My 1979 280SE project and my quest for the perfect W116

I’ve been thinking about selling my 1986 300SE for a few months and replacing it with something different.   I bought that car five years ago when I needed to be able to drive it every day to drop my daughter off at daycare then to the park and ride to get to work.     I no longer work in the office every day, so the need to have a full registered car for this purpose is gone.

Last year I dropped it back to club rego.  While it got used a lot, it was always second preference to the 560SEL and SEC.   Club rego lets me drive on 60 days a year.  Between the four ‘modern’ cars I own, I have 300 days I can use.  It also gives me a bit of flexibility if one or two of them are off the road while I repair something.     Right now, I classify the W126s and the 450SLC as ‘modern’.    They all run a bit better with more regular use too.

I had a few candidates in mind.   I wanted something that I could move to from the 300SE without a massive outlay.    A W108 or early XJ12 are cars I would love to own, but are significantly more valuable for the condition I would want.   That got me thinking of a W116.   Prices are similar to the W126 for the most part.   This would allow me to move to a nicer car with more history for a reasonable amount more than I could sell the 300SE for.    Its a model I have always admired, but never owned even though I have driven a few.

Going with a W116 would allow me to build a more balanced Mercedes collection of a S Class coupe and saloon from the 70s and 80s, plus the 250SE.    In time, I could add a 60s Saloon too.   The 450SLC isn’t technically an S-Class, but it filled that niche in the line up.   Given both of my remaining W126s were the same colour, I also though it would be fun to find a car in the same colour as my 450SLC.    Of course most people would think buying sets of twin cars is madness – but these people would think owning 7 cars is madness anyway.

This narrowed it down to a W116 in 906 Grey Blue.   To continue the theme it really had to be a 450.  This would give me a pair of 450s and a pair of 560s.   My preference is for a short wheelbase car.  That narrowed it to a 450SE.

There are a few reasons for this.   I find the short wheelbase cars nicer to drive unless you regularly transport adults in the back.   They are more nimble, easier to park and look more balanced.  I already own a LWB car in my 560SEL, and the W116 was the only S Class the larger of the two standard V8s came to Australia in a SWB.   In the W108/W109 the biggest engine available in Australia was the 3.5 for the SWB.   For the W126 we got the 380SE and 420SE for a couple of years only and never the 500 or 560.   Even the W140 and W220, the 500 was LWB only.   It wasn’t until the W221 that this omission was rectified.

My preference for year was 78 then 79.   While the D-Jet cars (73-75) are more powerful and responsive, they are harder to find in nice shape and more maintenance intensive.   In 78/79 there is the nicer interior with the dash wood and much nicer carpet.    For 78 there is the pinstripe Becker Mexico if the car is still so equipped.   This is a much nicer looking radio than the more modern Mexico found the 79 and 80 cars.   I am looking for a nice original car, so my preference would be that it still have the original radio.   76 and 77 were less attractive to me, as they had the detuned engine of the later cars, but without the interior improvements of the 78 and 79 cars.   80 was out, as 906 Grey Blue was gone, replaced with 930 Silver Blue.

Through word of mouth, I have heard of a car that may be coming up for sale next year.   It is the exact car I am looking for.   A 1978 450SE in good original condition, and in Silver Blue.   Even better, it has the painted hubcaps rather than alloys.   Through a friend of the owner, I’ll have first chance to buy it once the owner decides to sell it and comes up with their asking price.

The smart move would be to hold tight until that car is ready for sale.   However, I figured the 300SE is running really well now, with everything working properly.   Maybe its better to sell it for a good price before some other repair comes up – e.g. a leak in the A/C.   Instead of taking the easy and sensible route, I’ve gone with the more interesting but harder work route buying an interim car.   The 300SE will be for sale in the new year.

My interim car is closer to my ideal spec than the 300SE is.   Its a 1979 280SE.   Its a short wheelbase W116 in the right colour, with a nice condition interior and great paint.   It doesn’t look quite as nice as the 78 car, but its still very nice.   The idea is to fix a couple of small mechanical issues and drive it for 4-6 months, selling it to buy the 450SE.   Ideally I at least break even on the 280SE.   It also means that if the 450SE doesn’t come onto the market as soon as expected, I can continue to drive the 280SE.

1979 280SE project

As can be seen in the picture above, the paint and exterior condition of the car is really nice.   It has parchment MB-Tex which is also in great condition, and an original Becker radio.    The Wood trim is in perfect condition – I don’t think I’ve ever seen one this nice outside of show winners.

It does need a couple of mechanical things fixed up, which I will cover in a separate post.   I suspect my 1979 280SE project is going to keep me busy.    Once I sell it, I’m going to miss my 1986 300SE.   It’s been a great car for five years and 15,000km.   The signal red colour is really striking and different from most second generation W126 models.

The funny thing is that when I was buying the 300SE, I almost bought a 1978 450SE.   It wasn’t Grey Blue, it was Ikon Gold, a superb colour.   I was actually looking for a W116 at the time.   The gold car had a perfect interior and a lot of recent mechanical work, but bad paint.   However, just before I bought it, it suffered a catastrophic engine issue,  so the seller and I agreed not to go ahead.

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