By on May 11, 2020

1992 Mercedes-Benz W140 500SEL in Arizona junkyard, RH front view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsTop-of-the-line German luxury sedans are worth plenty… until, suddenly, their values slam down to salvage-title Hyundai Scoupe territory. For today’s Junkyard Find, an early W140 S-Class that sold new for the 2020 equivalent of $175,000, now parked between a couple of prole-grade Japanese machines in a Phoenix yard.

1992 Mercedes-Benz W140 500SEL in Arizona junkyard, decklid badge - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe $93,500 SEL stood in about the middle of the S-Class lineup for 1992, flanked by the lowly six-cylinder 300SE ($69,400) and the mighty V12-powered 600SEL ($127,800). Yes, the top S-Class cost the 2020 equivalent of nearly $240,000 back then. I was driving a hooptie ’65 Impala sedan when this Benz was in a showroom, and such a machine seemed as far out of my reach as an intergalactic starship.

1992 Mercedes-Benz W140 500SEL in Arizona junkyard, hood ornament - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsMercedes-Benz switched naming systems soon after this car was made, with the class letter coming before the displacement number during the following model year.

1992 Mercedes-Benz W140 500SEL in Arizona junkyard, engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars322 horsepower from this DOHC V8 engine.

1992 Mercedes-Benz W140 500SEL in Arizona junkyard, interior - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsEarly-1990s luxury cars tend to have bewildering quantities of buttons, switches, sliders, indicator lights, and hard-to-figure-out controls in general. Later in the decade, computer screens made it possible to bury bewildering quantities of menus many layers deep.

1992 Mercedes-Benz W140 500SEL in Arizona junkyard, LH front view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsNo rust on this Arizona car, and the interior looks reasonably nice. I think a minor fender-bender doomed this car, since fixing even this much damage would have cost much more than the painfully depreciated 2020 resale value.

1992 Mercedes-Benz W140 500SEL in Arizona junkyard, location popup - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAfter my fellow 24 Hours of Lemons judge, Andrew Ganz, wrote about these little location-indicator popups on early W140s, I had to remove one and see how it worked. Turns out they’re air-operated, with a vacuum/pressure pump in the car’s spare-tire well. I’m going to collect a few dozen (with the pump) and put them all on a junkyard-parts boombox.

Doktor Berger’s secretary runs out of excuses for his absence, because he won’t leave his new S-Klasse.

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57 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1992 Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Forever known as the Princess Diana Mercedes. Same W140 as the one she died in in a Paris tunnel

    If she had worn her seatbelt she probably would have lived

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Amen. Also, the engineering of the tunnel doomed them. A long row of round concrete pillars to slam into, with no guardrail or New Jersey barrier in front of them, for the car to slide along. I’ve always thought that design was completely negligent.

  • avatar

    Proof you can’t leave the secure cordon. The driver was her companion – alleged BF’s driver, who after the crash was found to have a variety of sedatives in his system-and he was running paparazzi. Had the driver been sober or trained for security, or they just let them get the photo, or it was a motorcade, even a small one, she’d be alive today.

    • 0 avatar

      Believe what you will. The British Monarchy did NOT want Princess Diana to marry into a Middle Eastern family at any cost. Diana herself “predicted” there would be a fatal car accident. Look it up.

      • 0 avatar

        You don’t mess with “The Firm”. Look that up too.

      • 0 avatar

        She did predict that in a letter. But she was also more than a little paranoid.

        And not going to marry Al Fayed.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          The Queen’s initial reaction to the accident was to wonder out loud if “someone greased the brakes”. However, in light of the Megan Markle/Prince Harry union I doubt they offed Diana, but let the American Princess live

        • 0 avatar

          Don’t mean to turn this into The Tabloid About Cars! Lol. But hey. She was rumored to be pregnant. TOTALLY unacceptable to “The Firm”. She was still alive at the scene of the accident. Whispered secrets to a police officer on the scene. And she eerily predicted her sad outcome. I am not convinced that this was an “accident” anymore than I believe Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide. Another Royal connection via Prince Andrew this time. Like I said, draw your own conclusions.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    …… “I was driving a hooptie ’65 Impala sedan when this Benz was in a showroom, and such a machine seemed as far out of my reach as an intergalactic starship.” An already 30 year old full size Chevy would remain on the road long after this turns into a pile of dust.

