W140 Buyers Guide

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mathew

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This article was published in the Dec/Jan 08 issue of Das Rundschreiben

The W140 was the replacement vehicle for the W126 S-Class, a car that smashed the sales record for Mercedes limousines; in fact over 800,000 were sold. No mean feat considering the price of these cars. Originally the W140 was to be released around 1989 but BMW had released a V12 and Mercedes certainly wasn't going to be out done by their main rival. So it was, Mercedes engineered it's first V12 engine for an S-Class and what an engine it was. Pushing out 408hp and 580 Newton meters of torque in 1991 it was the most powerful four door luxury saloon you could purchase. This new engine and some added luxuries took a little longer than expected and of course the engineers had an open cheque book to ensure that when the final car took to the road BMW would be shaking their heads along with new comer Lexus.

It was Mercedes first use of data bus in a Mercedes sedan, this system is used in aircraft and allows for multiples of information to travel between computers in the blink of an eye, as well as redundancy in the event of failure. The car bristled with technology and you could safely say they hadn't forgotten anything right down to the illuminated vanity mirrors for the rear seat passengers that dropped down from the roof. It was the first car in the world to have double glazed glass, a 3mm layer of air between two pane of glass not only ensured whisper quite travel but also windows that never fogged up.

The car even had self closing doors due to the fact they were so heavy, the boot also had the same self closing feature. The boot lid handle was hidden in the boot frame and would extend to the user on pressing the boot release function, ensuring the user never had to touch a dirty handle. The climate control was all new with a two stage carbon filter and dust filter, ensuring regardless of outside air quality the occupants had clean air bringing a smile to anyone that suffers hay fever. The electric windows would stop going up should you put your hand ion their path, to avoid injuring passengers. Extended central locking, that not only locked the doors but closed the sunroof and windows. Luxury abounds throughout the cabin, the deep velour carpet the soft touch leather the burl walnut that adorned every surface that wasn't leather was all about cossetting passengers across continents in the highest standard of luxury.

The car was Mercedes first car engineered with substantial environmental considerations, considering the size of the car and the luxury it is a fact often over looked. It was the first car in the world to have CFC free air conditioning, in fact the entire car was manufactured using CFC free processes. The factory had solar powered heating, closed circuit water processes, it was virtually pollution free. Any plastic part in the cars weighing more than 100 grams were marked so they could be recylced years ahead of any other manufacturer.

There were four models on release a 300SE/SEL, 400SE/SEL, 500SE/SEL and the 600SEL. The 300 had 170KW the 400 had 210KW the 500 had 240KW and of course the V12 600 had 300KW. There was one major makeover in it's lifecycle aimed at making the car look slimmer as it had received criticism for it's sheer mass and massive it was at 5.1 meters long for a short wheelbase model and nearly 1.9 meters wide it was no shrinking violet. The engineers had allowed for an increase in the average size of people and were determined to make BMW's 7 Series and LS400 Lexus shudder and that they did. In fact the Lexus that followed seven years latter was said to be a clone of the W140. A 2.8 liter engine was introduced and the 400 was upgraded to a 420, the 2.8 lowered the entry price considerably and as such helped sales.

There was an S300 diesel unfortunately it was never available in Australia, a country well suited to diesels. Unfortunately the W140 was conceived in the 1980's when extravagance was acceptable, it's delayed release had it caught up in a world recession an luxury car sales were taking a pounding as such just 475,000 sedans found owners. One upside to this is it's now a third generation old S-Class and never before has the phrase wine on a beer budget been more true the W140 is without doubt the most over engineered best built car ever made. As such repairs don't come cheap for this ultimate corporate express limousine so any purchase needs an inspection, also keep in mind you will never run one on a C-Class budget.

I doubt we will ever see a car built to these extravagant levels ever again, it was so far ahead of the opposition it forced the others to totally rethink how a luxury car should be built. Sit in one today that has been well maintained and they are still magnificent cars to drive there is no car out there as comfortable as these Teutonic monsters.

