USA Junkyard visit 2023

I’m currently in Las Vegas, USA for a work event.   The event starts tomorrow so I had some time to get acclimatized to the time zone, and a buffer in case of any flight delays.   While most things in America have become very expensive in the last couple of years, self service junkyards are still very affordable.   This is far preferable to the overpriced tourist traps I could have gone to.

I did some searching online a day or so before I left Australia to see if there were enough cars to make it worth my while.   Its not an especially cheap exercise, as I have to take Ubers there and back, and buy a few tools.   The Junkyard I visited last year had two cars of interest – a W108 280SE 4.5 and a W126 300SE.   However, both had been there 6-7 weeks, so were probably quite picked over.

Another one in the South of the city had fewer Mercedes, but they did have a pair of 1986 560SELs.   They had only been there 2-3 weeks.  More likely to be something of interest on the cars.   I took an Uber to a Harbor Freight nearby, grabbed some tools, and then headed to visit the junkyard 560SELs.

I don’t have any specific figures, but I would guess that 3/4 of all 560SELs were sold in the USA.   They are comparatively rare in Australia, and in Europe it would appear the 500 was a bigger seller.   Consequently, there is still a decent supply left in the USA.   Sadly many were destroyed during the ridiculous ‘cash for clunkers’ era, but there are still enough around they are reasonably common in junkyards.

Both junkyard 560SELs were US models, and had those odd US style VINs.   They can be translated back into proper Mercedes-Benz numbers though.     Both cars were produced 1/86, which made for an interesting comparison.     As 560SELs came with all the popular options as standard, both cars were very similar.

The first car was WDB1260391A220028.    It was Anthracite grey with a Palomino interior.   Would have been very striking when it was new.    The second car was WDB1260391A222244.   It was originally Pajett Red with a Palomino interior.   Another striking combination.    Neither car were particularly rusty, although the Pajett red car had some minor rust around the rear windscreen apature.   Basically both cars were just worn out with faded paint, ruined clearcoat, tatty interiors.   I would guess that they got to a point where a major mechanical repair was required and the owners decided not to go ahead.

junkyard 560SELs

The only real difference between the two cars was the first one had been sold new in California, and the second car was a regular USA model.    Regular US models have code 491, whereas versions for California have 494.  This was generally required as California has mostly had stricter emissions requirements than the rest of the country.     It also looks like California has dealer code 705 in the order number, vs 704 for the rest of the country.     This probably translates to minor differences in the emissions system on the cars, but I didn’t go looking.     Other than the original location, the rest of the options were the same:

  • 226:  Footrests in the rear
  • 442: Airbag in the steering wheel
  • 461: Instrument with miles and English legend
  • 491/494:  USA/California version
  • 519:  Becker Radio Medico Grand Prix electronic (USA)
  • 551: Anti-theft/Anti-break in warning system
  • 581: Automatic climate control
  • 597: Heat-insulating glass, windshield, band filter
  • 639: Elimination of first-aid box and warning triangle
  • 806: Change of model year, the last figure showing the new model year
  • 872: Seat heater for left and right rear seats
  • 873: Seat heater for left and right front seats

As can be seen, USA models were highly specced, with the footrests, heated seats, airbag, climate control and anti-theft system as standard.    The radios were installed at the factory too, unlike in Australia where they were dealer fitted.

After only 2-3 weeks, both cars were quite well picked over.    All doors and front wings were gone, switches, steering wheels, badges, radios etc.   The easy to remove and valuable engine bay stuff like the EZL, idle control valve and fuel distributor gone too.   The red car was missing the dashboard, but nobody bothered taking the badly crackd dashboard from the anthracite car. They were both missing the transmissions, exhausts and fuel tanks too.

junkyard 560SELs

However, there were still many useful things for me to grab.  These included:

