Gray Market Import: 1981 Mercedes 500SE

One of my pet peeves is when an eBay seller attempts to be witty in their listing and fails dramatically. This 1981 Mercedes-Benz 500SE is a European-market model that supposedly sat in a barn for several years before being rescued and brought back to life. It’s led an interesting existence as a daily driver in Europe before emigrating to the states with its American owner. The seller think this is a “European gangster” car, which does nothing to entice most buyers. Find it here on eBay with a shockingly cheap Buy-It-Now of $2,286.

The seller is not incorrect that the rare parts attached to this W126 sedan are worth the price of the entire car. The AMG bodykit, AMG steering wheel and Rial basketweave wheels are all quite desirable on their own. The car does run and drive, though the seller notes some roughness at idle and would recommend changing spark plugs, cap, and rotor before logging any serious miles. The seller also alludes to some rust issues that aren’t structural but aren’t photographed, either.

The interior presents well, with very clean carpets and dash surfaces, not easy to do on a parchment color interior. The steering wheel is a desirable piece, and was quite popular in modified Mercedes from the 1980s. The controls are simple, as was typical for early W126s, but I do wish this had crank windows in true Euro-spec fashion. The seller notes that the Mercedes was purchased by an ABC News cameraman based in Europe, who used the car as a daily transport before importing into the U.S. upon his return to New York.

The 500SE was powered by Mercedes’ 5.0L M117 V8 motor, which found a home under the hood of many models over the W126’s lifetime. Like any Euro-spec car, there should be some baked-in advantages, from free-er flowing exhausts to no catalytic converters. The car does retain its European H4 lighting, and given it lives in Canada, I’m hopeful the heavy safety bars and power-robbing emissions controls were never incorporated into this example. It seems way too cheap to me, but without pictures of the rust, how can you be sure?

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  1. wuzjeepnowsaab

    That is wayyy too cheap for this car unless there are some major issues about it that aren’t being disclosed….and I’m betting on major issues

  2. Max

    I have the legendary 79 Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 with 60K original miles just beautiful machine only approx 7K made worldwide It has largest engine on any mercedes sedan of era. Not my specific car but some 6.9’s were used by ” gangsters ” and appeared on some movies too!

    I like these W126s also if in excellent condition I can just guess this car have major hidden issues!

    As its Mercedes topic I have special 2001 ML55 AMG I bought used has 125K miles but its 7/10 condition these were most powerful and fastest Suv’s of the time !

  3. A.J.

    Wish it wasn’t 2000 miles from me. Starting bid is 2000CDN, about $1500US. If I could see it first I would be all over it. But, then again, I can do rust repair.

  4. David Miraglia

    At that price I agree. Major issues.

  5. Pete

    240KPH on the speedo and it will do every bit of that without breaking a sweat. That would be an excellent long haul vehicle if it was in good enough condition. To bad it’s red. LOL

  6. dyno dan

    me-thinks there’s a foul fragrance from the east and west.
    2 good 2 B Tru??

  7. glenn

    i see bad paint or a bad respray and no maintenance

  8. MikeK

    I see a bad respray with rust bubbles already coming back through to the left of the trunk emblem and below the fuel door.

  9. PaulB

    Thank god is no where near me. I like it.

  10. Miguel

    Is there any mention of the car being registered and certified in Canada, or is that up to the next buyer?

  11. AMCFAN

    The issue for someone getting it to the US is that it has to cross both Canadian and US borders. It isn’t as easy as driving over unannounced. Doesn’t happen that way.

    It is very complex and takes time in planning and signing lots of papers. It also requires a specialty transport company. I imported from a vehicle PRE NAFTA like the Benz from Canada earlier this year and cost me $3100 USD to just get the car to US soil

    The risk for me was worth the reward. The Benz above might be a mechanical vixen although attractive the asking price reflects the value.

  12. Mitch Ross

    1981 should be able to be brought in to the US by simply driving to the US side and asking to do a personal import. Duty is less than 10% , so less than $150. Does not need any certification for EPA or DOT.

  13. audifan

    In June this year I imported a 1990 420 SEL from British Columbia (CA) into Washington. 45 mins at the border, one stamped form and less than 100.–in import fees. Could not have been any easier.

  14. AMCFAN

    For me is was time constraint related and wasn’t up for an adventure I may soon wish to forget. The car was in Canada 2300 miles one way from me.I didn’t want to tie up a week travel time not knowing what lay ahead. My understanding is that one thing wrong with ANYTHING could hold you up at either border until it is straightened out. Your ignorance of the law and their requirements are not their problem

    It is possible to drive over with a trailer BUT you had better have your ducks in order. If you are within a reasonable driving distance AND study the Canadian and US border requirements (all posted on the web) as well as understand them you might be OK.

    I paid the professionals to handle it. There are transport trucks in and out of Canada daily so they are well versed in doing this sort of thing. I would advise anyone thinking on buying ANY vintage car in Canada to do your due diligence first. Sending payment may be the easiest thing to do. Once the seller has your money it’s all over. You have to forge ahead no matter the price

  15. Bobinott

    Personally importing a car from Canada is a very simple process, as long as it is at least 25 years old. I did it from Canada for an American buyer. Everything you need is on the CBP and EPA sites. Two forms to fill out. Car can be driven or trailered. Show up at the border well within normal working hours. It usually takes about 45 minutes to clear.

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