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Future Classic: 1991 Mercedes 420SEL

This 1991 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL may be a higher mileage example, but the list of recent maintenance items should inspire some confidence that this long-lived beast has many more miles left in it. The W126 lineup is often looked at as one of the most overbuilt lines of Mercedes products in recent memory, and this one listed here on craigslist has been given lots of attention with some smaller items left to sort out. It’s offered up for sale at $3,200 with almost all of the spares included to address the outstanding items.

I have a fond memory of the 420SEL, as my brother and I both had plenty of seat time in a high mileage example my father bought used back in the early 90s. It was a tank of a car with the sort of interior volume that would keep two kids mostly quiet on long-drives, as each underling felt like they had plenty of personal space. I will say, they weren’t the most beautiful cars – body lines were non-existent and the interiors felt spartan by Mercedes standards – but that car ate up highway miles at the hand of an owner who didn’t over-spend on upkeep. I don’t love the chrome wheels on this car, but that’s an easy fix.

The seller of this car, conversely, has been spending quite a bit of time making this into a fairly reliable daily driver. The list of fixes at his hands is extensive, and includes things like the O2 sensor, valve cover gaskets, OVP relay, throttle position sensor, air intake boots, and more. A previous owner also tackled important items like the water pump and alternator. Some fiddly items remain on the “to do” list, including sluggish window regulators, tired lower ball joints, and a wonky fuel level sender. The seller notes some of the wood trim should be replaced, and he’s included some good pieces in the sale.

As mentioned, the back seat is expansive, and based on the condition of the bench, it hasn’t seen a ton of use. The driver’s seat is described as needing replacement or upholstery work; the good news is, you can still find these cars hiding out in junkyards and a replacement seat would be far cheaper than paying for new leather. The carpets look OK – the fronts  seem kind of dingy to me – but overall, nothing to get torn up about. Mileage is at 200K, which is far from new but also not exactly long in the tooth for overbuilt cars like these. I think the asking price is a touch high, but in the ballpark – definitely one to make an offer on after an in-person inspection.


  1. Bakyrdhero

    This is a good one for Wheeler Dealers

    Like 2
  2. ccrvtt

    Nothing more expensive than a cheap old Mercedes. But they’re cool as heck, a real statement car. You can get a newer S-class with half the miles for under $10K, but they lack the stolid presence of this era.

    I happen to like the chrome wheels (ok, boomer).

    I think it’s cool. And it’s cheap.

    Like 10
  3. Bakyrdhero

    I’ll second the chrome wheels.

    Like 5
  4. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    Those chrome rims…uh oh….we used to have the trannys rebuilt in these, seemed to be a weak point. Other than I remember just a solid ride for Mr/Ms professional. But those rims. Just like a red car in the movie ‘Used Cars’. LOL !

    Like 1
  5. sparkster

    Geez my 1991 Lexus LS400 hasn’t had to this much work done to it ever. Even at 340,000 miles

    Like 1
    • ccrvtt

      LS400 is by all accounts an excellent car. But there’s never been a Lexus made that anyone pines after 28 years later.

      Like 4
      • Bakyrdhero

        I would argue that Lexus hasn’t been around long enough to be pined after 28 years later, but that is about to change I believe…and soon.

        Like 1
    • W126 fan

      I’ve owned over 20 Mercedes Benz and enjoyed them all, but one. The aluminum head on the 1987 300SDL ate my lunch, twice, decades ago. OK, but two. The hydraulic cylinders on the R129 SL500 Roadster were another expensive repair. (Come to think of it, there have been several expensive repairs.) By comparison, the 180,000 miles in my 1999 Lexus LS400 were trouble free. I never owned a better car. Time will tell whether or not my wife’s new Tesla Model 3 LR RWD will hold up.
      In this 420SEL one would need to make sure the timing chain guides were replaced. The W126 has been my favorite MB chassis.

      Like 0
  6. tonyu

    These cars, in my opinion, were absolutely gorgeous. They had such a classy presence about them. Would NOT want any party of the upkeep and repair on these beasts.

    Like 1
  7. Del

    As an American Car Buff, I have never caught the Religious Fever attached to German engineeering.

    Just lucky, I guess.

    Like 1
  8. bhowe Member

    For it’s time the 126 body S Class had a body as tight as a bank vault a velvety ride and such presence. Nothing said you’ve arrived as rolling up with one of these. Love the Chrome wheels. Earlier in life I had a 6 cylinder gas 126 S class and even in that car, the transmission was a weak point. I remember the owners manual cautioning that during the break in period, the owner was to refrain from running “flat out”. The unspoken but obvious inference was that after break in, feel free to run “flat out”. As much as I love American and Japanese cars, these Benzs were built to run long and hard, and in style.

    Like 2
  9. Louis Chen

    This car brought back lots of memories for me. One of my friends promised himself & family when he made his first $250k then he would g and buy one! In this case he bought one. Silver metallic blue with beautiful blue leather interior. I fell in love with it after my first ride! It was smooth but firm ride, handled great even for a “tank”. My friend still has it now and one thing for sure with German cars they’re not cheap to own or maintain. His car is now on it’s second tranny rebuilt. The tranny on these “tank” seems to last about 150kmiles! Lucky for him, I was able to rebuilt it for him! As for me, I bought a new 1972 280SEL 4.5 which I still own. Personally the old MB were solidly built and of better quality than the “junks” that MB made these days! I guess thanks to Lexus…gave them a run for their money. “Why buy a copy when you can buy an original?”

    Like 0
  10. Stevieg

    My high school crush’s Dad drove one of these in the 1980’s. My Mom drove a Nissan Sentra & my Dad was a junkie & drove whatever he could afford at the moment. Needless to say, I didn’t impress her lol.
    She was given a new white Rabbit convertible when she started driving. German last name, German cars, beautiful house in a very high class neighborhood. My car broke down in front of their house once lol.

    Like 0
  11. Audifan

    As a happy and proud owner of five W126s I hate these gaudy chrome wheels on this otherwise great car. They give it a cheesy, cheap wannabe look.
    Contrary to common belief, most OEM parts can be bought reasonably inexpensive at various parts suppliers. Also, a lot of maintenance can be done by DIY. These cars are built for eternity and with proper maintenance will last a lifetime.

    Like 3

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