300SE head gasket – worth fixing?

Recently on the 300SE I had to make a decision if I would fix the head gasket or junk the car.   To do the repair right was going to cost pretty much what I paid for the car.   I had also spent pretty decent money doing the water pump only a few months before.   To add to that I probably had at least another $1,000 to spend getting the air conditioning working again.    Instead of this being a $3-4000 car, its more like a $9,000 car.   Had I the time, I may have attempted the job myself, like the water pump on the 280CE.   But I didn’t have the time and I needed the car.

Head gaskets are somewhat of a weakness on the M103 and many otherwise decent 300SE and 300E’s have been scrapped because this repair has been required.   In retrospect I would have been better of spending double on a car with a more complete service history.   This is normally the way I buy cars.   However, since this was to be a daily runabout I didn’t want to spend too much money on something that would be sitting outside while I am at work.

The final decision was to keep the car.   Spending more to buy yet another unknown quantity seemed like a further waste.   Selling it and buying a 10 year old Corolla sounded even worse.     I bought this car in somewhat of a hurry as the 450SE I had agreed to purchase developed a major engine problem at the 11th hour.   The car was not that great cosmetically, but I had the timing chain and water pump done recently so it felt like the expensive repairs were out of the way.   Despite that it lost all compression on one side of the motor!   This led to me buying the 300SE faster than I would normally buy a 30 year old car and in some ways I am paying the price for that.

The up side of all this is that I will now have a W126 that is in nice shape and has the big repairs that are common for the motor done.   So my real worry is a moron in a SUV crashing into me and causing an insurance write off.


The picture above shows the head without the normal oil leaks.    Between the valve cover gasket and head gasket these M103 engines normally have a nice flow of oil down the side of the head.   Or in the case of a very tired 300SEL I drove same day I purchased this car, Niagra falls.

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