W108 300SE – the forgotten Mercedes

There is a blog I look at from time to time called “Aussie old parked cars” where the author takes pictures of interesting cars he/she sees in daily use around Sydney.   In particular, most of the photos are around North Sydney and Neutral bay, an area I am quite familiar with.

One entry that stuck out to me was a W108 300SE, a model that is rarely seen on the roads these days, due to only 2737 being made and the unfortunately most of them being junked.

When it was introduced in 1965, the W108 and W109 series occupied the ‘S class’ spot in the Mercedes-Benz range.   (although Mercedes only started to refer to the S class with the advent of the W116).      At that time, you could order:

  • W108 – 250S
  • W108 – 250SE
  • W108 – 300SEb
  • W109 – 300SEL

Note here that the 300SEL was a W109 and not a W108.   The main difference is that the W109 has Mercedes air suspension and a long wheelbase.   (There were LWB 108s later in production, but not at first).   In addition, W109s had better interior appointments.  (i.e. more wood, seats in leather and same style as the W111 two door etc).

The 300SE and SEL shared the M189 ‘big six’.  The M189 is an all alloy long stroke motor derived from the engine in the 300 limo from the 50s.   The 300SL gullwing also had an engine derived from this model  but is a rather different beast, despite what you read on all the car ads.    The M189 is a great engine but it was very expensive to recondition and given its low production, parts were always hard to get and expensive.      Today even basic parts like the distributor cap are 5-10x for a 250SE.

In essence, the 300SEb was a hybrid between the 250SE and 300SEL – the big six in the shorter body with steel springs.   It was also the only 300SE not to have air suspension until the W126.     Its problem came in late 1967.   The entire W108 range was replaced and the new 280S and SE replaced not only the 250 models but also the 300.   The M130 was the last and best derivative of the M180 small six and delivered almost as much power as the M189, but with less noise given its steel block construction.  There were also economies of scale standardizing on the M130 and eliminating the costly M189.   Even the 300SEL got the M130 after late 1967, albeit with a hotter cam. Later v8 models followed for both the W108 and W109 which are the ones everyone wants now.

That left the W108 300SE as an orphan. With high running costs and a new model out, vales plummeted.  Unlike the two door cars, or even the W109, small engine problems could quite quickly exceed the value of the car.  Thus, many were junked, sometimes to provide an engine for a two door or LWB car.  Many more had their engine replaced with a 250 or 280 engine.   Outside this photo, it is years since I have seen one.   Unfortunately the car in the picture looks rather tired.  lets hope that the owner keeps it running.  Its nice to see it sporting the original two piece hubcaps and original plates – I wonder if the M189 still soldiers on under the bonnet?

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