July 15, 2024

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General will live on forever

Even as a Cheap Used Car, the W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Feels Special

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Each individual carmaker has its moonshot. Volkswagen bet the farm on an air-cooled people’s auto Porsche threw the dice on a sporting activities motor vehicle with the engine in the mistaken area Tesla staked its long term on an electrified Lotus chassis—and during the manic 1980s, Mercedes-Benz set out to reimagine the platonic ideal for luxury sedans. At the time BMW escalated the eminence of its E32 7-Sequence with a V12, Mercedes was still left with no alternative but to engineer a flagship of magnificence like the environment had never ever viewed. Enter the 140 Sequence S Class.

When More Was Additional

Mercedes-Benz’s best just one-upmanship was a solution of unchecked extra. Scorching on the heels of the classically stoic 126 collection S Class, Benz dumped a billion bucks into establishing the all-new 140. Made in between 1991 and 1998, the blocky model became extra than a retort to archrival BMW. It was a middle finger to mediocrity. The huge-bodied flagship introduced a slew of firsts such as double-paned glass and self-sealing doorways, not to mention things you by no means knew you desired, like a motorized rearview mirror and retractable metal masts to shepherd the car’s ginormous rump into parking spots. 

As a male whose fledgling automotive a long time transpired in the course of this golden age of overengineering, übersedans like the W140 had been additional than just autos: they had been larger-than-daily life proclamations tied to yakuza, mobsters, and heads of states. This was in particular real for vary-topping V12 products, whose mystique captivated an ever far more outrageous clientele. But the aura of grandeur trickled down to every variant of the usually identically-styled lineup. Really do not consider the hype? Consider the tragic circumstance of Princess Diana, whose untimely demise was satisfied in a 6-cylinder S280. No disgrace in her loss of life activity (although she could possibly have however been with us experienced she been putting on a seatbelt). 

Fast ahead 3 decades and the 140’s visible existence does not seem any significantly less imposing as it did throughout the Clinton era. But in actuality, the big-boned Benz’s name at some point grew to become cheapened as a result of the very simple inevitability of depreciation. As values slid more than the several years, subsequent owners skimped on the maintenance necessary to retain the model’s complicated devices jogging as they ought to. That simple observation lured me into believing I could cheat the odds by acquiring what appeared to be the greatest second-hand W140. 

(Minimal-Dollar) Dreams Occur True

Street parked cars with ‘For Sale’ indicators merely really don’t materialize in the tony SoCal community of San Marino. But a person weekday early morning I spotted a roadside 1993 Mercedes-Benz 400 SEL completed in Outstanding Silver. Primarily based on my chat with the seller’s daughter, this instance appeared to be the model of diligent stewardship. It was owned by the stereotypical very little outdated woman from Pasadena, a genuine estate agent who stopped driving the outdated boat when she moved on to a new V12-powered S Class. This 90,000-mile illustration was perennially garaged and seemed to have lived a daily life most 30-calendar year-previous vehicles would envy. The operator, clearly respectful of the Benz’s gravitas, stated she only hand-washed it, an assertion verified by its shiny, swirl-absolutely free paint. Confident, there have been a number of nicks right here and there. But there were also nifty information that exposed a pampered existence, like floormats in excess of floormats in to preserve their fulfilling pile. 

Inspite of its lackluster power-to-weight ratio during my check generate, it struck a nerve. Not only did it look weirdly substantial and effectively put-alongside one another, it drove with the unwavering certitude of a cruise ship. There have been a number of compact problems like front doorways that would not self-shut, a non-op stereo, and the worry that new phrase storage may well unleash some unexpected repairs. But the Benz’s placid highway manners impressed me to shift in on the beast. Soon after some haggling, we ultimately agreed on a selling price, which labored out to be less than the Govt Rear Seating bundle on a new Mercedes-Maybach S580. $5,000 for the total damn motor vehicle.