    In 96 when I purchased my Caprice, I stopped by the MB dealership and looked at at pre-owned S 500 Mercs. I remember that even ones of this generation that were “certified” were having electrical glitches on the dealer’s lot. ….and the Caprice was much quicker, better fuel mileage and was a better road car.

    IMO this generation was a failure and MB has never recovered.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Is this the Merc with the dissolving wire harnesses?

      • 0 avatar
        CaddyDaddy

        Yes, IIRC. The wire insulation was made with EU compliant environmentally compliant organic / plant based oils in the plastic. The wire insulation turns to powder. I can’t even imagine the rate of degradation in the heat of the Sonoran Desert in AZ.

        So in the name of environmentalism virtual signaling, a car should that have lasted decades is now junked and with it the need for replacement and all the associated environmental cost associated with disposal and replacement.

        Lie2Me…. this type of unnecessary regulation seems to be right up your .gov alley!

        • 0 avatar
          theflyersfan

          I think this was also around the time when the EU required bumpers to be totally recyclable and the E36 BMW 3-series started with the unfinished bumpers because of paint issues with the materials (or so I’ve heard). I recall all kinds of paint issues with those bumpers not long after the cars hit the streets with the ones that were painted.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          “Lie2Me…. this type of unnecessary regulation seems to be right up your .gov alley!”

          Yeah, ok, make it political… Geez!

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        From what I have heard these W140’s were fairly robust- I mean look at the double pane side window glass. Considered to be the last over engineered Benzs. The successor W220 was full of cost cutting that had the disintegrating wire harnesses.

        For a couple of years the short wheelbase 300SE was offered here in the states. I take it that it was dropped because it cut into E-class sales.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Probably. Funnily enough, it took BMW, Audi and Jaguar several years to stop offering SWB sedans in the US. Audi and BMW only did it with the latest A8 and 7 Series, respectively, while Jaguar technically never did, but simply discontinued the XJ altogether.

          Funnily enough, I myself have a SWB 2004 XJ Vanden Plas. As a matter of fact, for the X350/X358-generation XJ (2004-2009), all 2004 models were SWB. They didn’t offer the LWB until 2005. And I don’t believe you could get it on the XJR for a while, either.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          “From what I have heard these W140’s were fairly robust”

          They were, that wreck with Princess Diana where they hit a cement post @70mph would have pulverized any lessor car

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      When Iraq invaded Kuwait during the first Gulf War, it was the contemporary Caprice and not the MBs what was the preferred escape car for escaping the invasion. The Caprices could run flat out on the open desert, while the MBs could not.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I’m an addict when it comes to looking at used cars, especially once expensive onse where I could get a “deal”. BHPH lots with a BMW 7-series, a MB S-Class, or an Audi A8 aren’t that uncommon. And I can imagine the urge for a lot of people to be styling in such luxury is high.

    But then I think of that first repair bill for some electronic gizmo. Or heck, even the cost of an oil change.

    As a side note I’ve been searching for old 911s – only $20K! for a 1999. I have no idea if it would be worth the trouble or would I have to learn to be a Porsche mechanic to make it work for me.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      That’s why resale is so low on ultra-luxury cars. Without a warranty they are financial suicide

      • 0 avatar

        People who live in the sort of apartments where the grass grows too long outside always end up purchasing these kinds of vehicles.

        The allure of appearing “rich” in a 10-15 year old luxury car is strong.

        • 0 avatar
          theflyersfan

          Same with an E65 7-series. The paint has gone to hell, it sounds somewhat ragged, it has the cheapest tires made in a back alley in the deepest, darkest parts of China on two (bent) wheels (the other two tires are bald), the brakes sound like a locomotive coming to a stop, and the interior and exterior lights gave up the ghost a long time ago…but it’s a 7-series!!!

          • 0 avatar
            dividebytube

            theflyersfan: I saw one of those the other day. The back bumper was beat to hell, the pain was shot, the windows were tinted, and I could both see and smell (legal) MJ vape clouds.

