1983 Mercedes-Benz 280SE: Dirt Cheap Grey Market Goodness

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I’m pretty sure that there is an unspoken cap of four vehicles on my fleet. Well, we’ve had five before, but only when there was a decisive exit strategy for one of them. Beyond that, my W140 S600 has been at the shop for about four weeks now for a new rear main seal, valve cover gaskets, and to trace a mystery battery drain that only happens when I lock the doors (!), so my automotive cash situation is tentative to say the least. Otherwise, I would have bought this grey market beauty already for the paltry $3,000 that the seller is asking. Show me another car that exudes presence the way that the W126 does, has working windows, sunroof, aircon, and a rebuilt motor and transmission, and rare perfect velour upholstery that has been covered since new. You can’t, can you? Find this one here on BenzWorld in Phoenix, Arizona.


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This is one of several grey market W126s we have featured on TotallyThatStupid, frankly because I love them. These cars were incredibly advanced for their day, and introduced a number of technologies to the driving public that have become staples of general motoring, including crumple zones, seat belt pretensioners, along with ABS and airbags which became standard on later W126s. They also introduced the world to the low-front, high-rear school of aerodynamic design that shaped the look of cars for the subsequent two decades.

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This car, despite badging delineating it as an 8-cylinder, is powered by the M110 inline-6 cylinder DOHC fuel-injected motor, and is very well equipped for a Euro car with air conditioning, heated seats, velour, and sunroof. It also, unfortunately, wears big allow wheels from a 1990s R129 SL roadster in place of the proper factory “bundt” style alloys or plastic hubcaps. I’d forego all of the above and source a set of the 15″ bundts available from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center. I’d also probably have the window tint removed because 1) it’s probably darker than the legal 35% for my homes state of Virginia (had THAT ticket before), and 2) dark tinted windows make me feel claustrophobic. These cars had big greenhouses for a reason, and I’m not trying to hide my face due to celebrity or a criminal background.

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The Euro-style bumpers look a lot like the US versions, but are actually substantially smaller, both front and rear, and integrate much more nicely into the overall design of the car. Also an improvement from US-spec are the smooth-faced European headlights that not only look better, but also throw-off much better light than sealed-beam units. This car also has the optional headlight wipers that may not be super-functional, and always seem to be broken or out of alignment at the least (although these appear to be lined-up properly), but which look very 80s Eurocar cool.

Inside the car, as mentioned before the seller indicated in an offline discussion that the velour seats have been covered with sheepskins since new, with their condition providing testimony to that fact. The factory seat heaters are an added bonus! Under the somewhat tacky dash cover there are two small (less than 1/2″) cracks in the dash, which is fairly typical. The wood appears to be in fine condition, as does the carpet which is covered with very German-looking floormats. Another very Euro touch in this car is the front power windows with manual rear windows. Kids be damned! The sunroof, however, is electric and fully operational. AC is yet another unusual option for a Euro-spec car, but is apparently in fine working order.

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The 2.8 liter M110 is known for having a throaty exhaust tone, and its 185hp could propel the tubby W126 to a respectable 130mph, although 0-60 is a slightly leisurely 10 seconds. It’s also known for being a little thirsty, often turning-in sub-20 miles per gallon. Both the engine and transmission have been rebuilt, and reportedly don’t drip any fluids – a little unusual for the M110. I’d probably consider an OM617a turbodiesel swap for this car, but I’m strange that way, and I do like the M110’s character. Someone really needs to buy this before I scrape my quarters together and it finds its way to my house. Rare, classy transportation for the cost of a good MacBook. Seriously. Buy it. Honey….?

~Reed

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4 responses to “1983 Mercedes-Benz 280SE: Dirt Cheap Grey Market Goodness

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