Some 5-6 years ago, I bought my girlfriend a Mercedes 500 SEC – as seen from the photos, it is the facelift model produced in 1989. One of the previous owners was an Olympic medalist in bobsleigh, so the car has some history! Initially, the car was brown with a white leather interior. However, I assume that it had the standard factory fabric seats, which had later been covered with leather – at a closer look, you can see that the seat sections on both the front and rear seats match the regular fabric seat formula. On original leather seats, the sections are somewhat different.
Keeping a Classic such as this 500 SEC running on a daily basis requires constant attention from the owner. One of first things to do is to remove any rust from the body, followed by repainting the car and having the interior renovated – once this is done, you don’t have to worry about these tasks again for many years.
The mechanical restoration is the part which will take time and a constant influx of money on a monthly, sometimes weekly, basis. I cannot say that it is exactly expensive, as (even original) spare components are rather cheap when compared to similar modern parts, but one should be ready for a constant commitment to visiting the service center in order to keep the car running properly. Before the purchase I expected it to be much easier – I hoped that within a half year or so, everything would be renovated and restored, and it would then only be a matter of having the car serviced every year. I was by far too naive.
The process of renovation itself was mostly quite enjoyable – I find it interesting to search for missing parts on enthusiast forums, and it is gratifying to obtain them and to then finally see them installed on the car. From the very beginning, I wanted the car to have the original automatic rear sunshade – as it hadn’t been fitted in the factory, I had to fix that little oversight more than 20 years later! I obtained the button from one person, the sunshade itself from another, and then had to relinquish a completely unnecessary dashboard button to install the sunshade controls between left and right front seat heating buttons.
About 20 years ago, I owned a W126 280 SE sedan, and I wrote about the driving experience in another post on this blog: the one thing I acutely remember is how it was really convenient to drive even back then. As a proper S-Class should always be! Almost two decades later, my experience over the last few years with the 500SEC model – which is based on the same W126 – has made me question that opinion, insofar as the driving experience is concerned.
For me, the most annoying aspect of driving the C126 500 SEC lay in the steering wheel and in keeping the car going in a straight line. The C126 steering system is based on a steering box rather than the newer steering rack technology, which Mercedes introduced in the mid-1980s on its W124 cars. Other than that, in my opinion a good condition C126 is a fairly nice drive even today.
There was one potentially dangerous and simultaneously funny experience with the car, which was caused by shoddy work on the part of the guys at the body workshop. The sunroof of the car didn’t function; all that remained of the rails on which it opens and closes was rust, and as I was initially unable to find a replacement, it was decided to have the sunroof fixed at a later stage. The workshop then decided that it was wise to attach the sunroof to the frame with help of glue, instead of with screws and bolts as it should be. The glue worked well…for the first half a year or so. Then, on a summer evening, the sunroof just took off whilst I was driving down the highway at 120 kph. Imagine this happening to yourself – the first question through my head was whether the old Mercedes really had an ejector button! Luckily no one got hurt during said incident; no cyclists nor other cars were hit, but the reliance on glue could’ve had very serious consequences. However, in this case the sunroof landed safely on a field next to the highway, which was the best possible outcome of such sunroof-abandoning-the-car-at-high-speed-activity.