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            divide (won’t let me reply directly) – as did I and that’s what prompted me to write what I did. It was a 2001-02 model, silver paint just beat to hell, looked like it had algae or moss on the bumpers, blue smoke out of the exhaust pipe and just looked used up. And I remember my days living and working in NVA when a coworker of mine got one of these, brand new, and how state of the art it was with a six speed (!!!) automatic, iDrive (1st Gen), computer controlled everything, and it was just so smooth. Ugly as sin, but smooth. Very few cars age gracefully, just like all of us!!!

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            Interior lighting provided by the Christmas tree of warning lights on the dashboard!

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          I have a different perspective on that.

          I own a house. A fairly large one for one person. I also own a fleet of three old European cars–each with something critically wrong–a Jeep and a newer Euro car that’s under warranty.

          I co-own a 1993 Mercedes-Benz 500 SL with my best friend. The hydraulics system has sh*t the bed and won’t release the hardtop. I have all the equipment to fix it, except for the hardtop tool, which I am awaiting. It should be here this Thursday.

          My 2004 Jaguar XJ needs the sunroof replaced, a common problem. The air suspension is also acting up, and it’s sitting way higher on the right than the left. It’s going to go to the local Jag indies in a bit.

          My 2006 Range Rover Supercharged has some kind of power delivery issue. I’m getting post-cat lean codes, and it occasionally stalls on startup, fluctuates the engine speed, and just doesn’t drive right.

          My 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland was in the shop for three weeks after the transmission computer went out; I just got it back.

          Even my 2016 BMW 535i xDrive M Sport, which is under the factory warranty for another two years, is at the BMW dealership for a persistent rattle from either the heads-up display or the sunglasses drawer (or both). This is the second time, in less than two months. I have been put in a 2020 BMW X5 sDrive40i loaner.

          Meanwhile, my lawn needs a little help. I just bought the house, but the previous owners did no lawn care whatsoever. The lawn is overrun with crab grass, the trees need trimming, etc. I am going to have to sod, till, and plant new grass. And soon…before the temperatures get too warm.

          For me, it’s not that I don’t have money to have the nice lawn; it’s that these effing cars take up too much of my time and energy.

          I am sorely tempted to sell them all and buy a 4Runner and a Corolla Hybrid.

          • 0 avatar

            Well your four unreliable cars and home aren’t the same as the man’s single unreliable car at the poorly maintained apartment!

            I think you may have Car Boredom Disorder! Maybe that’s what CBD oil is for. *thinking face*

          • 0 avatar

            Kyree. You strike me as an intelligent person. You should follow your instincts. You have a new home now. Home is where the heart is. Dump the money pits but maybe get a fun one later! Priorities.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            I went through a period where I was owning a lot of “semi-project” vehicles at once.
            It ended up being too much of a logistical PITA and as my day job income went up the amount of pure free time I had went down.
            Now I’ve personally decided that I will own at maximum two cars and one motorcycle at a time.
            Right now I’ve only got the Kia and a Yamaha but it’s fine. I think it works better for me than trying to juggle 5-6 cars at once. I still might toss in a Trofeo or LeBaron to the last slot if one comes around though.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          Appearing rich worked, too. I remember people complaining about welfare moms driving Cadillacs and Lincolns, not realizing they were cheap to buy and expensive to supply with fuel. They DID keep running, though, unlike the Euro-lux models. Like most GM and Ford cars from the ’60s and ’70s, they could keep running, badly, forever, and be patched up with junkyard parts from cheaper cars.

    • 0 avatar
      mmreeses

      An easy test would be to watch a YouTube video on replacing a 911 alternator and compare it with a Corvette’s or Camaros.

      I’m curious too and will find out myself when i find myself witb some time

    • 0 avatar
      ktm

      A 1999 Porsche 911 falls within the model years where they suffered/could suffer an IMS bearing failure that basically necessitated the need for a new engine. That is why they are so cheap.

      Boxster of the same model years are even cheaper (under $10k).

