Junkyard Find: 1992 Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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!

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • 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.

  • Teddyc73 As I asked earlier under another article, when did "segment" or "class" become "space"? Does using that term make one feel more sophisticated? If GM's products in other segments...I mean "space" is more profitable then sedans then why shouldn't they discontinue it.
  • Robert Absolutely!!! I hate SUV's , I like the better gas milage and better ride and better handling!! Can't take a SUV 55mph into a highway exit ramp! I can in my Malibu and there's more than enough room for 5 and trunk is plenty big enough for me!
  • Teddyc73 Since when did automakers or car companies become "OEM". Probably about the same time "segment" or "class" became "space". I wish there were more sedans. I would like an American sedan. However, as others have stated, if they don't sell in large enough quantities to be profitable the automakers...I mean, "OEMs" aren't going to build them. It's simple business.
  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.