W108/W109/W111/W112 Mercedes headlight types

The headlights on the W108, W109, W111 and W112 Mercedes are all interchangeable, which means many cars are no longer sporting the headlights they left the factory with.      They are all based on a design introduced on the 300SL roadster in 1957.   The W113, W114/5 and W100 all had similar designs based on this same theme, but those lights will not be covered in this article and they are not interchangeable.   The W110 had simpler, round headlights so is also not the focus here.Inside of a light


The standard headlights for these cars were know as  ‘Lichteinheiten’.  This roughly translates as ‘Light Units’.  They combined the dipped beam, main beam, fog light, parking light, night clearance light, and indicators in one unit housed behind a single piece of curved glass.

The photo on the right shows the various components with the lens removed.    From the top is the indicator (behind the orange cover), below that the dipped and main beam, with a tiny bulb for the parking light, just above the main bulb.

Below that is the fog light, and to the right of that the night clearance light which can be left on all night if the car is parked with one wheel on the curb and one on the street as is common in Europe.   Only one side can be illuminated at a time.

These lights are also often known as tombstone lights, one piece lights and in the USA, ‘European’ lights.

The glass lenses can be removed and the reflectors are also replaceable meaning they can be completely refurbished.    There are two gaskets one to attach the light to the car and one to attach the lens.   The picture to the left shows an unrestored light.   These W111 headlights were later restored and put back on the car they came from.  These gaskets are not cheap but important to ensure water does not get in.

In addition, there are two variants of this light, the first used until early 1969, which had glass with a pronounced curve, sometimes known as the ‘bubble’ type, and the second which was much flatter, and used from 1969 to end of production.

The picture below shows the early style on the right and the later style on the left.

Headlight Styles

These headlights were standard fitment to all these cars, except for American models, and the 300SEL 6.3.   Some local importers did specify the stacked headlights for V8 models as part of their standard order.

The difference between LHD and RHD is in the how the lenses focus the light on the road.   The main part of the headlight is the same.

I restored a set of these headlights to put my 250SE Cabriolet back to original.

Stacked headlights

The other main style are the stacked headlights, which are also known as Americana headlights.    Instead of a single piece of glass, there are two round lights in a housing, and the indicators, fog lamps are separate, although in the same housing.    In the USA version, legislation prevented the indicators being in the same housing, and so ugly separate indicators and side marker lights had to be fitted.   The picture below shows a USA model with the side marker lights and central round indicators where the optional fog lights on rest of world cars would be.    The car below is a 250SE that would have come from the factory with smaller ‘bullet’ style front indicators but was later upgraded to the later style found on 280 models.

USA Model

These lights were first introduced in all American models.   This was because the USA at the time had archaic legislation dating back to the turn of the century that mandated sealed beam headlights.    If you are not familiar with sealed beams, instead of replacing just the bulb, you replaced the whole round headlight.   Due to the old nature of these, the light output is truly pathetic and sealed beams are basically unsafe.

The other variant on these, was introduced as standard on the 300SEL 6.3, which used the same basic design but had replaceable bulbs, which were later halogens.   These produced the best light of all the headlights on these cars, and could be ordered as an option on the other v8 models as well.   The anemic American lights can also be fairly easily retrofitted to this second style to provide adequate light output.   The photo below shows the stacked headlights with the indicators and parking lights in the same housing.  These style lights are a popular upgrade from the originals on all W108, W109, W111 & W112 models. This car is a 250SE that would have had one piece headlights from the factory and is currently being converted back to the original style.

ROW Option

One of each

The photo above shows the same car midway through conversion, contrasting the two styles.   Which one is better is down to personal preference, although I prefer the original type.   The great thing about this conversion is that it is reversible.

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