Tow Yard Find: 1971 Mercedes 300SEL

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Oh, if these cars could talk. I am dying to know the backstory on this 1971 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL here on eBay, which appears to be a genuine European-market model locked up in a tow yard or salvage operation. Although you might expect to see the sexy glass headlamps as a clear indicator to this Benz sedan being a real-deal gray market car, there are other clues that are much harder to swap out when they inevitably fail. This sad-looking sedan is available in Ohio with a $3,500 Buy-It-Now. 

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Here’s clue number one: the speedometer remains in kilometers instead of m.p.h. What’s curious to me is that when cars were brought into the U.S., either via a serviceman or a factory European delivery program, these parts were usually swapped out along with things like the headlights. This Mercedes retains its original cluster, but sadly, what was likely a sweet and valuable Becker radio has gone missing. I’m sure that odometer has spun around a few times, but at least you’re starting with the original unit. The wood trim looks presentable for the age as well, and the dashpad appears uncracked. My guess is this was a garaged specimen for most of its life.

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Here’s clue number two as to this car’s original intended consumer market: the cloth seating surfaces. While it’s certainly a part that could have been swapped in, I doubt highly that any U.S. customers who bought a car with leather or high-grade vinyl willingly converted to cloth seats. Ironically, that’s what some enthusiasts in the Euro circles do today in order to make their cars feel more authentic but it’s a pricey proposition. This 300SEL already has these features, which look like they at one time wore a blue-tinted insert in the seating surface to match the door panels and carpet.

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Is anyone else with me that this Mercedes was not originally red in color? I can’t picture a red exterior with a blue interior, so I’m guessing it was repainted. Likely at some point long ago, given it’s already well-aged. The color-matched hubcaps are what throws me off, however, given most quicky resprays don’t get that detailed in execution. Going into this, you know the air suspension will need repair given how low this Benz is riding, but its unique features and seemingly only minor rust make a compelling case to yours truly. Would you take it on as a project?

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  1. Van

    I try to like old Mercedes.
    The wife wants an old SL like before 1973.
    I can only go for an old 300 SL, or a mid 2000s SL. To me the SL from the 70s and 80s drove like a big sedan and didn’t drive like a sports car. “Mush dog mush”. Now I’ll take a 2005 SL55AMG

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    • Julles

      The old pagoda SLs are beautiful cars but yes they drive ugly and the seats are less than desirable but make it into a restomod with an SLK engine and suspension and it would be a great car. And I can’t be too wrong about them because the price on the 280SLs are seriously going crazy. They are up to $80,000 for a good one. I think the early 450SL’s are going to go up next which makes this a good time to invest and they are already going up in price. As for big old Mercedes, I saw a 1958 280 SE Cabriolet with leather seats and a wood dash in poor shape go at Copart for $23,000 and then was cleaned up and flipped for $80,000 and then flipped again for $130,000. IMO old Mercedes and Alfa Romeos are a good investment right now but I really think the old 240-260-280Zs are going to be great investments in the future and they are dead cheap right now.

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      • Ross W. Lovell

        Greetings Julles,

        The numbers don’t add up.

        Compared to the 235/250/280 SL’s they made far more of the later variant. The numbers alone have offset the resale value and coupled with the much improved build quality, more are lasting, leaving more.

        The only fly in the ointment on the newer SLs is to avoid the ones that MB equipped with the “green” bio-degrade able wiring harness. The started to decay in less than 10 years.

        Ponton are a whole different animal, rare and some pretty odd variations.
        I own one still?

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  2. doug6423

    The car is butchered mess. It is also located in New Jersey, not Ohio. It’s good for parts though.

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  3. Ross W. Lovell

    . Greetings All,

    That faded paint looks about right. Mercedes had a red, an odd shade, and that appears to have oxidized like the one I have.

