1981 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 300SD 3.0 turbo diesel from North America


Finest car ever made


Regular maintenance.

General Comments:

I only run the Merc on the highway, but a finer car has yet to be built, I run between Seattle, Boise and Napa Valley in the old girl; she'll do 75 all day with no complaints. Yes the body is breaking down around the drive train, but I'm confident we'll cross the million miles mark!

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 21st May, 2016

1981 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 300 SD 3.0L OM617 turbo diesel from North America


A rich fool's car


Everything went wrong with this overly-touchy car:

The entire air conditioning system quit after 250.000 miles, including compressor, vacuum switches, dashboard vacuum control center, sensors, etc.

The radio simply quit. So I replaced it. The new one quit too. I bought a used one, and that one quit too. Three radios in one year!

All the wood inserts in the interior panels were pretty much ruined, despite intensive care.

Power window on driver's side didn't work. Rear power window motors were very weak, and it was much better just not using them.

Power antenna broke after using it 3-4 times.

The entire vacuum door-lock system didn't work, and the car had many leaks in the vacuum lines.

The automatic transmission was hard and jumpy, so I had to replace it at 260.000 miles.

The powerseats stopped working when the switches on the doors fell apart.

The driver's side seat started leaning towards the left hurting my back.

Door lock on driver's side broke because a plastic lever inside the door had rotted out.

Sunroof wouldn't close or open without manual assistance. One day a piece of rubber fell out of it, and I never managed to figure out where it belonged.

Hood latch cable had to be replaced as soon as I bought it, because it would neither lock nor unlock the hood.

General Comments:

The car ran like a German panzer. You could feel every little rock on the pavement, and it just wouldn't do over 85 mph!

It was reliable and elegant, but as many people have already said: "A rich fool's car".

Nothing else to say about this car. It was good to have this experience so I can avoid it in the future.

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

Review Date: 5th December, 2010

6th Dec 2010, 00:54

You bought that at well over 200K miles/320K km??? Why??

9th Dec 2010, 23:30

A 1981 Mercedes Benz 300SD was a "rich fools car"... in 1981.

Now, almost 30 years later, it's a poor fool's car.

30th Nov 2014, 03:08

The review above reflects more, to me, on the owner and likely his/her mechanic(s) than the vehicle itself. One should try to test drive more than one example of a car they are unfamiliar with to get a reference point for comparisons. It is very common for owners and even mechanics to dismiss hard/mis-timed trans shifting on these older diesels as bad transmissions, when the cause is vacuum adjustments. 90% of the time there are simply vacuum leaks. If you can't drive this car over 85mph and can't get there quickly, there is a major problem with the car. Bad turbo or fuel system issues. These vehicles are some of the most reliable ever sold in the us. The A/C went out after 250,000 miles? Think about that, few cars ever even make it that far at all. Yes, I am a mechanic who specializes in Mercedes, and I am biased, but I just had to put my $.02 in.

1981 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 280SE 2.8 litre petrol from Australia and New Zealand


Elegant, slow, maintenance is guesswork, and the costs will break your heart


When I bought the car, it had the following wrong with it:

Needed new rear wheel bearings, old ones were fused on and the garage struggled to get them off.

Had to recondition power steering box and pump (there was free movement in the steering wheel).

A new diff from the wreckers (I was told normally the diffs last the life of this sort of car, but not in this case).

Brake rotors, hoses, pads.

Muffler was in poor condition and had a hole.

New timing and fan belts.

New upper ball joint, driver's side (old one was cracked).

Rear window switches would not work.

Oil leaks from several places.

Cracked dash.

Missing wheel studs, and these were well nigh impossible to source.

One corner of the boot had a small hole where rust had eaten through, signs of rust in other parts as well.

A few months later the car would rev excessively going from 2nd into 3rd gear. Turns out it needed a new gearbox, so one was sourced from the wreckers. A few months later, the second gearbox started to play up (even though it was serviced not long before, see below).

The car would always start first thing cold, but if driven in the last 4 hours or less, it would take about 3 attempts.

General Comments:

First of all this is not an indictment on Mercedes Benz per se (other than the 2.8 litre engine being too underpowered for the car, as for the gearing). This review is of my experiences owning a (somewhat worn out) '81 280SE W126, in 2009-10, and if you are thinking of doing the same, this is what you might come up against.

Here are the pros I believe apply to this car:

Roomy inside, large boot.

Leather seats.

Elegant styling, in my mind the most recognisable and iconic luxury car chassis ever built.

Solid build quality.

Good for highway cruising.

And the cons:

Takes a long time to build speed, and this makes it not very suitable for 'stop start' traffic, or making a quick lane change from a standing start.

The way it is geared makes the slow acceleration even worse, meaning if you have to pull away anywhere fast, you need to floor it.

The cost of maintenance and parts.

Perhaps TOO elegant to take to the grocery shop or use as a daily driver. Styling also more appealing to older drivers than young.

And finally, the last straw: getting fixes done, but the issue still persisting, which makes fixing the car like guesswork rather than science. This is all very well, but I don't have access to infinite funds.

Here are some examples:

After getting the power steering pump reconditioned, it kept leaking. I took it back to the garage after a few months, they made some adjustments, but the problem didn't go away. The power steering box also had a minor leak and it was reconditioned also.

The automatic transmission (original) was serviced by a specialist, yet only a few months later it was worn out and needed replacing.

The second transmission (from the wreckers) was serviced 3 months after it was installed. In a matter of weeks after that, while at 60-70 kms/hour the car would occasionally rev up with my foot only a small way down on the accelerator, as though I had pressed it all the way down. My only interpretation of this is that it was dropping into 1st gear. On one occasion I recall having difficulty getting a gear going slightly uphill at around 40, and thinking I might have to pull over to the side of the road.

I got the mechanic to try to fix the starting problem (see above), but there was no improvement.

The mechanic tried to fix the rear window switches but they still wouldn't work.

So, if you are a mechanic with access to all the tools and parts you need (not to mention patience), as well as a hoist in your garage, then by all means go for it. But these reviews should be for car driver's, not car mechanics, and I cannot possibly recommend this vehicle as such, especially not for a young person getting their first car and being enticed by a Mercedes going cheap (this mistake I myself made).

So I recently made the call for it to go to car heaven, recouping a tiny fraction of my investment. No point keeping it on charm factor alone.

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

Review Date: 12th November, 2010

26th May 2013, 02:49

Moral of the story, there is no such thing as a cheap Mercedes, especially when in Australia you can find ones with no rust, low Km and service history for a reasonable price.

I have an '82 280SE W126 with 106k Km and an '85 280CE C123 with 166k Km in my drive, together purchased for less than a 10 year old Japanese buzz box.

These cars could well out live me if maintained, and I'm only in my mid 40's!!