Mercedes-Benz 500SEC

Richard’s lat­est barge re­places his Jaguar XJS, partly be­cause it’s a lot eas­ier to un­der­stand

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


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.

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