£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

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - RICHARD KILPATRICK

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.

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