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    That ad was too reminiscent of some “other” German movies I used to watch when I was in college.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    I think this was one of the last “real” Mercedes models. After this generation of S/E/C models, they started feeling cheaper, their reliability scores went downhill, and they didn’t feel as solid. Close the door in one of these and compare it to one 15 years later. Just isn’t the same. Electrical glitches came along for the ride…

    There’s just something stately about this generation – whenever you had gatherings of world leaders, you were guaranteed to see a line of these S-classes. Outside the UN. S-Class. Meetings/skiing at Davos? More S-Classes.

    Now I’m afraid they sold their bank vault soul in the quest for more tech and are built to a price point, not to be the most solid vehicle in the world.

  • avatar
    pale ghost

    Mr Martin – I’m always interested in the accumulated mileage when your finds met their demise. In the age of digital odometers if you could any clues such as service stickers it would add to the story of the car. I know it would be a pain but if you could carry one of those compact lithium jump starters to apply power to get the mileage it would be appreciated by at least me and maybe others.

    My first car in in 1972 was a 65 Impala. It was so rusted out putting a tank of gas in it probably exceeded its value. The trunk would flood with water and the interior reeked of mildew. I’d make repairs as necessary that exceeded the value because buying anything else I could afford would be buying a pig in a poke. At least I knew what I had. Of course the cost of about any repair on an S class would be enough to buy a decent runner.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      My, how cars have improved. Never mind that the Impala has been one of the most dependable cars of the last two decades; can you picture *any* seven year old car from modern times being rusted and structurally compromised to that point?

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      Agreed. I find the mileage to be one of the most interesting data points in his Junkyard finds.

  • avatar
    01 Deville

    I am the sort of guy who buys used and depreciated luxury cars. My first car that I myself purchased was an 01 Deville that I bought at 100k miles in 2012. Not necessarily a full luxury car but had maintenance requirements of a luxury car. I have since bought W126 MB 560sel, E38 BMW 740 IL, W220 Mercedes S500, X356 Jag XJ8L, and multiple W211 E-Class wagons. The Mercedes’s (the most problematic series in current times except R-Class) were daily drivers except the low mileage W126 which I still own.

    I test drove a face uplifted W140 S500 in early 2000s and came away very unimpressed with driving quality, yet the build quality felt much better than the S-class generations before and after.

    The W140 is imposing and about half a ton heavier than W126 and W220 and while technically ahead of its time, was dynamically outdated with much more agile A8 and E38 hitting the market. I think E38 is much more worth the trouble if you want a 90s German car, but if you do want an older S-Class as daily RWD W220 after facelift is your car, and feels better to drive than newer and more powerful W221.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Back in ’92, luxury like this wasn’t as readily attainable as it is now. Today, you can get a car in this stratospheric price category on 30 year financing or whatever. I think there was also less hostility towards wealth and privilege then.

    So back then, you drove this and you were something real special. People knew, and got out of your way. Now, it’s worthless scrap. Ugh!

    • 0 avatar
      bobbysirhan

      A friend bought one new in 1994. He usually traded every two years, but he loved his 1988 BMW 750iL so much that he kept it for six. He claimed he only traded it because he felt guilty about not buying cars to spread the wealth around. In the mean time, his BMW salesman had moved to a Mercedes-Benz dealer and had been hard pressing him on the innovations of the W140.

      We went out to lunch a few weeks after he bought it, and neither me nor a mutual friend were blown away by the ride quality or interior. I wasn’t about to insult the man whose very expensive car was taking us to a lunch he would pay for, but the other guy said the car was kind of meh, or however we phrased it twenty-six years ago. At this point the owner said something along the lines of, I know. He had tried returning it when it arrived, but they basically pulled the old metallic pea family truckster, ‘we crushed your trade-in,’ move on him and convinced him to keep it. That was an exhibition of real class and wealth. His ego wasn’t involved in his S500 even a tiny bit. He bought it to help the salesman, and he drove it because he couldn’t get back the car he wanted.

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        And probably did grow to enjoy it, until he started to hear the “clack clack clack clack clack” of the broken stepper motors!

        • 0 avatar
          bobbysirhan

          I don’t know that it did grow on him. A few months later he replaced his wife’s BMW with a new Jaguar XJS convertible, and I don’t recall him ever buying another German car. He’s probably graduated to Land Cruisers by now.

