Just about every carmaker has its moonshot. Volkswagen bet the farm on an air-cooled people’s car Porsche threw the dice on a sports activities automobile with the motor in the wrong put Tesla staked its upcoming on an electrified Lotus chassis—and throughout the manic 1980s, Mercedes-Benz set out to reimagine the platonic suitable for luxury sedans. When BMW escalated the eminence of its E32 7-Sequence with a V12, Mercedes was still left with no decision but to engineer a flagship of magnificence like the entire world experienced never ever viewed. Enter the 140 Sequence S Class.
When Additional Was A lot more
Mercedes-Benz’s supreme a single-upmanship was a product or service of unchecked extra. Scorching on the heels of the classically stoic 126 series S Class, Benz dumped a billion bucks into acquiring the all-new 140. Developed among 1991 and 1998, the blocky model turned a lot more than a retort to archrival BMW. It was a center finger to mediocrity. The massive-bodied flagship released a slew of firsts like double-paned glass and self-sealing doorways, not to point out stuff you never ever knew you required, like a motorized rearview mirror and retractable steel masts to shepherd the car’s ginormous rump into parking places.
As a dude whose fledgling automotive a long time transpired through this golden age of overengineering, übersedans like the W140 ended up extra than just autos: they ended up greater-than-life proclamations tied to yakuza, mobsters, and heads of states. This was specially accurate for range-topping V12 versions, whose mystique attracted an at any time much more outrageous clientele. But the aura of grandeur trickled down to each and every variant of the in any other case identically-styled lineup. Really don’t imagine the hype? Contemplate the tragic scenario of Princess Diana, whose untimely demise was achieved in a 6-cylinder S280. No disgrace in her death match (even though she could possibly have still been with us had she been sporting a seatbelt).
Rapidly ahead 3 decades and the 140’s visual existence does not look any much less imposing as it did during the Clinton period. But in actuality, the massive-boned Benz’s status finally became cheapened by means of the straightforward inevitability of depreciation. As values slid above the yrs, subsequent homeowners skimped on the maintenance required to continue to keep the model’s elaborate techniques functioning as they really should. That very simple observation lured me into believing I could cheat the odds by buying what appeared to be the supreme next-hand W140.
(Lower-Greenback) Goals Arrive Legitimate
Avenue parked autos with ‘For Sale’ indicators just never materialize in the tony SoCal neighborhood of San Marino. But a single weekday morning I spotted a roadside 1993 Mercedes-Benz 400 SEL completed in Excellent Silver. Based mostly on my chat with the seller’s daughter, this instance appeared to be the product of diligent stewardship. It was owned by the stereotypical minimal aged lady from Pasadena, a real estate agent who stopped driving the aged boat when she moved on to a new V12-powered S Class. This 90,000-mile case in point was perennially garaged and seemed to have lived a lifestyle most 30-12 months-old automobiles would envy. The proprietor, obviously respectful of the Benz’s gravitas, reported she only hand-washed it, an assertion verified by its glossy, swirl-free of charge paint. Sure, there have been a few nicks below and there. But there had been also nifty aspects that disclosed a pampered existence, like floormats about floormats in to protect their gratifying pile.
Regardless of its lackluster ability-to-fat ratio for the duration of my exam generate, it struck a nerve. Not only did it appear to be weirdly significant and nicely place-alongside one another, it drove with the unwavering certitude of a cruise ship. There were being a handful of tiny concerns together with front doorways that wouldn’t self-close, a non-op stereo, and the stress that latest term storage may unleash some unforeseen repairs. But the Benz’s placid street manners impressed me to shift in on the beast. Just after some haggling, we last but not least agreed on a cost, which labored out to be significantly less than the Government Rear Seating package on a new Mercedes-Maybach S580. $5,000 for the total damn car or truck.
Since every little thing is superior on Monoblocks (and the factory-issued chrome 16” wheels ended up more the authentic owner’s taste than mine), I quickly tracked down a established of genuine 18” AMG wheels for my new acquisition. Manufactured in Austria, variations of these O.G. hoops have graced every little thing from to the mighty AMG Hammer to a much more new reissue on the GT63 S Coupe. On the 400 SEL, they’re a reasonable complement the big sedan’s flat silver surfaces. But due to the fact the next-hand wheels arrived wrapped in small-profile Michelins that manufactured the overall body glimpse even bulkier, I phoned the people at The Tire Rack and sought their alternative advice. We settled on a established of Continental ExtremeContact DWS06s and arranged a mobile installer to arrive out and swap rubber (comprehensive disclosure: the tires were being furnished no cost of cost). Though the 255/45-18 fitment was formally permitted for the car or truck, the front tires ended up rubbing in opposition to the wheel properly for the duration of small-velocity turns. Tire Rack worked on a alternative and dispatched a staggered set of Vredestein Hypertrack All Seasons by way of another cell installation, which solved the situation.
As somebody who spends inordinate amounts of seat time in new press cars and trucks, just about every slicker and sexier than the very last, the pristine W140 had a distinctive enchantment to me that was a siren contact I just couldn’t shake. I beloved the retro restraint and how its understated styling lower by means of the visual noise of present day website traffic. The 400 model also averted a handful of opportunity problem spots, significantly the self-leveling and adaptive hydraulic suspensions of the 500 and 600 versions. In my head, ’90s-era Mercedes sedans had been like a high-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 automobile is also a sanctuary of tactile satisfaction— the easy neat really feel of chromed metallic on the within of the door handle, the polished sheen on the b-pillars, the supple ply of the seat hides even the air conditioning vents are genuine steel, generating every single touchpoint truly feel substantial. To lean on an oft-utilised cliché, no person builds cars like this any more. But as I would before long obtain out, not all that glitters is polished aluminum.
