Richard’s latest barge replaces his Jaguar XJS, partly because it’s a lot easier to understand
1993 MERCEDES-BENZ 500SEC
In the early 1990s I bought a house. My first, in fact, in a concept that will make younger readers weep for the state of the economy. It was reasonably priced relative to income, and spacious, in a rural area of Scotland. Around the same time, somewhere in what may as well have been an alien world, someone put in an order for a two-door 5.0-litre V8-powered Mercedes that cost almost exactly twice as much as that first house. A little over 20 years later, and that Mercedes now costs less than a couple of months’ rent on that same sort of house.
I acquired the Merc to replace my Jaguar XJS, because, as wonderful as the V12 British car is, I don’t really have the brain for understanding the three generations of design thinking and scattergun approach to systems apparently taken by Coventry.
The 500 SEC may have a little more joined-up thinking and it cost more when new, yet it lacks the agility and, arguably, the style of the Jaguar. It also lacks the svelte dimensions, with little advantage if you treat your coupés as twoseater GTs with well-padded luggage spaces. Despite being longer than the W140 saloon, there’s little legroom for rear seat passengers even with my short-leg, upright driving position. Where the XJS impressed on the road – and terrified in the workshop – the 500 SEC is capable of going very quickly without you actually being aware of it – or feeling wholly in control, the steering sending edited highlights compared with the beautiful prose the Jaguar created to express appreciation of the road surface.
In the workshop, though, the C140 is a pleasure, a puzzle box seemingly complex beyond comprehension, yet constructed of simple pieces.
It’s worth taking a moment to bask in what Mercedes created with the W140 S-class. It predates – just – true multiplex wiring, and yet has complex interconnections between systems. Where some cars might have an ECU tucked away ( like the XJS one hidden in the boot, complete with comedy straw running the length of the car to sense vacuum from the engine, a true suck-it-and-see approach), the S-class has a server rack under the bonnet with neatly-arranged modules.
Mocking the XJS is hardly fair, though, because the 500 SEC contains a web of straws – vacuum lines all over the place to suck the doors and boot shut, inflate the seat cushions, even raise the two parking poles that act as a reference for where that giant back end is being placed. The integrated LCD system on CCW’s S280 barge is vastly superior, if less visually amusing.
Like any mid-1990s Mercedes, my SEC’s front wings are rotting away, but unlike a mid-1990s Jaguar, the windscreen still has something to attach to, and the sills and structure are unassailed so far. Perhaps it’s too optimistic to think that removing the plastic lower panels will reveal nothing more than the bolt-on wings needing attention, but at £330 per side for genuine (very heavy, very well-made) panels, it’s worth a shot, as is replacing the perished rubbers.
Adding to the challenges of age, my 500 SEC has decided to challenge my fondness for this complex-simplicity, and developed a nervous tic. If the lights are on, the right-turn signal will periodically flash; a brief ‘get out of my way’. There are two suspects here. A combination relay, which is simple – hidden in the fusebox, it can be changed in minutes, but common failures mean it costs well over £200 secondhand or £450 new. That pre-multiplex wiring means it has over 40 connections, and is bespoke to the car’s configuration.
It could be that. Or it could be a bad earth. The connection for that section is a loom join below the ECU module, that on my car has a fairly full complement of boxes. Very neat, very organised. Nothing like the Jaguar, where everything was just sort of… there, somewhere – if you knew where to look.
There’s probably more room inside the Bond Minicar… Sorting out perished window rubbers will be one of the first jobs.