Mercedes specialist and W 126 owner and enthusiast, James Rothwell lets us in on a few tips Generally speaking, the W 126 is very reliable, and they seldom rust apart from the wheel arches and the bottom of the rear windscreen. The great AC, however, is very complex, so if it does break it can be a nightmare. If it is maintained well, it is colder than most modern cars, though.
The best condition W 126s here in the UAE seem to be Japanese or European imports, but make sure no ABS light stays on, as the pump is expensive to replace, and the same goes for the airbags. Additionally, these cars — maybe due to age, weight, design and overengineering — seem to enjoy munching through suspension bushes, giving it a really loose feeling. A well-maintained W 126, even today, drives like a new car.
The 300SE lacks in power, but it is adequate, although the 500 is perfect, and the 560 adds more power, but also has the hydraulic rear suspension, which can become a maintenance worry. Pretty much all parts are available direct from Mercedes for the W 126, but UAE dealers stick to only very basic parts.
One thing to look out for with the V8 engines is that there shouldn’t be any loud ticking — if it sounds like a diesel injector pump firing every few seconds, there could be a problem with the camshafts. Labour time on a W 126 is normally much more than with a new car — if a job takes two hours on a new S-Class, it will take five hours on a W 126, but you’ll get a cheaper rate because of the age of the vehicle.
A normal service would cost you around Dh1,200. In my opinion, the best W 126 is a 500SEL 1989/1990/1991, or a 560 of the same year if you’re feeling brave and can find a good one.