Even as a Cheap Used Car, the W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Feels Special

Each and every carmaker has its moonshot. Volkswagen wager the farm on an air-cooled people’s vehicle Porsche threw the dice on a sports activities car or truck with the engine in the improper spot Tesla staked its long term on an electrified Lotus chassis—and in the course of the manic 1980s, Mercedes-Benz established out to reimagine the platonic great for luxury sedans. As soon as BMW escalated the eminence of its E32 7-Collection with a V12, Mercedes was left with no selection but to engineer a flagship of magnificence like the planet experienced hardly ever observed. Enter the 140 Sequence S Class.

When Extra Was A lot more

Mercedes-Benz’s best one particular-upmanship was a product of unchecked surplus. Incredibly hot on the heels of the classically stoic 126 series S Course, Benz dumped a billion bucks into producing the all-new 140. Generated between 1991 and 1998, the blocky product grew to become much more than a retort to archrival BMW. It was a middle finger to mediocrity. The huge-bodied flagship introduced a slew of firsts together with double-paned glass and self-sealing doorways, not to point out things you under no circumstances understood you necessary, like a motorized rearview mirror and retractable metallic masts to shepherd the car’s ginormous rump into parking spots. 

As a person whose fledgling automotive a long time transpired in the course of this golden age of overengineering, übersedans like the W140 had been much more than just cars and trucks: they were larger sized-than-existence proclamations tied to yakuza, mobsters, and heads of states. This was primarily legitimate for selection-topping V12 designs, whose mystique captivated an at any time a lot more outrageous clientele. But the aura of grandeur trickled down to each variant of the normally identically-styled lineup. Don’t think the hoopla? Take into account the tragic scenario of Princess Diana, whose untimely demise was satisfied in a 6-cylinder S280. No shame in her death activity (although she could possibly have nevertheless been with us had she been carrying a seatbelt). 

Fast forward three a long time and the 140’s visible presence doesn’t feel any much less imposing as it did through the Clinton period. But in actuality, the significant-boned Benz’s status finally turned cheapened by the easy inevitability of depreciation. As values slid in excess of the many years, subsequent homeowners skimped on the repairs expected to preserve the model’s advanced systems functioning as they need to. That easy observation lured me into believing I could cheat the odds by obtaining what appeared to be the greatest next-hand W140. 

(Very low-Dollar) Goals Arrive True

Street parked cars with ‘For Sale’ indicators only do not occur in the tony SoCal community of San Marino. But one weekday morning I noticed a roadside 1993 Mercedes-Benz 400 SEL completed in Excellent Silver. Based on my chat with the seller’s daughter, this illustration appeared to be the product of diligent stewardship. It was owned by the stereotypical small old lady from Pasadena, a real estate agent who stopped driving the aged boat when she moved on to a new V12-run S Class. This 90,000-mile illustration was perennially garaged and appeared to have lived a lifetime most 30-12 months-outdated cars would envy. The proprietor, obviously respectful of the Benz’s gravitas, claimed she only hand-washed it, an assertion verified by its glossy, swirl-no cost paint. Confident, there have been a handful of nicks listed here and there. But there were being also nifty facts that discovered a pampered existence, like floormats above floormats in to maintain their satisfying pile. 

Irrespective of its lackluster electric power-to-fat ratio during my examination push, it struck a nerve. Not only did it seem to be weirdly sizeable and nicely set-jointly, it drove with the unwavering certitude of a cruise ship. There were being a handful of compact problems together with front doors that would not self-near, a non-op stereo, and the fear that modern expression storage may unleash some unexpected repairs. But the Benz’s placid street manners encouraged me to shift in on the beast. Soon after some haggling, we lastly agreed on a value, which worked out to be fewer than the Govt Rear Seating bundle on a new Mercedes-Maybach S580. $5,000 for the total damn vehicle.

Simply because everything is improved on Monoblocks (and the factory-issued chrome 16” wheels were being extra the original owner’s flavor than mine), I instantly tracked down a set of real 18” AMG wheels for my new acquisition. Created in Austria, versions of these O.G. hoops have graced everything from to the mighty AMG Hammer to a much more current reissue on the GT63 S Coupe. On the 400 SEL, they are a reasonable complement the huge sedan’s flat silver surfaces. But for the reason that the 2nd-hand wheels came wrapped in lower-profile Michelins that built the overall body glance even bulkier, I phoned the individuals at The Tire Rack and sought their substitution information. We settled on a established of Continental ExtremeContact DWS06s and arranged a mobile installer to arrive out and swap rubber (complete disclosure: the tires ended up offered absolutely free of charge). While the 255/45-18 fitment was officially accepted for the car or truck, the front tires ended up rubbing in opposition to the wheel nicely throughout minimal-speed turns. Tire Rack labored on a alternative and dispatched a staggered established of Vredestein Hypertrack All Seasons by using a different cellular set up, which solved the situation.

Studio Reference

As anyone who spends inordinate quantities of seat time in new press autos, each and every slicker and sexier than the last, the pristine W140 had a special enchantment to me that was a siren get in touch with I just could not shake. I liked the retro restraint and how its understated styling minimize by the visible sounds of modern site visitors. The 400 product also averted a couple of prospective challenge places, particularly the self-leveling and adaptive hydraulic suspensions of the 500 and 600 styles. In my head, ’90s-period Mercedes sedans were being like a high-quality pair of studio reference speakers: no boomy bass, no brassy treble, just an evenly modulated equalization that quietly sets a normal for excellence.  The automobile is also a sanctuary of tactile satisfaction— the clean amazing experience of chromed metallic on the inside of the door deal with, the polished sheen on the b-pillars, the supple ply of the seat hides even the air conditioning vents are serious metal, producing just about every touchpoint sense considerable. To lean on an oft-employed cliché, no person builds vehicles like this any more. But as I would shortly come across out, not all that glitters is polished aluminum.

