Reader Save: 1973 Mercedes-Benz 450SE

1973 Mercedes 450SE

Almost exactly a year ago one of our readers was tipped off to this Mercedes by a luxury showdown story that Jeff wrote. Well, that same reader, Chris, and his buddy decided to purchase the car and fix it up together. In the last year they have invested a lot of time and money into the car making it a dependable driver. Now with some life changes coming, it’s time to say goodbye to the car. The car is located in Mission Viejo, California and is listed here on craigslist for $11,000.

Mercede V8

Not only did they clean the car up, but they went through all the mechanical systems to make it safe and reliable. At least $5,600 was spent on OEM parts to refurbish the brakes and fuel-injected V8. New fluids went in along with belts, shocks, and more. Sure, one could find and purchase one of these for less than the asking price, but then they would have to come up with the time and money to perform all the deferred maintenance the car would surely need.

Mercedes Interior

It could be partly attributed to the excellent photography, but the interior looks great! I can’t spot a single crack in the dash cap. These were high quality cars when new and this one was obviously well-preserved because it cleaned up very well. Those seats are comfy in a trucker sort of way and the switch-gear will feel familiar to anyone who has driven anything from Mercedes except maybe the newest models.

Action Shot

The blue paint does add some flair to this otherwise subtle car. Most people probably wouldn’t even realize you were driving a classic car because the shape is so iconic. Luckily, this one is old enough to benefit from the slim bumpers and hubcaps. It’s no sports car, but if you want a luxury classic that is durable and handsome, this Mercedes can’t be beat!

Here’s the full story in Chris’ own words:

I acquired this beautiful car in March 2015 with the intention of completing a full restoration and holding for years to come. A long-time gearhead obsessed with the quality of German engineered cars, I was on the lookout for a classic Mercedes when I came across this one. I consider myself to be the second owner of the car which was purchased new and then handed down to the original buyer’s son in 2008, who then sold it in 2013. It appears that it was then shuffled around to a couple of shops looking to turn a profit on it, but essentially stored for the next two years without maintenance or driving. After registering and insuring it in Southern California early last year, I have put about 1,000 miles on it in an effort to identify and complete all of the necessary mechanical work that would return this incredibly manufactured machine to its former glory. All-in-all, there have only been about 2,500 very easy miles put on this car since 2008.

At first sight upon delivery, I noticed that the car looks spectacular. The color and finish are striking. The exterior Mercedes 903 Blue paint, and the chrome trim were in excellent condition, except for a few missing pieces and a sagging, rattling exhaust. It is a color that stands out in a crowd, but is not offensive like some of the other questionable color options of this period. I have clayed and waxed it several times and it has been garaged since I purchased it. I get at least one comment a day from people admiring the condition of the car. Looks aren’t everything, though…

At first drive, the a/c blew strong and cold which surprised me for such an old car, but I found out later that the previous owner had the a/c serviced in 2009. I could, unfortunately, also tell that this car had been neglected for some time. The starter only worked once every five tries, but once running, the engine ran strong and smooth. However, it was leaking oil badly in my garage. The car was surprisingly easy to drive, but the brakes were noticeably weak, the steering was loose, the front end suspension was loud and wobbly, the belts were squealing, the shifting was rough. My first look under the hood revealed substantial amounts of oil accumulation under the valve covers, seeping onto everything in its path. The head, the exhaust manifolds, the starter, and the steering box were all coated with years of oil.