  • Two genuine Hirschmann power antennas.   This is the USA version with the 5 pin plug supporting the height control. ($22 e.a.)
  • Both idle control valves ($22 e.a.)
  • Both R16 resistors
  • Both Becker radio plugs and a bunch of becker speaker plugs
  • Large handful of silver Mercedes relays
  • An instrument cluster and associated wiring ($38.50)
  • Both grille shells ($27.50 e.a.)
  • A rear power seat motor and associated cables ($16.50)
  • X30 distribution block and associated wiring
  • Wheel centering pin
  • All eight jacking point covers
  • The large control module in the fuse box (I think this is bulb out detection, I’ll have to check)
  • Original cards outlining climate control operation and Jack operation
  • A pair of SLS struts – newer replacement struts by Sachs ($11 e.a.)

junkyard 560SELsThere was plenty of bigger stuff I could have taken if I didn’t have to bring this all back as luggage.     The prices are very reasonable.   SLS struts are just treated as used rear shocks, so USD$11 each is very different to what you would pay in Australia.   Generally if you buy some other stuff, they don’t bother charging you for the small stuff within reason.

Originally I only had one SLS strut.     I was pretty disappointed in that, given there were four on offer.    The valves had been taken, but the struts had been so far left alone.    I had to rule out the anthracite car, as it was sitting on its rear wheels.   While there was a factory jack, there was no way to raise it high enough and secure the car to work underneath.     It looked like the person who removed the transmission had lowered the rear to help get the trans out.

no luck

On the Pajett red car, I had the first strut out fairly easily.    This was packaged up and ready to go.    Unfortunately, the final bolt was an issue on the second one.   Strangely, for a non rusty car, there was rust around the bottom of the spring on the rear trailing arm.   This had caused the weld holding the captive bolt which attaches the SLS strut to fail.    Instead of re-welding the bolt, or changing out the whole trailing arm for a good used unit, a previous mechanic just put a regular bolt through the hole.    This meant when I tried to remove the nut, the whole thing was turning.

The bolt head was inside the spring, so there was almost no clearance.   I tried using a screwdriver to jam against it, but I couldn’t get enough force to stop it spinning and had to admit defeat.   Even with one strut, I was still happy with my other finds.

However, when I returned to my room, I found another problem.   The grille shells were too wide to fit into my bag.   I needed a solution that wasn’t going to break the bank.  I also didn’t have a tape measure to work out the size I needed.   Thankfully, URO parts came to the rescue.   While I don’t like the quality of their parts, their website has the dimensions of their reproduction W126 grille shell.    This allowed me to work out the dimensions I needed to fit the two grilles.    Luckily Target carried a plastic tub that was nearly the perfect size, and they had an outlet next to the Harbor freight near the junkyard 560SELs.   This allowed me to go and pick up my tub (plus a roll of duct tape to secure it), and try one last assault on the recalcitrant bolt.

target tubBack at the junkyard 560SELs, I tried a few different ways to secure the bolt head so I could remove the nut.    I had purchased a stubby ratchet with a hinge and another set of metric sockets.   I was able to get the ratchet but the head was too wide to stay on the bolt.    In the end, the best solution was a 17mm socket on a medium sized extender, with a small vice grip holding the socket extension.   This didn’t fully stop the bolt from turning, but after trying for a while, eventually I had it loosened.    The picture does a poor job of showing this, it was very fiddly.

Junkyard 560SELs
In removing the strut, I found the sound insulation under the rear seat is a great way of catching the ZH-M that spurts out of the strut as its removed.      I was pretty happy with the result and the extra trip to the junkyard 560SELs and tools were worth it.    I now have a spare set of SLS struts for each of my cars equipped with this type of SLS (W116 and both W126s).   The S124 uses a different type of strut.

In a couple of years, cars like the W126 are not going to be regularly found at self-service junkyards anymore.   There will be no more easy plundering of junkyard 560SELs with cheap prices.   Right now the most commonly seen models are W210s and W202s as well as the ubiquitous W163 ML.     I’ve been to a fair few of these junkyards and W116s are almost never seen nowadays.

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