Junkyard Gem: 1983 Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC

The Mercedes-Benz W126 was the second generation of cars to use the S-Class designation, built for the 1980 through 1991 model years and is legendary for its build quality. Because these cars tended to hold together so well, plenty of them are only now wearing out and showing up in the big self-service car graveyards I frequent. I’ve documented two discarded W126 sedans with well over a half-million miles on the odometer (both 300 SDs, a 1981 and a 1985), but finding any W126 coupes is tougher. Today’s Junkyard Gem is a European-market two-door, now residing in a chilly boneyard in northeastern Colorado.

Americans could buy new W126 coupes in 1983, of course, but the U.S.-market version got a much smaller engine than the top-of-the-line Euro-market S-Class that year. The 1983 380 SEC available in American Mercedes-Benz dealerships had a 3.8-liter V8 rated at just 155 horsepower, while Europeans could buy a 500 SEC with 230 rampaging German horses. 

That’s where the gray market came in. This car was imported by a Netherlands Antilles-based company with a Fort Lauderdale address, which sounds about right for such a decadent machine.

I’ve found a few other gray-market Mercedes-Benzes of this era in Denver-area junkyards, including a 1980 280 SEL, a 1980 500 SE, and a 1988 230 CE.

As you’d expect, junkyard shoppers grabbed the Euro-spec headlights and other goodies off those cars. This car still has one headlight, but it’s broken.

V8-powered W126s didn’t come with manual transmissions in 1983, though four- and five-speed manuals were available in the (non-U.S.-market) straight-six cars that year.

The U.S.-market 500 SEC showed up for the 1984 model year, though its engine was rated at just 184 horsepower. The price tag: $57,100 (about $166,823 in 2022 dollars), making it the most expensive Mercedes-Benz available in America that year. 

This one still has shiny red paint, but there’s a lot of body filler covering up old crash damage.

Mercedes-Benz began offering driver’s-side airbags as an extra-cost option in the S-Class starting in 1981. In the U.S.-market 1984 500 SEC, the airbag cost $880 ($2,571 today).

Would it have been worth fixing up this car? Probably not, but it’s a shame to see it about to facing the cold steel jaws of the crusher.

Value that endures.


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