Whac-A-Mole of Repairs
Because a few routine maintenance data (and a slew of Costco tire receipts) only traced again a part of the Benz’s sub-100,000 mile record, I indulged in a whole spa procedure routine. Steering fluid, coolant, brake fluid—you name it, I experienced it flushed, adjusted, refreshed. Up coming, study into the non-op stereo and fresh valve include gaskets to reduce some oil seepage. Bose amps in ‘92/’93 S Lessons have been notoriously problematic, as they packed crammed 7 amplifier modules and about 80 capacitors, transistors, and resistors into its black rectangular casing, whose circuits are likely to corrode over time. A little bit of exploration led me to a dude in Texas named Lenny who rebuilds bad amps for a fraction of their $1,200 replacement expense. This was a specifically gratifying repair, as the option to a 4-determine substitution would have been to obtain a modern day head unit which, as any self-respecting snob will concur, simply just doesn’t appear as awesome as a factory Becker device with a cassette deck.
Pulling the enormous silver sled into the driveway elicited the predictable disdain from my wife, who, to set it politely, could not see the attraction of my brutalist German sculpture. But our initially extended travel collectively was gratifying: A 100-mile generate to Orange County and back on a hot Saturday afternoon. She loved its hushed freeway comfort and ease and appreciated the icebox-chilly A/C. But she could not get around its large-bodied boxiness. “You do not have to glimpse at it from the within,” I reminded her. Issues was, it offered inescapable acreage of sheet metal when parked. Aesthetic squabbles apart, the Benz carried out flawlessly … until it did not.
You have not lived till you’ve attempted to press 4,400 lbs of German metallic by a fast paced L.A. intersection God bless the stranger who helped me heave the rolling two-ton heap of large metallic Sacco. The failure to carry on took place to occur blocks away from Herbert, my grumpy Mercedes-Benz mechanic. Herbert has a prescient expertise for sussing out difficulties in outdated Benzes. Proving that he’s as considerably a client as a health care provider, his everyday driver is a spick and span W140 S600 with over 300,000 miles on the clock. Absolute hero.
“You need to occur see this,” he identified as, just after paying out some time underneath the hood. “I’m in Pasadena, do I really have to travel throughout 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. Entertaining actuality: Mercedes-Benz engineers released the world’s initial chlorofluorocarbon-free air conditioning program into the 140 with overtures to environmentalism. Not-so-fun truth: in an act of uncharacteristic shortsightedness, they also included other eco conscious options like a wiring harness created of soybeans (see, wealthy drivers want to help you save the earth too!) With prolonged motor warmth will come the inescapable degradation of wiring insulation, ultimately producing haywire alerts that befuddle the car’s sophisticated electrical method. Sourcing and replacing my 140’s wiring harness was only the start off: it also ended up needing a new throttle physique and flip charge accelerator sensor, which unfolded into a gas tension regulator and electrical power steering control device substitute.
Right after an ongoing period of time of swashbuckling electrical gremlins, I ultimately returned to driving the significant Benz. And after all over again, it hit me what a large hunk of car or truck the S-Class is for a single person to wheel all over town— was this really a car or truck for me? But when the spouse was riding shotgun with our 10-year-previous in the distant again seat, the 140 was in its zone, masking very long distances like a somber sitting area on wheels. Despite its satisfying heft, the specter of much more pricey repairs produced me ponder if I ought to brace for far more money ache. So much experienced been dealt with, but I harbored a reduced-grade stress and anxiety about what might fail next, including the notoriously pesky HVAC evaporator unit which demands a labor-intense dashboard-out technique to make issues cool all over again. And therein lay the tension in between the simple enjoyment of swinging open up that weighty door and settling into its minimalist microcosm of Zebrano and leather-based, and questioning if the big lug was heading to enable me down yet again. The wifey persisted with the side-eye while sometimes conceding that the S-Class provides sanctuary for the duration of long drives throughout city. “The dictator automobile does have some redeeming features,” she would admit right after climbing out of plasticky 6-determine push car that did not truly feel fairly so stable. And that is what I stored coming back to: beautiful tiny specifics that shipped little glints of pleasure, producing a kind of tranquil admiration for a 30-calendar year-old automotive artifact in spite of its copious flaws.
When the cost ameliorated more than a couple of months, the sting of the 140’s restore costs finally dulled. The frenzy of harm manage appeared to have labored out the kinks from prolonged-expression storage. But due to the fact automotive masochism in no way dies, my awareness wandered to a different relic which is been on my browsing checklist for some time: very same period V12-run coupes.
Not prolonged thereafter, I found a 1994 S600 coupe in San Diego that was finished in Spruce Inexperienced Metallic. Only one particular in fifteen 140 series automobiles generated was a coupe, much less had been V12s, and even much less came in shades other than somber greys and blacks. Adhering to a pre-dawn educate experience down the California coast, I grew to become the 3rd operator of a two-door land yacht with a chonky road presence and an eye-watering appetite for high quality unleaded.
Weirdly, my spouse does not appear to be to intellect the coupe. In reality, she variety of enjoys it, in a way tends to make me ponder what strange science can remodel a motor vehicle from unlovable to charming by only trimming 2 doorways and including 4 additional cylinders. As with all points vintage, nostalgia’s enchantment is countered by the fact that it can all go spectacularly south. Roulette is element of the offer. But in a world in which even present day econoboxes are annoyingly superior, from time to time the faded grandeur of an additional era outshines the predictability of these days.