The W126 Sonderklasse was the last big Benz not to feel the competitive influences of insurgent Japanese luxury brands. Today's Nice Price or Crack Pipe 560 SEL still exudes klasse, but is its price a little too sonder?
Cubic zirconia, surimi, 54% of women's claimed orgasms. . . all fake. And you can add to that yesterday's Ferrari-aping MR2 Spyder, which while described in the ad as being a head turner, was really more of a stomach turner to the 90% of you dunning it with a Crack Pipe loss.
If you keep your money in a bank rather than under the mattress then you probably take comfort in the security of of that business' robbery-thwarting vault. They don't just protect the depositors assets either, vaults also serve as an excellent place to wait out nuclear armageddon, as noted by a particularly unsettling episode of the Twilight Zone. It used to be that the automobiles built by Daimler Benz exuded that same air of apocalyptic survivability, seeming as secure and unendingly durable as one of Diebold's impenetrable products. That's not so much the case these days, Mercedes having had to reevaluate their position in the global luxury car market following the advent of Japanese makers who were able to match the Swabians on features and appearance of quality, at far lower prices.
But back when this 1988 560 SEL was working its way down the assembly line the threat from Lexus and Infiniti had yet to be fully realized, after all, Daimler Benz had a legacy one hundred and one years old at the time. Neither of the Japanese pretenders to the throne would even hit the market until the following year.
Luxury means different things to different people. In 1988 the U.S. luxury brands - Lincoln and Cadillac - were still peddling crushed velour and landau roofs as proclamations of ostentation, while the Germans expressed their proposition that luxury is something imbued more by feel than look. And at the time products from Mercedes, BMW and Porsche embodied a more subtle approach, favoring quality over quantity and tactile pleasures over tacky presentations -aftermarket and tuners being notable exceptions.
This big S-Klasse is a fine example of that class, its one concession to pretentiousness being its lurid red interior. While sitting inside may make you feel like you're waiting for the hostess to flip the mattress, it does looks to be in exceptional condition. The leather upholstery and burlwood trim seeming factory fresh. The car should also have just about every accoutrement known to MB engineers at the time including automatic climate control, power pretty much everything and one of the world's oldest air bags - the W126 being one of the earliest adopters of that accidental whoopie cushion.
Outside it's equally nice looking, albeit in a somewhat more sedate way, with its arctic white paint and somber silver-painted alloy wheels. No DUBs here, nor any other asshattery, this is a clean stock edition. And with the 248-bhp, 5,547-cc edition of the venerable M117 V8 backed by a four-speed Benz box, one that should still move with dignified authority.
The 560 SEL - L meaning the long (120-inch) wheelbase - was the top of the line sedan for Benz at the time, and original prices for the cars were upwards of fifty grand. That put the car out of reach for many, and opened the door to the cheaper, but perceptually equal Japanese competitors. Today, this 120,000-mile example can be had for the price of $2,700, or the cost of a high-end flat screen TV, which I guess is the current icon of unbridled wealth. What do you think, is this seemingly nice 560 worth that cash? Or, is that too much for a car that was built to last, but probably shouldn't?
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