Junkyard Find: 1992 Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1992 mercedes benz 500 sel

Top-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.

The $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.

Mercedes-Benz switched naming systems soon after this car was made, with the class letter coming before the displacement number during the following model year.

322 horsepower from this DOHC V8 engine.

Early-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.

No 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.

After 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.

Find all the Junkyard Finds right here!

Join the conversation
2 of 57 comments
  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on May 12, 2020

    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.

  • Shane Shane on May 20, 2020

    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.

  • Kat Laneaux What's the benefits of this as opposed to the Ford or Nissan. Will the mileage be better than the 19 city, 24 hwy? Will it cost less than the average of $60,000? Will it be a hybrid?
  • Johnster Minor quibble. The down-sized full-sized 1980-only Continental (which was available with Town Car and Town Coupe trims) gave up its name in 1981 and became the Town Car. The name "Town Coupe" was never used after the 1980 model year. The 1981 Lincoln Town Car was available with a 2-door body style, but the 2-door Lincoln Town Car was discontinued and not offered for the 1982 model year and never returned to the Lincoln lineup.
  • Zipper69 Some discreet dwebadging and this will pass for a $95k Lucid Air...
  • Zipper69 Does it REALLY have to be a four door?Surely a truly compact vehicle could stick with the half-door access with jump seats for short term passengers.
  • ToolGuy See kids, you can keep your old car in good condition.