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Recently Revived: 1981 Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL AMG

I rarely have the opportunity to write about the same car twice, but that is the case with this 1981 Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL AMG. We previously featured it in 2020, and, at that stage, it hadn’t run for years. Much has happened since, and this classic Mercedes has returned to active service. It has some cosmetic needs, but there’s nothing that a new owner with basic painting skills couldn’t tackle in a home workshop. The AMG is listed here on Barn Finds Classifieds in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It could be yours by handing the seller $6,500.

When this Mercedes last appeared on our pages, it showed some panel damage to the passenger side front fender. The owner didn’t mess about trying to repair what was a significant dent. They replaced the panel to ensure a high standard of fit and finish. The Charcoal Gray paint still looks tired, but it wouldn’t prevent a new owner from enjoying the car immediately. The Merc would undoubtedly make a bold impact following a repaint, but that could occur as time and circumstances allow. Some people find restoration projects depressing because they are forced to watch their heart’s desire sit for years awaiting some TLC. That isn’t the case here. The buyer can enjoy the classic motoring experience until they have all their ducks in a row to perform a quick and painless cosmetic restoration. With the damaged fender replaced, the panels look straight and clean. There is no evidence of rust or other nasty problems. The glass and trim look good, but the wheels will allow the buyer to personalize this classic further. The car rolls on the rims we see in the photos, but the owner includes a set of AMG 5-Star wheels that would dramatically change the vehicle’s appearance.

A lot has happened to this Mercedes over the past two years, which all amounts to positive news. The person who purchased the car via our site revived a classic that had been sitting for years. After replacing the battery and cleaning the fuel system, this gem roared back to life. They replaced the water pump, radiator, and the damaged steering components on the front right corner. This classic’s 4,973cc V8 engine should produce close to its original 237hp, which finds its way to the rear wheels via a four-speed automatic transmission. The Mercedes “S Class” has long been the benchmark for advanced technology, making it no surprise that this car features four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. That wasn’t a feature offered by many manufacturers in 1981. The car runs and drives well following the work. The seller supplies this YouTube video allowing us to see and hear it in action. The motor sounds as sweet as a nut, proving that this car is ready for instant enjoyment.

When we last saw this 500, its interior was a sad and sorry sight. It featured cloth upholstery that was worn, torn, and sun-rotted. However, those days are long behind it. The owner sourced a complete replacement interior in luxurious Black leather. It lifts the inside enormously and reinforces the car’s luxury credentials. The leather isn’t perfect, with wear on the outer bolsters on both bucket seats. However, the wear isn’t bad, and a leather specialist should be able to return them to a spotless state without breaking the bank. The remaining interior trim and plastic look excellent, with no cracks in the prone dash pad. Since its last appearance, the owner replaced the Becker radio/cassette player with a Sony CD player. Other luxury touches include climate-control air conditioning, power windows, and cruise control.

This 1981 Mercedes 500 SEL is not perfect, but that could be part of its attraction. The paint is tired and peeling, but returning it to its former glory would be no more difficult or expensive than for any other vehicle of this vintage. Alternatively, the buyer could leave it untouched, cultivating the “shabby chic” look in a car that many may consider a genuine sleeper. Regardless of which path they select, it is a car that offers a lot for the money. I would love to see a new owner treat it to a cosmetic birthday, but could that person be you?

Contact The Seller


  1. alphasud Member

    AMG was a independent tuner when this car was sold new. One could drop the car off for number of services whether it be cosmetic or performance. The real gems are the ones that received performance updates. Special camshafts higher compression ratios and even displacement bumps to 6 liters could be ordered. The question is is there any documentation from AMG or perhaps engine stamping to indicate any performance mods? The ground effects should have the AMG embossed somewhere to indicate this was done by AMG. Zender was another body kit manufacturer back in the 80’s. Either way it’s a cool car. I like the fact the vacuum headlight height adjustment is still on the dash. I’m sure the vacuum lines are still there and all that would be required is a set of European headlights with the adjusters.

    Like 5
  2. CCFisher

    Is this a gray market car? The 500SEL wasn’t available in the US until 1984. It also has a curious mix of Euro bumpers and US headlights.

    Like 3
    • alphasud Member

      Yes this one is a gray market car. It’s funny how the federalizing process varied from car to car. This one was allowed to keep the euro bumpers whereas some were required to have 5mph bumpers. To comply with EPA emissions it would have required a catalyst with feedback control, evaporative emissions and a EGR valve.

      Like 2
  3. Paul R

    From Becker to Sony, bad move in my opinion.

    Like 7
    • TerryC

      Could not agree more.
      Look up what it costs to replace…if you are able to find…the Becker from folks who swap and toss the old headunit.
      It took me a while and a few bucks to sort out my last 560 SL to stock in that regard

      Like 0
  4. Pete

    1981 was a good year for MB. The quality of design and manufactering was excellent. I had a 81 MB 200, I would watch these AMG’s coming sailing past me on the autobahn like I was sitting still and I was doing 240KPH. LOL. This is a great car provided all the plastic parts haven’t cracked or melted. I remember all manner of ground effects kits being sold back then. They did make a difference at high speed.

    Like 1
  5. Mitch

    W 126 – except u.s. export – to 1985 had no catalytic converter.
    With cloth seats roam more then the mostly today presented
    with leather. This is a parts car.

    Like 0

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