Junkyard Gem: 1989 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC

The biggest, most decadent new German coupe money could buy in 1989.

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During the 1980s, if you had serious bucks and wanted to flaunt them with your choice of massive European luxury car, you had one sensible choice: the Mercedes-Benz W126. Stupefyingly complex, yes, but built so well that mechanical troubles didn't dare occur, the W126 showed the world that you were rich and planning to stay that way. Most American W126 buyers got the magnificent SEL sedan, but the more devilish ones went for the slightly-frivolous-yet-beautiful SEC coupe. Here's a 1989 560SEC that purred along for 29 years before ending its career in a Denver self-service wrecking yard.

The instrument clusters in these cars are worth decent money on eBay, so it's unusual for me to get an odometer reading from a junkyard example. 187,478 miles is a low figure for a W126; when I do find an odometer in one, it's more likely to read something like 535,971 miles (if it's a diesel) or 262,895 miles (if it's a V8).

This one was in good shape when it took its final tow-truck ride, with a clean interior, rust-free sheet metal, and relatively straight body. These cars seemed modern for decades after they were new, so only the most knowledgeable Mercedes-Benz fanatics think of them as classics; for the average W126 driver who bought the car for $1,400 from its sixth owner, the prospect of a $2,200 repair— they don't break often, but what does break costs real money to fix— most often means a quick sale to the nearest wrecking yard.

This one suffered some undignified colored-tape repairs to the lights before the end.

The biggest engine that Mercedes-Benz put into the W126 was the 5.5-liter single-overhead-cam M117 V8, which was available for the 1985 through 1991 model years. The one in this car was rated at 238 horsepower.

Driver- and passenger-side airbags came standard in U.S.-market V8 W126s in 1989. How much did all this luxury, power, and safety cost back then? $79,840, or just over $160,000 in inflation-adjusted 2018 dollars. The 1989 BMW 750i, V12 engine and all, started at a mere $70,000. The 1990 model year brought a nasty shock for Mercedes-Benz dealers, with the brand-new Lexus LS 400 and its MSRP of just $35,000, but at least there was no LS coupe.

You'll find one in every car. You'll see.

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