat prices. While they are two different models, we’re combining the W116 (1972-1980) and the later W126 (1980-1992) together here.

What makes them so special

When the second generation S Class came on sale, it ushered in new standards of quality, sophistication and discreet status, headlining technological features that modern cars and drivers now take for granted. As satisfying as any Rolls but sportier to drive – thanks to some sparky engines and handling that belies the car’s size and girth – and not so showy, making one the definitive executive car. The grander W126 replacement, took things a step further as a masterclass in sheer good yet logical taste plus heralded the superb SEC coupé that overdoses on style but is, for such a fastback, so roomy and practical with it. All the S Class derivatives remain M-B landmarks and yet unsung classics up till now.

Right choice

Many around but not all remain as they left the showroom and neglect is rife. The smooth six-cylinder models perform quite well, but you only do this car justice with one of the mighty V8s – you don’t need a V12 – our choice rests with a 380, 420 or the 450SE. The facelifted range of 1985 are worth seeking as they are the pinnacle of old guard classic Merc quality that’s sadly long gone.


You can buy an amazing amount of top drawer metal for your money – say £12,000 for a nice, historied W116 but the flagship 6.9-litre 450SEL can make four times this.

Average W116s start from £6000 but watch it! W126 is pitched much the same, perhaps a bit cheaper, the exception being the SEC but even £10,000 nets decent one so long as it’s not the ‘460’ as they command £40,000, such is their desirability. Whatever you’re buying, don’t rush.

Significant dates

W116 comes on stream in 1972, replacing W108/09. Now known as S Class (Sonderklasse or ‘special class’. Entry model is 280 ‘six’ in S (carb) or SE (EFI) tune – others were all V8s starting with 380. In 1973 the 450 joins range but ultimate is the 6.9 SEL of 1975, at which time a new fuel injection set up is introduced – ABS brakes option for 1978. New W126 replacement a year later has accent on efficiency. SEC coupé for ’81 initially only as ‘560’ version. All round facelift for 1985 see refreshed look new six-cylinder engines plus 4.2 and 5.6 V8 models. W126 superseded by W124 in 1992.

Don’t get caught out…

  • Cheap to buy but not to run, so buy the best you can from the outset.
  • Many neglected due to running costs, a sold service history is critical.
  • As the earliest cars are 47 years old, rust is expected; but W126 can be bad too. On the SECs, pay special attention to the rear parcel shelf region.
  • Engines long lasting but weak head gaskets on ‘sixes’ and leak fluids as well; 380 unit uses single timing chain; a weak point. V8s also suffer.
  • Suspensions break springs and wear out bushes, steering boxes wear. Note how the hydro pneumatic self-levelling system operates – dear to put right.
  • W126s far more complex with their electronics and mega pricey to repair.

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