1991 Mercedes-Benz W126 500 SEL 5.0 petrol


I was a sucker and my break was not even


Perpetual black smoke from the exhaust.

Engine shakier than Shakin' Stevens, the 1980's Welsh Elvis.

Gearbox sensor failure.

General Comments:

This horror in dark blue was purchased from a trader in conditions of falling light and hissy mist: a cardinal error that even a ingenue of a trainee cleric wouldn't make. "What a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away", as the Doobie Brothers so rightly proclaimed. I had wanted a black one for ages and this seemed close enough; that was my wacky rationale. Plus it was one of the last of its kind, being birthed by the Great She-Elephant Mercedes factory back in the long ago of 1991, so ought to have been freer, when new, of the faults of earlier models with manufacturers continuing to improve vehicles through their production life. Emphasis on "when new."

She was an ex-demonstrator that was purchased by the previous owner at one year old. Like a sentimental fool I presumed an effectively one owner car would have been well maintained throughout its life. There was little in the way of receipts, but there was a replacement service book, retro-stamped by a Mercedes dealer according to their computerised service records, such as they were.

The damnest thing is it drove beautifully smoothly when I took it for a test drive. What could have happened in the intervening period? Was the ghost of Stephen King's Christine inhabiting this Benz?

In the sunlight of the next day, post purchase, it was apparent the car was not pristine. The chromework around the windows was cloudier than Kilmanjaro on a bad day and the lacquer was lifting like Marilyn's Seven Year Itch skirt in a gale. Perhaps the previous owners had left it outside and the acid rain/UV light had worked their foul voodoo? Maybe he'd used washing-up liquid laced with nuclear waste instead of traditional shampoos?

Although handsome from 20 feet away with an absolutely lovely and new- smelling beige leather interior, the engine and exhaust had seen much, much better days. It smoked like a nervous 30s Hollywood starlet accused of atrocities, being interrogated by a time-travelling and befuddled Spanish Inquisition. Once, on a miserably wet-wreathed winter afternoon at a red light as they changed to green, I blipped the accelerator to leave the motorist behind covered in more plumes of grey than a luckless atoll in the 1950s atomic tests. The guy obliterated his horn in protest and I felt both shame and satisfaction in inculcating him to the mysteries of the Brotherhood of Badly Botched V8s.

The exhaust had more patches than a fleet of pirates, but still the holes multiplied like bacteria on a rancid mutt. The sound was throatier than the child of Bonnie Tyler and Jimmy Durante. It totally eclipsed the modern electric dust carts that others chose as transport.

This car was thirstier than Oliver Reed in the Gobi desert consuming 10kg packets of salt. It averaged a laughable single figure MPG that made me weep at the petrol pump, but on the plus side my collection of Shell customer points was certainly unrivalled. Rear passengers would complain they could smell petrol. Of course they could! It was a 20 gallon tank and moored to service stations!

When I tried to sell it, I encountered the most annoying of purchaser types: the Clued-up Tight Wad Who Continues His Investigations Into The Vehicle's Ill Health For An Hour After He's Decided It's Utter Junk. That character must have cost me £30 in fuel alone, as it inefficiently pootled in Park mode, but, to its credit, it never overheated. He detected more faults than an OCD Wimbledon line judge. He noted the air vents in the dashboard were busted since they still operated when they were meant to be closed. "Losing! Losing!" he opined as he pointed to the offending vents in his broken English. He incredulously watched the idling engine falter and hesitate like a terrified horse at the Grand National's Becher's Brook jump: "You 500! Why you shake?!" he asked, although the Mercedes only belched black smoke as if rising to an apology.

I bought her for £3250 and spent about £2000 trying to make her merely awful, including £350 on an AC service. It was eventually sold for £2000. As I watched her go, I didn't realise I'd left a high quality portable Sat Nav system in the glovebox (never returned). It was almost the final insult. The purchaser was a trader who sold it on for nearer £4000. That was a few years ago. I subsequently saw it advertised privately somewhere in the distant north of England where it quickly sold again. The vendor claimed the paint was "gleaming" plus it drove "beautifully". I double-checked the licence plate to be sure it was the same car. Was this teutonic Christine up to her old tricks?

Maybe one day I'll buy her again, mustering a smile for my nostalgic tale.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know

Review Date: 5th August, 2015

6th Aug 2015, 15:26

Ha ha, excellently written review. Bear in mind though my friend, any car that's 20+ years old with over 100,000 miles is going to need a lot of work. And being a top of the line classic Mercedes-Benz, you can bet it's going to cost you. These are amazing cars and well worth doing up in the long run though; there is little to compare in terms of luxury and performance from this time period. Well maybe a 7 Series BMW of the same age might suffice, but again that would also cost, cost and cost to keep running.

7th Aug 2015, 12:32

What a beautifully written review.

Entertaining and factual. A real joy to read.

Thank you for taking the time :-)

9th Aug 2015, 03:16

Quite the metaphor fest!!!

10th Aug 2015, 14:41

They're mainly similes!

10th Aug 2015, 15:32

Previous luckless owner ranting again!

Thanks for the kind comments. It's only entertaining in retrospect. To quote Madness's "Baggy Trousers": "Oh what fun we had, but at the time it seemed so bad..."

I forgot to inform you of the time I contemplated a replacement purchase and went to see a W123 estate in the 500. In truth, I ought to have known better than even consider another vehicle with Frau Christine SEL providing the ride and in jealous attendance.

She gave me plenty of warning re impending apocalypse, but I was too busy near literally throwing pounds sterling out of the sunroof to pay appropriate attention. At a roundabout, the very stars seemed to dim as the still torquey engine beat the gearbox into a punchy submission, spitting hot metal onto the tarmac as she inched forwards and accelerated like an aged snail. We were nearly speared by boringly competent and compliant vehicles who tooted their tinny horns at the leering 17ft colossus. She didn't care, of course.

As we somehow made it to the vendor's address, all drive was lost and she collapsed like the dying swan so beloved of Tchaikovsky. The vendor appeared and helped push her to a lay-by. Sadly, his bonhomie was fatally compromised upon my pointing out his estate car was leperous with rust on almost every panel. I waited an hour for the AA (no, the Automobile Agency) to arrive and load Christine to the garage that repaired her gearbox sensors. The mechanic commented "These rarely go wrong".