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Fresh from das Vaterland: 1986 Mercedes-Benz 500SE Euro

Several weeks ago we highlighted a grey-market Mercedes-Benz 380SE. It was terrifically 80’s Euro with its thistle green finish on green velour, small bumpers, and higher-performance Euro-spec motor. It was also, unfortunately, federalized to meet US DOT regulations including sealed-beam headlights, door beams, and who knows what kind of exhaust and tuning workarounds to try to reduce pollution. That was the norm for cars imported during the 1980s in the grey market. This 500SE, having been imported from Germany just last year, is completely exempt from all of that mess due to being over 25 years old. Find it here on eBay in Cape Coral, Florida.

Anybody in search of grace, space, and pace would do very well to consider the 1980s Mercedes-Benz W126 S-class. Although designed in the early and mid-1970s these cars remain remarkably modern even today, and details original to the W126 like the high, short trunklid, seat-shaped electric seat switches, and standard antilock brakes can still be found throughout automobiledom today. Yet with their large chrome grilles and upright greenhouse they do exude a somewhat classic character, if not just a little bit timeless in its own right. 1986 was the first year of the facelift W126s which didn’t change the overall look of the car, but addressed details like the previously bulky airbag steering wheel, smoothed-out the lower body cladding, moved the sunroof switch to the ceiling, and, well you get the idea. The took a good idea and made it better.

Mercedes did not officially import a 500 model in 1986. Instead, they replaced the 1985 500SEL and 500SEC with the bored-out 560-series. The European 500s, however, were peppier and outright quicker than the US 560s. The Euro 500s also had a bit of a firmer, sportier character than the uber-luxury 560s. A Euro 560 is even more powerful, but they are extremely rare in this car’s short-wheelbase body.

On the outside, there is little to distinguish this 500SE from US models, apart from the front and rear bumpers which on US-spec cars were mismatched holdovers from the early W126, but on Euro-spec cars were smoothed-out like the body cladding and were also redesigned for further aerodynamic efficiency. The other key difference is the one-piece headlights with inward facing wipers as compared with the busy-looking and not terribly effective two-piece US versions with outward-facing wipers. The biggest difference, though, is the fact that in 1986, and until the 1988 300SE was released, Mercedes did not offer the short-wheelbase W126 on these shores. I for one find the design far better balanced than the long-wheelbase version.

Inside, this car has the same leather upholstery as found on most US W126s. It also has automatic climate control which, although standard in the US, is fairly rare on home market cars. What this car has that we rarely see are manual rear windows and the exceptionally rare and totally cool pod-mounted German trip computer with console-mounted buttons. These computers only came in German, and I’ve never met anyone who actually knew how to use it, but they look great and also meant moving the tachometer to the combination gauge on the other side of the gauge cluster and added a digital clock to replace the standard analog unit. I would also tell you that each Mercedes leather color has a unique smell, and the dark brown is by far my favorite. Some love it, sand some hate it. I think it pairs nicely with the Champagne metallic paint, but also in a very period way.

It is unfortunate that the seller does not offer many details about the condition or history of the car beyond the fact that it was recently imported and that the AC works. It appears well-maintained, but with 144,000 miles it would be nice to know if the timing chain guide rails have been replaced, as well as the state of the components of the hydraulic suspension. Still, if all those check out and there is no rust to be found, this car is just about exactly what I have spent hours contemplating importing for myself while perusing and the like. In short, I am indeed Totally That Stupid.


2 thoughts on “Fresh from das Vaterland: 1986 Mercedes-Benz 500SE Euro Leave a comment

  1. I found this blog after purchasing this 500SE and the car is indeed everything you suspected, and more…a wonderful, unadulterated example of German engineering excellence, and a great purchase now residing on the West coast!

    • Well done – I was actually looking back at this one the other day and wondering if it ever sold, and who the lucky buyer might be! I love the computer, but what I really like is the *smell* of the brown leather… Seriously. Enjoy it, and let us know how it goes!!

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