By on October 27, 2020

Today’s Rare Ride was the ultimate display of Germanic automotive wealth in the early Nineties. Always rarer than its sedan brother, the SEC was the S-Class with two doors and no pillars.

Let’s check out a hardtop from the arguable height of modern Mercedes-Benz engineering.

This is not the first time we’ve covered an SEC on these pages. That honor goes to the 1986 SEC AMG, a car which was heavily fettled by AMG. With its flared arches, white-on-white color scheme, heckblende, and general cocaineyness, it was a much different animal than today’s later executive express.

The W126 S-Class was arguably the most important one in the history of the model. It was considerably more modern than its W116 predecessor, and set precedents in technology, safety, and luxury equipment. It was the car for non-American heads of state for a long time, and established Mercedes’ flagship as a default of the large German luxury sedan class. Audi V8 Quattro? I think not.

The W126 S-Class had a long development period, and Mercedes started on the project in 1973. The sedan didn’t enter production until December of 1979, with the C126 coupe following in September 1981. The C126 was based on the short-wheelbase sedan platform, with a three-inch chop to make it 112.2 inches. Overall coupe length remained three inches shorter than the sedan as well, though the coupe grew from 193.3″ to 194.3″ over its tenure. SEs were short-wheelbase sedans, SEL meant long-wheelbase, and SEC was of course a short-wheelbase coupe.

Extensive renovations occurred for the 1986 model year, with changes to the front and rear bumpers, side moldings, wheels, and a new assortment of engines. Prior to ’86 the top engine was the 5.0-liter V8, in the 500 SEC. The revamp saw the introduction of the 560 SEC, a bored-out version of the old 5.0. The large 5.5-liter M117 mill produced 275 horses and 317 lb-ft of torque, which were not inconsiderable figures in 1991. While other countries had an optional four- or five-speed manual transmission on some models, North American consumers received only four-speed auto S-Class cars.

Through the long run of the W126 S-Class, Mercedes built 818,063 sedans but just 74,060 coupes. Production of the W and C126 ended in October 1991, apart from one plant in South Africa which continued to build cars through 1994. The W140 and C140 replacements were much larger, much more complicated, less elegantly styled, less durable overall, and in your author’s opinion, less desirable today than any of the W126 cars.

Today’s Rare Ride is everything. Stunning in two-tone white over silver, with a light grey interior and more modern looking wheels than most examples. With 158,000 miles it looks absolutely perfect and is on offer now in Washington for $10,950. One of you should buy it and let me do a review.

[Images: seller]

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29 Comments on “Rare Rides: A 1991 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC, End of an Era...”

  • avatar

    Beautiful car at what seems to be a good price. I laugh when I think that 275HP was really something in 1991 and you had to pay $83,250 in 1991 dollars to get it

  • avatar

    I’m surprised Mercedes built only only 818,000 W126 sedans…. that’s less than 75,000 a year average. I’m also surprised that one out of twelve of these was a coupe, as I’ve seen so few of these coupe–even fewer than the W116 coupes.

    As you know, there was never a W126-derived 2-seater SL convertible.

    When I think of “best luxury sedan”, the W116 and early W126 come to mind. During their time, I think they were the best. The W126 was improved (though we Americans got the 380SE/SEL at launch, which did not perform as well as the outgoing 450SEL), BUT back in the day, the W116 had PRESENCE! The W116 was a HUGE leap over it’s predecessor. The W126 was not. THe W116 still epitomized “best car in the world” in 1980; by 1991, the W126 looked old to me.

    • 0 avatar

      “The W116 still epitomized “best car in the world” in 1980; by 1991, the W126 looked old to me.”

      The W126 stuck around two years longer than planned due to last minute engineering changes with the W140, after M-B was put on their back foot by the unexpected success and stature of BMW’s E32 7 series with the V12.

      There’s also chatter that the surprising reveal of the production-ready Lexus LS400 at the 1989 NAIAS in January 1989 also impacted M-B’s decision to move the W140 further upmarket, however given that the sales success had yet to materialize for Lexus I don’t know how much M-B thought of that as a credible threat.

  • avatar

    Since this about the coupes, I’d rather have a 450SLC than this 560SEC. The older W116 coupe looks so much better–to me at least. But if some one gave me a 560SEC, yes, I would be very pleased!

    While I’ve seen very few W116 coupes, I’ve seen even fewer 560SECs.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Great car, but I can’t afford to hire Manfred the Mechanic to stake out my garage on a full-time basis.

  • avatar

    Great review of this model and I don’t disagree that the W126 might have been the pinnacle of MBZ platforms but if the wish fairy asked what older rust-free restored MBZ I wanted it would be the 280 SE 3.5 Coupe or Cabriolet. These were on the W111 platform and by the time of the 3.5L V8 the tail fins were gone and the sheetmetal looked almost like the W108/109 which IMO remains the classic postwar MBZ design.

  • avatar

    I am not a big Mercedes fan, but I do like these. A lot.

  • avatar

    Bobby Brown approves…

  • avatar

    I like it.
    If it’s good enough for Dalton…

    (I know it’s a slightly newer model, but you get the gist)

  • avatar

    I never understood what was up with those enormous playskool door handle guards. They’re such a jarring ugly note in an otherwise sleek exterior design. The sedan didn’t have them – only the coupe. Were they part of a bulky primitive keyless entry system?

    • 0 avatar

      The W126 never had a keyless entry system. The large door handle trim was engineered to move water and dirt away from the door grip, so the owner didn’t soil his or her hands when opening the door. The ribs in taillights were engineered similarly; the strakes kept dirt away from light lenses to maintain visibility.

  • avatar

    “One of you should buy it and let me do a review.”

    There are times when Providence smiles. My kid had my old Buick less than two weeks before she got in an accident, so it’s most likely on its’ way to 3800 Heaven. And now this appears. Coincidence? I think not. I’ll buy this as my DD and give the kid my A3.

  • avatar

    “The W126 S-Class had a long development period, and Mercedes started on the project in 1973. The sedan didn’t enter production until December of 1979, with the C126 coupe following in September 1981.”

    So in 1983 when Toyota began development of what would become the LS400, this (the sedan) would have been the Mercedes at which they were aiming, correct?

    [450 test cars and 973 engine prototypes for the LS400 program]

    • 0 avatar

      I remember when we got our first LS400s at GM to benchmark.
      The paint on the door jambs was better than the hoods on Cadillacs.

      Anyone who knew anything about cars (obviously Roger Smith was excluded from that category) was seriously impressed.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, the original LS400 benchmarked the W126. The LS430 (released in 2000/2001) benchmarked aspects of the W140, most notably in its exterior design details.
      I’ve owned both a W140 and currently own an LS430 and although I liked that the W140 was more imposing and had more ‘heft’ to the doors and materials, I prefer the ride and the overall package of the LS430.

  • avatar

    The 126, despite being the undisputed “Best Car In The World” in it’s day, will always be in the awkward position, of being the best of the last generation before the automobile was pretty much literally perfected by the simultaneous onslaught of the NSX, LS, LC80, e36, Legend, Integra……

    Thus it will always labor under the “greatest”, but “For it’s Time,” qualifier. With the understood presumption always being, that “it’s time” was somehow a lesser one, automotively.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    A friend had one. He owned it past the point of feasibility. By 2001 it was gone. His was a lovely car but replete with problems from bodge fixes performed before his tenure.

  • avatar

    Now this is a Mercedes Benz. Simply gorgeous. Never owned one, but always admired the SEC.

    On Classic & timeless design… I put it up there with my most ‘should have never sold’ car, ’95 BMW 540i

    What a stunning automobile.

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