Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC | Spotted

Searching for a luxury used car with timeless class? Look no further

By John Howell / Sunday, October 31, 2021 / Loading comments

There are many famous Brunos: Frank, Mars and of course, Brüno (as in the film). My favourite is Sacco. And I remember reading somewhere that Bruno Sacco’s pick of his back catalogue was the C124. I can understand that. I had one and I thought it was a cracking looking thing, especially for something that’s 4.6-metres long. Yet far be it from me to disagree with the man who penned it, but I think, on balance, I prefer the C126’s overall proportions. Either way, Sacco was a design genius – one of the few who could consistently churn out automotive objet d’art – perhaps the later C140 being the exception that proves the rule.

The C126 wasn’t anywhere near as complicated as the C140 (reputedly developed at a cost of 1 billion DM), but its design is much more soothing. Uncomplicated and flowing gracefully from bumper to bumper, it just sits right on the road, with perfect proportions when viewed from any angle. There’s nothing shouty about it, either. It is the epitome of quiet confidence. If there’s a quibble, then maybe the door handles are a bit of a grisly gargoyle on its otherwise cathedral-like splendour. Oh, and I’d whip off those rear mudflaps and risk the rot and stone chips. The theme of understated elegance flows through its interior, too. Okay, it’s not as warm and inviting as a period XJ6, but the seats are beautifully sprung, and, being a Mercedes of this vintage, you know nothing is going to fall off – having started my working life on the spanners repairing XJ40s, they kept me busy popping things back where they belonged.

The SEC designation expands to Sonderklasse Einspritzung Coupé and, as a Duolingo student of Deutsch, I can even translate that for you: special-class injection coupé. And the C126 was special on the safety front, with driver and passenger airbags, seatbelt pretensioners and traction control available during the its decade-long production run that started back in 1981. This 1989 model is a second-series facelift. It looks to be a corker, too. The Blue Black coachwork and grey leather add to its sophisticated presence and both look to be in fine fettle: the driver’s seat and flip-down armrest are the usual tell-tales of use but neither is showing any sign of wear. Nor the burr walnut, which looks rich and with no cracking from exposure to the sun.

Personally, I am partial to a straight six but that was never an option with the C126 – unlike the W126 saloons the coupé was V8 only. Still, that’s no real hardship and this 500 has the venerable all-aluminium M 117.965 version rather than the bigger M 117.968 that came later with the introduction of the 560. It’ll still pull, though, with more muscle-car tones than you might expect a Mercedes to muster. You can expect it to be nigh-on bombproof, too.

This one, having done just 65,000 miles, ought to have plenty of life left in it if serviced regularly, which should include changing the timing chain at 100,000 miles. The only real issues of note are worn value guides and seals (check for blue smoke on start-up or overrun) and worn camshafts (listen out for a tap-tap-tap from the top-end and take off the oil-filler cap and check the lobes for scoring). Other common things to look out for include a clonk from the propshaft mounting, a worn steering box, soggy suspension bushes and, as usual on cars of this age, rust – notably around the rear screen.

Don’t buy a C126 expecting a sporty drive – they handle neatly for their size but aren’t particularly wieldy – although an un-modded car like this one, sitting on its original 15-hole rims with a set of good tyres, should ride well. And when the sun’s out and you’ve dropped all-four windows for the full pillarless pleasure, you’ll have little else to contemplate than the admiring glances and the idea that “does life get much better than this?” Especially as prices have been on the up for a while now – so your investment in an old Benz should, as is often the case, be a sound one.


Engine: 4,973cc, V8, naturally aspirated
Transmission: 4-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 252
Torque (lb ft): 288
0-62mph: 7.5 sec
Top speed: 143mph
CO2: N/A
Year registered: 1989
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £29,495

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