Written by Mathew.Kean

This article was published in the Das Rundschreiben Feb/Mar 2008 issue

W140 S-Class Buyers guide

Following on from the previous W140 article I wrote, I’ve had several e-mails asking me where to purchase one and what to look for. So having searched the web and spoken to several W140 owners I have a brief outline of what to look for, it is by no means everything but it will point you in the right direction. Firstly and most importantly these are very extremely complex automobiles and the oldest ones are now sixteen years old, time fly’s in the automotive world.
What to pay is a question regularly asked and the answer is buy on condition not price, a high price will not ensure a good car. In fact it may be a desperate owner trying to claw back some cash for the wad of invoices he hasn’t shown you. The W140 is now a third generation old S-Class and with W220 prices taking a pounding anyone expecting to get a good price for a W140 could be waiting a very long time. I have seen them right down at $10,000 for a high mileage 92 model right through to $50,000 for a perfect condition 98 model, there is no W140 out there that is worth more the $50,000.
These car’s were extremely complex by nature and therefore will never be a cheap car to maintain/own. There is no getting past the fact that the car was designed using computers and the ultimate consideration was how the car drove, not how easy it was for a mechanic to swing a spanner around it. As such any repairs can lead to heart stopping bills, especially on the V8 and V12 models, that isn’t saying the six’s are cheap to repair they are simply a little less complex. One particular job that mechanics spend two days doing is replacing the aircon evaporator, the entire dash board has to come out and in a W140 this is no small feat. So not only do you get a bill for a very expensive part, but also a bill for somewhere between 18 to 30 hours labour usually enough for anyone’s heart to flutter.
So moving on to what goes wrong, well the air-conditioning on pre 95 models have had evaporator fail’s, the cause of this was found to be a chemical reaction between dissimilar metals. The plumbing to the evaporator was incompatible and as such corroded the evaporator connections and hence a leak in the system means no gas no aircon. Most earlier models have had the aircon overhauled, make sure it has otherwise a four to five thousand dollar bill is a possibility. In saying this there are early model cars that have never had aircon issues luck of the draw I guess.
The next biggest issue is the fuel injection harnesses, this afflicts all Mercedes models from 92 to 96 and a W140 harness isn’t cheap. In the V12 engines it is quite a laborious job so expect a big bill, most cars now have had the harness replaced with the new improved version, if not seek a discount on the car you are purchasing. These are very heavy cars and as such any car that has passed the 200,000km mark, will need suspension work. The bushes in the suspension sub frames wear out simply because of the sheer mass of the car, the bushes them selves aren’t expensive but it is no mean feat fitting a set.
The non self levelling cars have been known to crack the front road springs, specialist tools are required for their removal so when test driving, drive hard into the comers find a pothole and listen for the dreaded clunk. Another job that is very common is the computer controlled vacuum pump which sits under the rear seat. It is a very versatile pump operating everything from the servos that pull the doors closed to the central locking and the boot handle. If just one door won’t lock or self close it’s a pump replacement and at $1800 they aren’t giving them away. A lot of people pull the fuse to reset the pump; it is only a temporary measure as the pump will actually suffer more damage using this trick.
Another item that worry people are the ECU’s the V12 has a total of seven just for the engine, however they are rarely known to give trouble providing no novices have been playing around. The five speed automatics in latter models have been known to give trouble, most of it lies in the fact that there is no recommended oil change interval, as such many never have their transmission oil changed and the results are failed transmissions. Change the fluid every 60,000km and you should have no troubles. One last thing the electric window motor’s fail with age, the double glazed windows are very heavy and the motors work hard moving them up and down.
So by now your thinking this is all bad, true enough if you get an unloved example, However the engines themselves rarely give trouble the V8’s in particular are ultra reliable providing regular oil changes have taken place. The two sixes the 2.8 and 3.2 shouldn’t be written off as under powered once in the move they cruise effortlessly and are a far cheaper ownership proposition than the V8’s or the V12. The six’s have been known to have head gasket failure this can affect any car at any time, so check there is a history of coolant changes and you should be alright.
Why would you want one well there are many W140’s out Orange way with stella mileages on them. If you want a car to cruise the interstate then they don’t come any better than a W140, infact you often find higher mileage examples drive better than the city cars, a regularly driven W140 is a superb car and providing it is serviced properly it will provide many years of service. Drive one seldom and not maintain it and it is a licence for bankruptcy, sadly due to the cheaper purchase price now days many have become nothing but derelict money pits. There is no car that makes you feel as royal as a W140 and they were between $160,000- $340,000 new, as such your maintenance budget needs to be more than the budget you would have for say a C-Class. Most importantly never by one without a Mercedes Mechanic looking at it, these are fantastic cars but complexity is their nature and it’s only a mechanic that can tell you what that will cost.

