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Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL (W140): Where have the fat guys gone?

Hardy Mutschler
Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL (W140)
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I I recently had a dream. Somewhere in the endless steppe of Siberia I saw a wide crater, the remainder of a huge meteorite impact. A mad giant was hoarding all the Mercedes W 140s that he could pick there. He straightened them in rank and file, it was a reserve for automobile dinosaurs. He had tried the same with other models. But they were just crumbled between his fingers.

A car with the stature and longevity of Helmut Kohl

Mercedes built the W 140 so big and massive that it defied all storms of time . It is the last S-Class in Germany, and Mercedes engineers had been developing it since 1982. But when it finally rolled out onto the market in 1991, East and West were already merging. The Mercedes W 140 was alien to this new world order. There was something absolute in it, and Mercedes would have expected a lot, just not malice. But shortly after auto motor und sport admired two centimeters more wheelbase than a long-wheelbase Rolls-Royce, others mocked the S-Class because it was so wide that it didn't want to fit on the wagons of the motorail to Sylt. They completely ignored the fact that the Fond Helmut Kohl swallowed with decency. And truly: that is an achievement.

It should be the best car in the world, emphasized the then Mercedes boss Werner Niefer. Perhaps you heard this in Riga, St. Petersburg and Moscow and quickly grabbed it when the Mercedes W 140 made its debut here as a little loved used car. I still remember the day ten years ago when I wanted to pick up a VW Golf from the car rental company. 'We have an upgrade for you,' said the lady at the counter and pushed a Mercedes key to me: 'You drive the S-Class and we'll save the overpass.' Gladly, I replied. The giant flew over the motorway in a whisper, so gently, so safely, so confidently, so confidently, as if he had disconnected from this world.

In search of the spurned giant baby

Everyone understood this car. In the US, size was a plus, just as in the Far East, even in Japan. Only here in this country was the disposition not very friendly. His appearance was criticized as clumsy, as inelegant, but 5.21 meters is a proud measure. Nobody, on the other hand, seriously held up pomp to the Mercedes W 140, because its ornamentation was modest.Even today it looks like you've pumped up a C-Class. The proportions are right, everything just seems a size too big. A giant baby.

I still wanted one. It was curiosity to meet after ten years what had impressed me so much. And I was looking for a car to travel with, a big one for the route. I was ready to try myself. By the end of the Kohl era - that was in 1998 - the Stuttgart-based company had sold 406,532 copies of the Mercedes W 140. But the Auto-Höker only rarely have a copy under their flags. On the Internet I found some Mercedes W 140s, photographed among construction machines, with mileages beyond 300,000 kilometers and the warning 'only dealer or export'. You don't trust them.

I searched for weeks. Then a Mercedes W 140, more precisely: a 500 SEL, appeared very close by. An early model from 1991, 186,000 kilometers, for 5,700 euros - more than 90 percent discount on the former new price. In addition the cryptic addition: 'very well maintained without words family dare'. So should families try a 500?

Masterpiece of engineering

I drove off with my wife and daughter. The 500 had made its way down an alley. Its owner was a Croat who ran an Italian restaurant. 'I don't have to sell,' he greeted me, 'do you understand?' I did not understand. But I didn't have a choice. There was only this one, and at first glance it seemed proper. We went on a test drive. With a slight smack, the closing aid sucked the doors of the Mercedes W 140 into the lock, the mighty V8 whispered in the distance. It took a moment for it to break loose, as if the converter were gathering strength before giving the order to march. This succeeds very quickly if the accelerator feeds well.

I checked the gimmicks of the Mercedes W 140, admired the double glass of the windows, raised and lowered the rear blind, played with the silhouette switches for seat adjustment and that electrically adjustable interior mirror. The heated seats glowed on all four seats through thick, black leather, and a hit rang out from the Becker radio. Even the two dip sticks at the rear pushed up when I drove the 500 backwards: Like no other part of this Mercedes W 140, they manifest the ingenious dedication of its makers. Silly decadence? Today the chrome stubs moving up and down have long been a cult. Your invaluable advantage: You don't get on your nerves because you never beep.

I had seen worse Mercedes W 140s. We negotiated, but the seller slackened only a little. A trip to Croatia made him a fan. Ultimately, he only drove the 500 for half a year. Then his driver's license was gone. My doubts about the mileage did not help much. I couldn't find any arguments, the checkbook had already been discontinued by the second owner. At least the data card I was on was still therewas able to read that a tax consultancy firm in Markgröningen had approved the ship for the first time on November 26, 1991.

Well then me. The S-Class has become popular, even in the V 140 format - in Mercedes jargon, the V stands for the models with an extended wheelbase. Despite its dignity, the Mercedes W 140 pulls slightly to the right, and every now and then a dull crack penetrates inside. On the other hand, there is always a roar: it's the old, wide Falken tires.

One week later, the first big drive in the Mercedes W 140 follows. Italy. The engine and automatic transmission have received fresh oil, the broken front axle springs and a wishbone have been replaced. The crack is gone, only the door panels creak sullenly to themselves. Instead, the heavy car rolls very discreetly on the new Michelin tires and uses its superior chassis almost nimbly - tires make up worlds. Incidentally, the set of original aluminum wheels for the Mercedes W 140 only cost around 90 euros in an internet auction. And that is a normal price.

Superior motorization, acceptable consumption

This is how the 500 whispers southwards. The first refueling stop at the border with Italy: 12.7 liters per 100 kilometers, less than expected for a five-liter displacement, 326 hp, 480 Nm and over two tons of weight - however, we did not test the speed limit at 250 km /h. The Mercedes W 140 even meets Euro 2, as the green badge confirms. And it can truly be considered sustainable - not just because Mercedes promised back in 1991 that 75 percent of this S-Class could be recycled. But also because it lasts: It's been 16 years so far. And an end is by no means in sight.

However, the 500 series does not complete its premiere completely free of censure. In the dense stop-and-go near Milan, the accelerator suddenly falls into nowhere. With idle, the Mercedes W 140 rolls towards the stop. Open the hood, the diagnosis: A crumbly rubber part has released the throttle cable from the lever. It can be fixed with wire. The workshop at home knows the error well. It was a penny item that stranded the best car in the world. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I have understood the Mercedes W 140 a little better since then. On this trip we came across many S-Classes - mainly newer models. But there were also some W 126s on the road, even some W 116s. But a Mercedes W 140? Nothing. We only saw one thing: ours.


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