After a thorough analysis, the restoration efforts began using all OEM or equivalent parts. No expense was spared in sourcing the highest quality and period-correct components. It certainly helped having the Mercedes Classic Center as a local resource. Missing exterior trim pieces and rear taillight assembly were sourced and installed. I was probably fortunate to locate some brand new pieces at a reasonable price. The brakes were completely overhauled: new rotors, new pads, new lines, new fluid, new booster hose, and wheel bearings repacked. The starter was replaced. The original 3-speed W3A040 transmission was serviced with a new filter, fluid, and gasket. The exhaust suspension was replaced with new hangers and bushings. All belts were replaced and re-tensioned to the proper specifications, including several tensioning nuts and brackets that had to be replaced due to 40+ years of wear and tear. Then the fun really began. The entire front-end suspension was rebuilt with all-new control arms, drag links, shock absorbers, ball joints, and bushings. The steering box was removed and rebuilt, along with a new pitman arm and steering shock absorber. The valve covers were both removed and all gaskets and o-rings were replaced, along with a new supply of engine oil and a new oil filter. In the process I found that one cylinder had not been running due to a completely corroded spark plug wire caused by the leaking valve cover gaskets. All spark plugs and wires were then removed and replaced with new ones. The exhaust manifolds were removed and cleaned of the accumulated oil, and all gaskets were replaced on the manifolds as well as the exhaust tubes.

The results have been phenomenal. The engine runs stronger, smoother, and quieter than it has in probably 30+ years. The front end is solid, straight, quiet, and responsive. The brakes are strong and firm. I continue to be amazed by the drivability and capability of this 43 year-old car. I remember reading when I first purchased this car that, if well maintained, these engines will go for 500,000+ miles. Now I can see why. Exquisitely over-engineered components surround every inch of this car. I can’t put into words how advanced this car must have been for its time. I have been impressed with every detail that went into the design and manufacturing of this vehicle, which is still perfectly capable of keeping up with today’s driving in stop-and-go city traffic as well as long tours with the family riding comfortably along in the spacious cabin.

Now, for the disclosures. This is a 43 year old car in very good condition, but it does have some minor flaws. I bought this car with the intention of completely restoring it, weekend driving it, and garaging it for the next decade. I feel like I have done a great job to getting it most of the way there. I think it is currently a solid 2.75 on the Hagerty scale and could be a 1.5, worth twice as much, with some more effort. The interior is all-original except for the hideous tape deck that the previous owner put in. This is easily rectified, but since electronics are such a personal preference, I decided to leave that for the next owner. There are some very tiny scratches and cracks in the wood trim, but absolutely no cracks in the dash. The original upholstery is a little tired and could be refreshed, but still in great shape for 43 years old. The previous owner disclosed that the odometer reads about 36,000 miles less than what is actually shown, and that has not been adjusted since I bought it. The power windows and sun roof all work well, but the power door locks are intermittent. The car has been resprayed, but it appears to be well done and matching the original color with some small areas of overspray to the trained eye. I have many receipts and documents dating back to the original owner and all of the receipts for the parts on the work that I performed which I estimate at $5,600.

I wish that I could keep going and finish the full restoration on this beautiful Benz, but life has taken its turns and this is now a project that I need to pass on to the next lucky owner, who will undoubtedly be as impressed as I have been in owning this car. In the least this is a solid daily, weekend, or long tour driver that will last for decades to come, especially with the recent work performed. Most likely, this is a car that has incredible restoration potential with a little more effort that I just can’t give it right now. The collector values on these cars have been essentially flat for quite some time, but they are sure to appreciate in the future. This is a great opportunity to own a classic, mechanically sorted, Mercedes Benz in very good overall condition at a fair price.

Finally, here’s a photo gallery with some resolution shots.

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Comments

  1. Michael Rogers

    THESE BEASTS WERE BILLED AS CAPABLE OF SHOWING TAILIGHTS TO MOST SPORTS CARS WHEN THEY CAME OUT, THEY ARE BUILT WELL AND WILL SURVIVE FOREVER WITH MINOR MAINTENANCE.

    THE PROBLEM I SEE IS THEY USED THE SAME BODY FOR DIESELS AMD THERE WERE MANY USED AS TAXIS SERIOUSLY COMPROMISING THE IMAGE!