Whac-A-Mole of Repairs

Due to the fact a number of routine maintenance records (and a slew of Costco tire receipts) only traced back again a part of the Benz’s sub-100,000 mile background, I indulged in a total spa treatment method routine. Steering fluid, coolant, brake fluid—you name it, I experienced it flushed, changed, refreshed. Future, exploration into the non-op stereo and fresh new valve cover gaskets to remove some oil seepage. Bose amps in ‘92/’93 S Lessons have been notoriously problematic, as they packed crammed 7 amplifier modules and around 80 capacitors, transistors, and resistors into its black rectangular casing, whose circuits are inclined to corrode more than time. A little bit of research led me to a dude in Texas named Lenny who rebuilds terrible amps for a fraction of their $1,200 substitution price tag. This was a especially satisfying repair service, as the choice to a 4-determine alternative would have been to find a fashionable head unit which, as any self-respecting snob will agree, basically does not glance as cool as a factory Becker device with a cassette deck.

Pulling the massive silver sled into the driveway elicited the predictable disdain from my wife, who, to set it politely, could not see the attractiveness of my brutalist German sculpture. But our initial very long generate collectively was gratifying: A 100-mile generate to Orange County and again on a very hot Saturday afternoon. She cherished its hushed highway comfort and appreciated the icebox-cold A/C. But she could not get more than its large-bodied boxiness. “You do not have to appear at it from the within,” I reminded her. Problems was, it presented inescapable acreage of sheet metal when parked. Aesthetic squabbles aside, the Benz executed flawlessly … until finally it didn’t.

You haven’t lived until finally you’ve attempted to drive 4,400 lbs of German metal by means of a fast paced L.A. intersection God bless the stranger who aided me heave the rolling two-ton heap of large metallic Sacco. The failure to continue occurred to manifest blocks away from Herbert, my grumpy Mercedes-Benz mechanic. Herbert has a prescient expertise for sussing out difficulties in aged Benzes. Proving that he’s as much a patient as a health practitioner, his every day driver is a spick and span W140 S600 with about 300,000 miles on the clock. Complete hero.

“You require to appear see this,” he identified as, immediately after spending some time under the hood. “I’m in Pasadena, do I definitely have to drive across town?” I replied. “Absolutely,” he insisted. Later that afternoon I was staring at a litany of alerts and codes from an OBD reader. No bueno. Fun actuality: Mercedes-Benz engineers introduced the world’s initial chlorofluorocarbon-free air conditioning procedure into the 140 with overtures toward environmentalism. Not-so-pleasurable fact: in an act of uncharacteristic shortsightedness, they also included other eco conscious attributes like a wiring harness manufactured of soybeans (see, rich motorists want to help save the earth much too!) With prolonged engine heat comes the unavoidable degradation of wiring insulation, in the long run producing haywire indicators that befuddle the car’s complicated electrical system. Sourcing and changing my 140’s wiring harness was only the start: it also ended up needing a new throttle entire body and switch rate accelerator sensor, which unfolded into a gas tension regulator and ability steering handle device substitution.

Following an ongoing period of time of swashbuckling electrical gremlins, I eventually returned to driving the huge Benz. And the moment again, it strike me what a enormous hunk of motor vehicle the S-Course is for a one individual to wheel all over town— was this actually a car or truck for me? But when the spouse was driving shotgun with our 10-year-previous in the distant again seat, the 140 was in its zone, covering lengthy distances like a somber sitting down home on wheels. Regardless of its gratifying heft, the specter of extra expensive repairs built me surprise if I need to brace for much more monetary agony. So a great deal had been addressed, but I harbored a low-grade stress about what may fall short future, such as the notoriously pesky HVAC evaporator unit which necessitates a labor-intensive dashboard-out treatment to make things great all over again. And therein lay the pressure involving the uncomplicated pleasure of swinging open that weighty door and settling into its minimalist microcosm of Zebrano and leather-based, and wondering if the huge lug was likely to permit me down again. The wifey persisted with the aspect-eye even though at times conceding that the S-Course features sanctuary during long drives throughout city. “The dictator vehicle does have some redeeming characteristics,” she would acknowledge right after climbing out of plasticky 6-figure press auto that didn’t feel pretty so sound. And that is what I saved coming back to: beautiful very little aspects that delivered little glints of pleasure, making a form of quiet admiration for a 30-year-aged automotive artifact in spite of its copious flaws.

12-Cylinder Epilogue

Once the expenditure ameliorated over a handful of months, the sting of the 140’s maintenance expenses ultimately dulled. The frenzy of problems handle appeared to have labored out the kinks from very long-term storage. But mainly because automotive masochism never ever dies, my consideration wandered to another relic that is been on my searching record for some time: exact same period V12-powered coupes.

Not lengthy thereafter, I learned a 1994 S600 coupe in San Diego that was completed in Spruce Environmentally friendly Metallic. Only one particular in fifteen 140 series vehicles produced was a coupe, fewer ended up V12s, and even much less came in shades other than somber greys and blacks. Next a pre-dawn coach experience down the California coastline, I turned the 3rd proprietor of a two-door land yacht with a chonky street presence and an eye-watering hunger for top quality unleaded. 

Weirdly, my wife doesn’t appear to head the coupe. In fact, she variety of loves it, in a way helps make me ponder what odd science can rework a vehicle from unlovable to wonderful by simply just trimming 2 doors and including 4 much more cylinders. As with all things vintage, nostalgia’s enchantment is countered by the truth that it can all go spectacularly south. Roulette is part of the deal. But in a earth where by even fashionable econoboxes are annoyingly very good, in some cases the pale grandeur of yet another era outshines the predictability of currently.