Since every thing is better on Monoblocks (and the manufacturing unit-issued chrome 16” wheels have been more the initial owner’s flavor than mine), I immediately tracked down a established of genuine 18” AMG wheels for my new acquisition. Created in Austria, versions of these O.G. hoops have graced anything from to the mighty AMG Hammer to a far more new reissue on the GT63 S Coupe. On the 400 SEL, they are a rational complement the significant sedan’s flat silver surfaces. But due to the fact the second-hand wheels came wrapped in very low-profile Michelins that manufactured the body search even bulkier, I phoned the folks at The Tire Rack and sought their substitute guidance. We settled on a set of Continental ExtremeContact DWS06s and arranged a mobile installer to come out and swap rubber (entire disclosure: the tires ended up delivered absolutely free of charge). While the 255/45-18 fitment was formally approved for the auto, the entrance tires finished up rubbing in opposition to the wheel nicely in the course of low-speed turns. Tire Rack worked on a solution and dispatched a staggered set of Vredestein Hypertrack All Seasons by way of an additional cellular installation, which solved the situation.

Studio Reference

As someone who spends inordinate quantities of seat time in new push cars, each and every slicker and sexier than the previous, the pristine W140 experienced a distinctive charm to me that was a siren connect with I just could not shake. I loved the retro restraint and how its understated styling cut through the visible sound of fashionable targeted traffic. The 400 design also averted a handful of potential challenge places, notably the self-leveling and adaptive hydraulic suspensions of the 500 and 600 versions. In my head, ’90s-era Mercedes sedans had been like a quality pair of studio reference speakers: no boomy bass, no brassy treble, just an evenly modulated equalization that quietly sets a normal for excellence.  The vehicle is also a sanctuary of tactile satisfaction— the easy cool experience of chromed metal on the within of the door tackle, the polished sheen on the b-pillars, the supple ply of the seat hides even the air conditioning vents are serious metal, making each individual touchpoint experience sizeable. To lean on an oft-made use of cliché, no person builds automobiles like this any longer. But as I would quickly find out, not all that glitters is polished aluminum.

Whac-A-Mole of Repairs

For the reason that a couple servicing data (and a slew of Costco tire receipts) only traced back again a portion of the Benz’s sub-100,000 mile heritage, I indulged in a whole spa treatment program. Steering
fluid, coolant, brake fluid—you title it, I experienced it flushed, transformed, refreshed. Future, study into the non-op stereo and fresh valve go over gaskets to do away with some oil seepage. Bose amps in ‘92/’93 S Courses ended up notoriously problematic, as they packed crammed 7 amplifier modules and about 80 capacitors, transistors, and resistors into its black rectangular casing, whose circuits are inclined to corrode over time. A bit of investigation led me to a dude in Texas named Lenny who rebuilds lousy amps for a portion of their $1,200 substitute cost. This was a particularly enjoyable repair, as the different to a four-figure replacement would have been to come across a present day head unit which, as any self-respecting snob will agree, only does not search as neat as a manufacturing unit Becker device with a cassette deck.

Pulling the massive silver sled into the driveway elicited the predictable disdain from my wife, who, to put it politely, could not see the appeal of my brutalist German sculpture. But our 1st extended travel collectively was gratifying: A 100-mile travel to Orange County and again on a sizzling Saturday afternoon. She cherished its hushed highway ease and comfort and appreciated the icebox-chilly A/C. But she could not get over its large-bodied boxiness. “You never have to search at it from the inside of,” I reminded her. Issues was, it introduced inescapable acreage of sheet metallic when parked. Aesthetic squabbles aside, the Benz executed flawlessly … till it didn’t.

