£500 Challenge Mercedes-Benz S280
After a period of being used for various long distance jobs, our Mercedes finally finds time for a rest and some much-needed mechanical fettling
It’s been a while since any of the £500 Challenge cars crossed my path, so the news that the S-class was due a little bit of work was welcome. After all, anyone would be hard pressed to remain incurious about what a £500 luxury car could require. Given that my own fleet contains an early C140 500 SEC, the experience of the lazier six-cylinder car was one that I’ve been looking forward to ever since the £500 cars were acquired by CCW.
One of the reasons it had escaped my attention so far was its sheer popularity among other CCW writers. Any long distance haul and anything where comfort mattered more than driving pleasure, and the big S280 was thrown into service. So, after a demonstration of the car’s abilities from editor David Simister, it was time for me to experience this lively, if not exactly spritely low mileage bit of Stuttgart-honed luxury.
Ostensibly, the car was coming in for a service and work to the brakes, but familiarity with how the S-class should feel suggested that something else may to be blame for the vibrations and lazy stopping from motorway speeds.
With a healthy mileage under its arches since acquisition, I checked the oil – still acceptable – and coolant, glanced at the tyres to see if they were flat, and set off. Unlike the 500 SEC, which blusters to a healthy pace by brutally overcoming the sluggish fourspeed gearbox and heavy body, the S280 takes a more diplomatic approach. It’s as if the smooth sixpot is negotiating with the recalcitrant torque convertor and inevitable mass of double-glazed, leather-lined metal until a motorway cruise is achieved. It prepresents a big drop in power from what I’m used to but still feels like there’s something lacking. Pulling out of a side road caused the big Benz to wag the back end like a muscle car and it’s hard to envisage Mercedes releasing a car into the wild packing 15mpg and an obvious lack of pace. And with less than 80,000 miles on the clock, it can’t be that tired. Then all became clear – the tyres were well past their best. We’ve ordered four new Bridgestones – a decent compromise between tyres suiting a £500 car, and the £160 per corner cost of the Mercedes-correct Continentals. With those fitted, it’ll be easier to assess the true condition of the brakes and suspension, which feels – initially – like nothing more serious than a steering damper and possibly upper-arm bushes.
The vibration under braking may be warped discs – it is, after all, a heavy car with an automatic gearbox that tempts the driver to hold the car on the pedal with hot friction materials.
In the meantime, the car has received the usual top-down oil and filter change. An inspection of the camshaft timing actuator shows clear pins without signs of leaking and there’s no suggestion of any ignition issues; the plugs will be checked and replaced if necessary. The auto ’box fluid is definitely due a change, being darker brown but – thankfully – free of burning smells, and the differential fluid is also due for replacement. Presented delightfully clean by the CCW team, winter roads have made me feel almost guilty for touching it, although the small items of trim from the doors have been re-attached, and a window guide seal refitted. That should be enough and experiencing it with fresh ATF and new tyres will, I suspect, be a revelation.
The S-class joins some of Richard’s other classics – including other Mercedes – in one of his handy barns.
Changing the S280’s boots has been a major priority.