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  4. Luke Fitzgerald

    Love ’em – money pit tho’ if you’re not handy

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  5. JACKinNWPA Jack NWPAMember

    I do believe that the color combination is original. Certanly not a quickie respray. the door jambs are red also without paint on the trim or latches. I repaired a fender on a Porsche Boxter that the escentric owner had flown to Germany and talked with an old friend higher up at Porsche that got his car in yellow with a green interior and blue convertible top. He also has a Mercedes 500 SL with a non stock combination from new.

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  6. misterlouMember

    The model to have. Has all the nice aspects of the 6.3 without the scary-expensive-please-don’t-break stress. The 3.5 was a far better motor then the 4.5 they stuck in the US-Spec cars. I like me a beater benz.

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  7. Wiliiam

    I really feel that this car was the color it is from day one. Look at the vin tag. The dash below is also red. I think it was ordered with blue interior, or swapped out somewhere along the way. Maybe it suffered an interior fire and the owner at the time thought it was a good time for a color change. The seat belts are red as well.

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  8. L.M.K.

    I can’t believe that this unit hasn’t been bought yet. It appears to be solid in the areas that count and the body is straight…plus the seller says that it runs.

    I am full up or I would have snatched it already.

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  9. Dan h

    Red seat belts? Someone swapped the interior with blue. Mercedes never did a red/blue combo.

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  10. audifan

    Back then Mercedes did ANY color combo you wanted. Red with blue interior was not unusual at all. The car has velour not cloth interior. The 3.5 engine is pretty powerful but combined with the hard shifting 4 spd automatic less desirable then the US only 4.5 with the smooth 3 spd torque converter AT.

    It could get pretty expensive to fix the air suspension. The air bellows are easy to get and still affordable but the 3 leveling valves can get pretty expensive.

    Rust is of major concern too especially when a car came from Europe.
    I see a 1.000 to 1.500 parts car.

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  11. Dave Wright

    Audi fan, You are correct…….the upolstery is the base European specification I call corduroy. When we shipped these cars back to the US in the 80’s it is one of the few things that needed to be changed. Mercedes never submitted the material for fire testing and leather or MB text was approved. The biggest give away that this is a euro-spec car is the trailer hitch. Typical European design, no one I ever heard of had to change a speedometer, off course sealed beam headlights were required until the last decade or so. I prefer a 6.3 or my current 4.5 but the 3.5’s are fine. The only difference in the 3.5 and 4.5 engine is the stroke and different cam timing. The 4.5 makes torque and horsepower at lower RPM and makes more of both. There are lots of rumors and myths about older cars but Mercedes has all the records……there trains run on time too……so it is easy to research. Any color was available by special order. I can’t remember what the door panals were like on the “courduroy” interior cars. That might indicate the seats have been changed at some time. It looks like an honest car for a reasonable price. I am more curious about the plain wood. 300 wood was usually tiger stripe or burl. The plain straight wood was more common in the 280’s. I would want to verify the vin that it is really a 300.

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    • Audifan

      Just look at the VIN: 109(long wheelbase 300)056 (3.5)
      It also has air suspension which was ONLY available in 300 SELs. That’s your verification.
      The velour upholstery was standard in W109s but extra cost for W108s. They had cloth interior. Velour interior was also available for US cars, but very, very uncommon.
      There is a big difference between the 108/109 3.5 and 4.5: The automatic transmission. I definitely prefer the 3 spd. torque converter in the 4.5 over the jerky 4 spd. in the 3.5.
      The interior looks correct. Steenbuck in Germany can supply you with the proper velour to re-upholster the seats. A look at the data plate above the radiator would give us the color codes and we would know if this is the correct color inside and out.

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      • Dave Wright

        You are correct on most points but the air suspension was available as an option on the 280SEL cars. I owned one……..the plain wood bothers me on this one.

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  12. Mr. TKD

    I will leave this one to the guys at Mercedes Motoring.

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  13. gearhead engineer

    Love these. This one has Bondo in several places. Not a good sign. And who thought it was a good idea to lift it with a forklift? Geniuses….

    – John

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