If you’re looking for a luxury saloon that packs a serious punch, then the Mercedes-Benz S-class should be top of your list
The first of the W108 line was the 250S saloon of 1965, offering crisp, modern styling and a 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine. This was joined by the fuel-injected 250SE, the 3-litre 300SE and the long-wheelbase W109 300SEL. After 1968, the range mushroomed to include the 140bhp twin-carb 280S, as well as
2.5-litre straight-six and 3.5-litre V8 versions of the 280SE and 300SEL. Also available – but not to be confused with the S-class – were the similar-looking (but less impressive) W114 saloons. Rising above this confusing range was truly the daddy of them all: the 6.3-litre V8 300SEL, pumping out a staggering 200bhp and capable of 135mph
Power (bhp@rpm) 145bhp@5500rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 166lb ft@3600rpm
Top speed 116mph
Gearbox 4-spd man/3-spd auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Think long and hard about taking on a rotten W108 or W109, as rust repairs are neither simple nor cheap. New panels will cost you too, so look out for bodged work. Lift the carpets and inspect the floors and inner sills, looking for sub-standard repairs. If the jacking points in the outer sills have been welded over, then beware.
Rear wheelarches are vulnerable to corrosion, so inspect both inner and outer sections. Chrome trim on the wheelarch lip wasn’t standard but, if fitted, could hide nasty surprises. Boot seals fail, rotting out the spare wheel well, so look for water ingress. Also check the suspension mounts for rot, or evidence that it has been hastily disguised.
Inspect the front wings closely: they corrode at the lower edges, and around the headlamps. The lamp units should be an excellent fit, while panel gaps should be true and even. If this isn’t the case, or if the doors don’t shut perfectly, walk away.
Although the toughness of the W108 and W109 is legendary, lack of care can take its toll. Documented service history is highly desirable – if it’s missing, ask why. Both six-cylinder and V8 engines are hardy, but can suffer if oil changes are neglected, leading to premature valve gear wear.
Noisy timing chains aren’t a cause for concern, although 3.5-litre V8s have a tendency to crack their exhaust manifolds. The 6.3-litre V8 can suffer if only run for short periods, as over-rich fuelling washes away the oil in the bores.
Beware of poor running on cars with Bosch fuel injection; rectifying faults is expensive. The twin Zeniths fitted to some models are more DIY-friendly.
Both the manual and auto ’boxes are tough. Automatics were a popular choice among S-class buyers, so ensure that these swap ratios without complaint and kick down easily. Manuals should change without crunching, while worn driveshaft universal joints will clunk on the move. Also ensure the power steering is up to snuff at low speeds. Air suspension was fitted to the V8 models, as well as a few six-cylinders, and runs from a small compressor in the engine bay, so make sure this system works. Lesser models had conventional springs and dampers, although a sagging rear could be due to a failing self-levelling compensator.
The interiors were typically finished in vinyl or leather. Splits and tears can be repaired, but a full re-trim will cost a fortune. If fitted, test that the electric windows work.
Appealing to ambassadors and gangsters alike, these capable Mercs have always managed to toe the line between social respectability and hardened street cred. As you’d expect, the
6.3-litre 300SEL is worth the most; the best can easily top £20,000. However, the 3.5-litre V8 models will cost less than half of that, while you can be behind the wheel of a top straight-six S-class for as little as £6000. But only the very brave or very foolish would even consider trying to restore a basket-case.