The Mercedes W126 in Australia

Despite the newest examples being almost 30 years old, the Mercedes W126 is still a fairly common sight in Australia.   Wheels Magazine awarded it the car of the year in 1981, a controversial choice for such an expensive car.   They were popular both with private buyers, and the limo trade who racked up big mileages.   30 years later, good examples still change hands for reasonable money.  The W126 still make a great daily-driver – comfortable, safe and reliable.

The W126 (along with the R107) was also one of the most commonly private imported models with the shortsighted decision by Mercedes-Benz Australia not to import the higher powered 500 models from 1981-1985.

Officially, the following models were imported:

Generation 1:

  • 1981-1985: 280SE
  • 1983-1985: 380SE
  • 1981-1985: 380SEL
  • 1982-1985: 380SEC

Generation 2:

  • 1986-1992: 300SE*
  • 1987-1992: 300SEL*
  • 1990-1991: 420SE
  • 1986-1991: 420SEL
  • 1986-1991: 560SEL
  • 1986-1991: 560SEC

With the Advent of Generation 2, Mercedes Australia learned their lesson and included the 560 models in the line up.      Certainly during the first generation models, a large number of 500SE and 500SEL models were privately imported.   This did not stop completely during the late 80s but the demand slowed down significantly as the flagship could be purchased locally.

The officially imported models generally had high specifications, especially the v8s.    Most were equipped with self levelling rear suspension and options such as power windows, Air conditioning, cruise control etc.

The misguided ADR27A regulations had a profound impact on some models, especially the 280.    The M110 280 engine is of a twin cam design and suffered badly from lower compression, retarded timing etc. Not only did these regulations affect power, they also significantly increased fuel consumption.  For some reason Australian 380’s were delivered with shorter rear end ratios than other markets, perhaps due to the very low local speed limits.

The 380 that was found in Australian delivery cars is often mistaken for the low power version found in the USA models.   This engine had a single row timing chain for 1981-1983 and only about 116KW.   It is also found in Japanese spec cars but should not be confused with the version that was actually imported into Australia.   The AU spec engine was quite similar to the rest of world version.

Australian Specifications

EngineAustralian Performance (KW)Worldwide Performance (KW)
280112136
300132132-138
380145150
420150160-170
500 v1N/A177
500 v2N/A180-195
560178200-220

A local review can be found here.

Imported cars carried the specifications of their home market where UK, HK and Sing cars had the high powered engines and Japanese cars were more like Australia.  The W126 was also built it South Africa so those cars vary more but engines were generally free of pollution controls.

Today, the second generation models are the most popular and Australian delivered cars command a premium.  On the other hand, some enthusiasts seek out the higher power imported 420, 500 and 560SEC models, especially the later ones with 10:1 compression.

* Models sold in 1992 were run out 1991 models.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>