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Test Drive: 1993 Mercedes-Benz 500SEL (W140)

On January 13, 2012, I test drove a 1993 Mercedes-Benz 500SEL at Master Car Sales in Pomona, California. The car has a black and grey two tone exterior with a black leather interior. The asking price is $3,900 and the car has 217,000 miles. Under the hood of this 500SEL is a 5.0 liter V8 engine (codenamed M119) that produces 315 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 347 lb-ft of torque @ 3900 rpm. The transmission is a four speed automatic, which is codenamed 4G-Tronic, and has standard rear wheel drive. The W140 chassis S-Classes are some of my all time favorite cars. I have always been a big fan of them. The W140s debuted in 1991 in the European market replacing the W126 S-Classes. The W140s came to the North American market for the 1992 model year. They came with many different engine options in all parts of the world, from small Inline 6 diesels to 6.0 liter V12s. From 1991 to 1993, the nameplates for the W140s started with the engine displacement numbers (e.g. 300SE, 400SE, 500SEL, and 600SEL), and from 1994 to 1999, the nameplates started with S for S-Class and then were followed by the engine displacement numbers (e.g. S320, S420, S500, and S600). The W140 is also known to be the car that Princess Diana was killed in, back in 1997. Although she was killed in a serious crash, W140s have been known to be safe and solid vehicles. They can just be expensive to keep maintained. In 1999, the W140 was retired by Mercedes and was replaced by the W220 S-Class. I am hoping to eventually come across a W140 S600 or 600SEL to test drive. Both have 6.0 liter 12 cylinder engines. They are harder to find and more expensive to buy. Now, let’s get back to the test drive.
I called the dealer before I went to go look at the car to make sure it was still on the lot. It wasn’t in a nice part of town, but I didn’t let that bother me. The car was parked by the fence, and the salesperson was sitting down near a barbeque eating lunch when I walked onto the lot. I never got what his name was. I told him that I called earlier asking if the car was on the lot. He went to go grab the key and while doing so I walked around the car for any damage. As you can see in the pictures, the wheels on the car are from a newer S-class. They were from a W221 chassis S550. In the car’s advertisement online, it said that it has new tires. It actually needs new tires, as these were about to go bald. On the driver’s side fender there were some cracks in the paint, as well as the left quarter panel and trunk lid. The back bumper had some scrapes from previous cargo going in and out of the trunk. The front bumper did have some scrapes from hitting other objects, and there was some sun bake on the passenger fender. The salesman told me that the hood was repainted. If it was, the person who did it didn’t do a professional job on it. The interior was in good shape for its age; however, the leather felt dry. When I opened all of the doors, they felt heavy and solid. I didn’t think anything bad of them. I assumed that they were to make the vehicle safer in side impact collisions. The salesman came back with the key, and then I started the car. With older Mercedes vehicles, they have the annoying seat belt buzzer that that lasts for about five seconds. That’s my least favorite thing about these cars. For the next two minutes, I tested the electrical components. Everything such as the windows, locks, mirrors, and radio worked excellent; even the electronic rear window shade. The air conditioning didn’t blow out cold air like it should have. It may need to be recharged or repaired. The radio and climate control buttons took some time to figure out as well. The glass for the side windows were dual pane. I like to call them bullet proof windows because of the thickness. The main purpose is to keep the interior noise quiet while on the road. I asked the salesman if I can test drive it. He got into the driver’s seat and moved the car out onto the street.
While he was moving it, I heard some banging noises coming from the back of the Mercedes. I assumed that he forgot to release the parking brake. The salesman told me that the rear shocks needed to be replaced. He got in the passenger seat; I got behind the wheel, and turned right onto Mission blvd. The car shook while accelerating and the shocks continued to make the banging noises. As I got to 40 miles per hour, the shaking and rattling stopped. As I slowed down to my first stoplight, the rattling and shaking came back. The salesman said that the reason why the car was shacking could be because of a disconnected injector wire harness from the engine compartment. The car didn’t seem as fast as I expected it to be. I have driven a BMW 740il that was much faster with a smaller V8. The salesman asked me if I wanted to drive it on the freeway. I said yes, so we drove towards the 60 West freeway. Before we got on the on ramp, the salesman told me to stop the car completely because he wasn’t quite comfortable with it. I had to stop with traffic behind me, which was very inconvenient. Shouldn’t he know if the car is freeway safe before the test drive? I put the hazards on, stopped the car for a few seconds and let the traffic behind me go around. The salesman said it was fine so I proceeded onto the freeway. I was still disappointed with the engine’s acceleration. It should have felt faster than the Mercedes E420 that I have previously driven about three weeks prior. I don’t even remember being able to hit 60 miles per hour while we were on the freeway. I only drove for about a mile in the slow lane before getting off the freeway. The salesman was telling me that the car needs work before selling it and that he will look into it. He assumed that when the engine compartment was washed it could have done something to the wiring harness. I don’t know how exactly the engine bay was washed, but if that’s the cause then something must have been done wrong. The salesman kept on telling me that the car needs to be fixed because he didn’t want to sell junk. If it needed more money in repairs, he would send it back to the auction. Still, I didn’t think he was the most trust-worthy salesperson I’ve encountered. After getting off the freeway, I drove back to the dealer.
At the dealer, the salesman asked me what the car’s advertised price was. I told him it was $3,900. He gave me a deal that if I wanted the car, I could buy it for a total of $3,800. That included all taxes and fees paid for. I thought it was a fair deal, but I think it would be better for a mechanic to buy it and fix it himself. The Kelley Blue Book’s Suggested Retail value in excellent condition is $5,738. For fair condition through private party, it’s worth $3,263. If I knew how to work on cars, I would have bought it and fixed it up myself. Overall, this Mercedes-Benz 500SEL needs work. It would be a great luxury car for a low price if you don’t mind the paint blemishes, slow performance, and noisy shocks. The W140s are some of the best Mercedes-Benz vehicles built, and that’s a fact! Just give it proper maintenance, and in the future, it could be a timeless classic.
Photos taken by Master Car Sales.