Written By Mathew.Kean.
 

lowan74

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An excellent article Mathew. Having now had mine for 2 months I am still amazed by the performance and technology in this car. To touch on some of the already mentioned maintenance items on the car, my S500 had already had the wiring harness replaced, had the evaporator replaced at the time I bought it and required a replacement rear LH window regulator last week after the clips broke off at the bottom, near the interface with the window.

Will be taking it on a 650km roundtrip on Thurs/Fri this coming week in place of my daily driver (2010 Falcon) as I want to enjoy the ride. Its not an economic thing to do, but is so much more rewarding..

Matt
 

Styria

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Hi Mat, what an informative and enlightening summary of the W140 range. In my opinion, reading glossy and sometimes prejudiced summaries and tests in magazines do not really reflect some of the pitfalls and actual ownership experiences an owner may encounter, and it is for this reason that your summary is so excellent.

I don't know how you feel about it, but Admin. is considering transferring your thread to the Road Test section - are you okay with that ? I wouldn't even mind if you were to attach about three or four pics as part of your thread to illustrate some of the nicer visual aspects of your car. Regards Styria
 

BenzRbest

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Beautiful cars and shape. Does anyone know here which 8 Cylinder version not to buy, I remember reading some where with the W140 there was one or two of the 8 Cylinder motors NOT to buy due to leaks, head gasket issues etc???? I cannot remember. I have wanted S320 in this shape for a long time, my brother nearly bought the S600 LOL, it was a beautiful silver with black interior and it was at the right price.
 

BenzRbest

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I still cannot remember the particular V8 motor, however, the Dog / Lemon guide says on all the V8 motors, to watch out for the timing chain as it is made of plastic, which wears out, when it breaks, pistons / valves crash into collision.
It says that slight rattling from the top left hand side of the Engine , WALK AWAY. It maybe true, Ive noticed the writter of this book seems to only like Toyota's :)
 

260ebenz

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Speaking of all things W140 S-Class.

Mat weren't you after a black scale model W140 Mercedes how about this one?

More info: www.minimerc.co.uk

Cheers Tim.
:D

Shop for Black S Class, W140 C140 1:18 scale Norev model Mercedes (B178/183560)

Model ID: B178 [?]


The Model ID is used to identify each model available from MiniMerc. If you order a model over the phone, it would be very helpful if you were to quote the ID written above.


S Class > W140 C140 > S600

From The New Norev HQ (High Quality Range). 4 Opening Doors, Carpets, Boot Carpet, Engine Detail, Working Stearing and Suspension etc

Scale: 1:18
Colour: Black
Manufacturer: Norev [183560]

£54.50 - In stock

http://i289.photobucket.com/albums/ll226/tim_leece/BlackscalemodelW140S-Class.jpg?t=1301879144
 

motec 6.9

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Hi BenzRbest if you are refering to the 600 that was for sale in Sydney recently for just under 15000 i am aware of a status report on that car and it was run do not walk it required over 15000 in repairs before being usable it had non working air needing evap/ engine harness faulty /rear subframe knock bushes needing replacement/ non closing rear doors fault in computer code/ and the list went on it appeared to be cosmetically a good car just needing a bit of tlc but that tlc was quoted at over the asking price if you could do the work yourself you still would not get change from 10000. i have a uncle with a 93 600 who has owned it since new and yes i have my hand up for it when it is time to sell .:D
 

BenzRbest

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Hi Motec, this one was up on the central coast, it was a really good buy around $20K. :)
 

motec 6.9

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Here you go Patrick
 

Patrick_R

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Motec,
What a read.

If I go back to re look at this car, I have written a good list of things to check.

I can still hear that beautiful V12 ticking over at idle like mums Singer.
So smooth and quiet.

I do hope to go back and drive it.
 
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