          • 0 avatar
            Superdessucke

            Went British ‘eh? I truthfully don’t know when Mercedes quality took a turn south but that could tell us a lot.

            I do.know that my 2002 C32 was horribly expensive. I was very very glad I got a CPO wrranty on it. Seat heaters (twice), the aforementioned stepper motors (twice), suspension bushings, and some other stuff. Probably $5,000 in covered repairs under that warranty. Then I had to spend out-of-pocket.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I’m surprised this example survived Cash for Clunkers.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The W140 was one of the last truly-great Mercedes-Benz models. Mercedes-Benz never made anything as trouble-free as a Toyota, but you could be sure that if you just took care of it and did the maintenance, you could preserve it as something of a family heirloom.

    The subsequent 2000-2006 (W220) S-Class was arguably the worst big Mercedes-Benz ever. The platform and the car itself was significantly cost-cut and, in a bid to retain buyers, tried to make up for it with bleeding edge technology that ensured just about every one would wind up junk as soon as the warranty ran out. The W220 is difficult to preserve, for that reason, and it swung Mercedes-Benz firmly into the camp of making cars that aren’t designed to last longer than a typical lease cycle.

    In fact, the W220 was so bad that when Mercedes-Benz decided to revive the Maybach brand as an answer to Bentley and Rolls-Royce, they put the 57 and 62 on the W140 architecture, because it was a helluva lot better, and not the W220.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Now you’re talking. I still lust after a Maybach 57S. They show up on eBay sometimes, in the $50 to $60k range, with a reasonable number of miles.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I thought those parking posts were pretty cool. I remember being invited to a Mercedes-Benz sponsored event in ’92 or ’93, at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas (a Saturday or Sunday afternoon concert). They had several cars parked in the lobby, including a W140 with the parking posts.

    How did I get invited to such a swanky affair? I don’t know – I assumed it was because I subscribed to Car and Driver and Road & Track at the time.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    You want used luxury, just get an LS400/430

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    $175,000 in today’s dollars. DANG. I thought sure Murilee’s numbers were off, but punching $175,000 intp the BLS inflation calculator shows it to be the equivalent of $99,800 in March of 1994 so that’s correct.

    Interestingly, my local MB dealership has a single new S-class in stock, a white S560 and they’re ONLY asking $122,820 for it. It’s a very handsome car, but now I wonder how they wrung $52,000 out of it over the last 26 years?

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Wasn’t it on this website a while ago where someone told about a well-maintained mint condition S-Class with 200,000 miles on it and that it had a retail value of only $200.00 because if it needed any sort of repair in the future, the repair would probably cost thousands.

  • avatar

    Don’t mean to turn this into The Tabloid About Cars! Lol. But hey. She was rumored to be pregnant. TOTALLY unacceptable to “The Firm”. She was still alive at the scene of the accident. Whispered secrets to a police officer on the scene. And she eerily predicted her sad outcome. I am not convinced that this was an “accident” anymore than I believe Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide. Another Royal connection via Prince Andrew this time. Like I said, draw your own conclusions.

  • avatar

    Threats to “The Firm” end up not 6 feet apart, but 6 feet under.

  • avatar

    In 1990s black Mercedes 600 was a vehicle of choice for Russian mobsters and oligarchs. When you saw one approaching fast on you rear view mirror you’d better get out of the way ASAP. It was very intimidating car. Usually it was escorted by the fleet of similarly black Chevy Tahoes with tinted windows occupied by fully armed and ready to act personnel.

  • avatar
    Shane

    I bought a 1992 400SE in late 2006. It was such a beautiful car and only had around 80K miles at the time.

    Then, the problems began. That air compressor in the trunk closed the doors, operated those telescoping markers on the trunk, etc. It failed. Quoted over $4K for repair/replacement. It never got fixed.

    Then the evaporator in the dash failed. It never had AC again.

    The something happened with the engine and it never ran right. I think maybe timing chain guides failed, but I wasn’t that knowledgeable about it. It never right again.

    The somebody backed into it in a parking lot and damaged the bumper and tailight. Insurance totaled it. Thank god.

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