    I’VE NEVER SEEN A JAGUAR MK-VII, VIII, IX, 420 ETC SO DEMEANED. THEY’RE ALSO DIFFICULT TO WORK ON AS OPPOSED.

    • Horse Radish

      Sorry, Your info is flawed.
      While these (W116 !) did come as turbo-diesels that was only during the last 2 years of this body run, and by then the umptieth oil crisis had convinced most users to scale down on consumption. The TAXIs you are thinking about are the W123 and those were the best Mercedes ever built.
      In any event no image lost, except for those absolutely un-knowledgable about foreign cars .
      And I don’t get the comparison to Jaguars from 2 decades before that either.

  2. Dan h

    Timing chain and guides?? Would be a shame to loose the motor after all that work!!

  3. motoring mo

    Great job with the restoration
    GLWTS!

  4. Wayne

    I second Dan h. Very expensive exercise when they jump a tooth or kick back on starting. $$$$$

  5. Michael V.

    I thought it was the later 5.6 engines that had the timing issues?

  6. Jeff Staff

    Very cool to see this one back up here! Nice job on the restore – I guess we know which one you’d choose in the Face Off!

  7. Dan10

    If I were closer I would make an offer. Unfortunately I think this is a bit overpriced. There are 3 listed on ebay in similar condition without reserves met all under $5000. These are beautiful cars. It will be interesting to see how much this brings.

  8. Dave Wright

    I stopped bidding on a 1979 6.9 at an estate auction last night at 5500.00 it sold for 5600.00. It looked better than this 450 and is worth 3 times as much. I think this one, although a nice car, is overpriced by a factor of 2.

    • john montgomery

      Looks like Dave Wright made a Wrong decision…missing a 6.9 for $100?
      The 450 models won’t bring the money…sorry to say. This car may be labor of love to the current owner, but I honestly doubt they’ll be able to recoup their investment.
      Best of luck with the sale!

      • Horse Radish

        Dave only missed the car BY $100 and NOT FOR $100.
        and that may have been a blessing in disguise. While 6.9 have higher resale value, they can be three to 5 times the money pits than these 450ies are when you don’t know how and where to put the money in the car.
        Chain guides and such are routine maintenance items on 40+ year old cars that potentially can or have run 1/2 a million miles.
        I don’t understand how that wouldn’t have been No 1 on the list……

      • Dave Wright

        John………you must be another amature. It was an auction. Who knows where the bidding would have gone. I would have had to be in Willows California by mid day on Saturday, add 17.5% buyers premium, after picking up equipment all week in SLC…….I didn’t have the energy. I bid the high bidder up 2000. At 7,000 or so I could have doubled my money if I wanted to sell it. I don’t need the paycheck and decided to let it go. The point is……when the bidding went over 4500.00, there were only 2 bidders…….those are the things that establish market value.

  9. Wayne

    W123s were good cars but W124 much better and more refined, especially in the 300D series.

    Like 1
  10. john montgomery

    Dave, you’re a high-roller, we get it… Although you might want to check your spelling before you post something.

    Horse, I never said he could have bought the car for $100. I said he missed it for a $100 bid. No Matter…

    The 123 were good, but I’ll take my 500E as one of the best Mercedes ever built.

    • Dave Wright

      The 4 cylinder diesels starting with the 180D through the 240D’s all held the mileage longevity records. Probably still do. The 500E is a nice and fun car but it has it’s share of problems.

  11. Wayne

    John
    I’m not sure if your an armature or an amateur. Perhaps Dave can explain, as there is a vast difference.
    (I no I’m a good spella cos I went to skool). I spent the best 4 years of my life in 3rd grade.

    • Dave Wright

      You must be an English teacher…….that can’t afford your mortgage………but you can spell!!!!!!

  12. john montgomery

    Wayne and Dave – I’m closer to an armature… one probably wound too tight at times!
    PS I’m a retired Electrical Engineer

  13. Wayne

    Haha love it. Try not to go to ground.

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