You have not lived right until you have tried to push 4,400 lbs of German steel by means of a active L.A. intersection God bless the stranger who assisted me heave the rolling two-ton heap of major steel Sacco. The failure to progress transpired to happen blocks absent from Herbert, my grumpy Mercedes-Benz mechanic. Herbert has a prescient talent for sussing out issues in aged Benzes. Proving that he’s as much a individual as a health practitioner, his day-to-day driver is a spick and span W140 S600 with in excess of 300,000 miles on the clock. Absolute hero.

“You will need to come see this,” he identified as, immediately after spending some time under the hood. “I’m in Pasadena, do I really have to generate across city?” I replied. “Absolutely,” he insisted. Afterwards that afternoon I was staring at a litany of alerts and codes from an OBD reader. No bueno. Exciting point: Mercedes-Benz engineers introduced the world’s first chlorofluorocarbon-absolutely free air conditioning method into the 140 with overtures in the direction of environmentalism. Not-so-enjoyment actuality: in an act of uncharacteristic shortsightedness, they also integrated other eco mindful capabilities like a wiring harness built of soybeans (see, wealthy motorists want to help save the earth much too!) With prolonged engine warmth comes the inescapable degradation of wiring insulation, in the long run generating haywire alerts that befuddle the car’s complex electrical program. Sourcing and changing my 140’s wiring harness was only the start off: it also finished up needing a new throttle physique and flip charge accelerator sensor, which unfolded into a fuel strain regulator and energy steering command device replacement.

Following an ongoing period of swashbuckling electrical gremlins, I last but not least returned to driving the big Benz. And as soon as once again, it hit me what a huge hunk of motor vehicle the S-Class is for a single man or woman to wheel close to town— was this seriously a auto for me? But when the wife was riding shotgun with our 10-yr-outdated in the distant back seat, the 140 was in its zone, covering prolonged distances like a somber sitting home on wheels. Despite its fulfilling heft, the specter of extra high-priced repairs created me speculate if I should really brace for more monetary soreness. So a lot had been addressed, but I harbored a reduced-quality anxiousness about what could possibly fall short upcoming, including the notoriously pesky HVAC evaporator device which requires a labor-intensive dashboard-out treatment to make matters amazing yet again. And therein lay the rigidity concerning the straightforward enjoyment of swinging open that weighty door and settling into its minimalist microcosm of Zebrano and leather, and questioning if the major lug was likely to let me down once again. The wifey persisted with the side-eye even though often conceding that the S-Course delivers sanctuary all through very long drives throughout city. “The dictator car or truck does have some redeeming features,” she would confess following climbing out of plasticky 6-figure press car or truck that did not experience really so stable. And that’s what I stored coming again to: lovely minor information that delivered smaller glints of satisfaction, developing a sort of peaceful admiration for a 30-year-old automotive artifact in spite of its copious flaws.

12-Cylinder Epilogue

At the time the expense ameliorated above a several months, the sting of the 140’s restore expenses sooner or later dulled. The frenzy of harm command seemed to have worked out the kinks from extensive-time period storage. But because automotive masochism never dies, my awareness wandered to an additional relic which is been on my searching list for some time: same period V12-driven coupes.

Not extended thereafter, I found a 1994 S600 coupe in San Diego that was finished in Spruce Eco-friendly Metallic. Only just one in fifteen 140 collection cars produced was a coupe, less were being V12s, and even much less came in shades other than somber greys and blacks. Pursuing a pre-dawn educate experience down the California coastline, I turned the third owner of a two-doorway land yacht with a chonky highway existence and an eye-watering hunger for high quality unleaded. 

Weirdly, my wife does not appear to brain the coupe. In fact, she variety of enjoys it, in a way tends to make me ponder what bizarre science can renovate a vehicle from unlovable to wonderful by only trimming 2 doors and including 4 far more cylinders. As with all points vintage, nostalgia’s attractiveness is countered by the reality that it can all go spectacularly south. Roulette is part of the deal. But in a entire world in which even fashionable econoboxes are annoyingly very good, occasionally the pale grandeur of one more period outshines the predictability of nowadays.

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