Junkyard Find: 1978 Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The W116 was the first Mercedes-Benz to get the S-Class designation from the factory, and it was sold in North America from the 1973 through 1980 model years. During the darkest days of the Malaise Era, the W116 was a rare bright spot of performance and build quality, and I still see quite a few of these cars during my junkyard travels (because they took this long to wear out). Here's a late-production W116 sedan, found in a self-service Colorado yard last summer.

junkyard find 1978 mercedes benz 450 sel

I'd say that the 450 SEL was the king of Mercedes-Benz sedans in 1978, but that honor goes to the 450 SEL 6.9, a version with a monstrous V8 optimized for high-speed Autobahn trips.

The MSRP on the 6.9 was $39,377 in 1978, however, and that comes to around $187,565 in 2022 dollars. The regular 450 SEL cost a more reasonable $27,090, or about $129,040 today.

For that kind of money in 1978, you could have bought a pair of new Cadillac Sedan de Villes and had enough left over for a new Oldsmobile Delta 88 sedan.

The de Ville had more power than this car (190 versus 180 horsepower), but the W116 had the advantage in the build-quality and depreciation departments.

This jolting metallic green color was known as Cypress Green Metallic (if I'm reading the data plate on the radiator support correctly).

The only transmission available on the US-market '78 450 SEL was a three-speed automatic.

The leather seats have suffered greatly in the High Plains Colorado climate.

Likewise, the paint has faded and cracked, revealing old body-filler repairs.

These HVAC controls were futuristic stuff in 1978.

There's rust, not too bad but enough to render this car economically undesirable for restoration (though the rough interior had that department handled already).

I wish I could tell you how many miles were on this one at the end, but a junkyard customer bought the instrument cluster before I got here. Most of the W116 odometers I find show at least 200,000 miles.

[Images by the author]

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2 of 12 comments
  • RHD RHD on Jan 03, 2023

    I remember the early '80s Mercedes... they felt like they were carved from one single piece of steel. Nothing at the time was its equal for both safety and quality.

  • MaintenanceCosts MaintenanceCosts on Jan 04, 2023

    Just noticed "This was the first big Benz to get the S-Class designation from the factory." I don't think that's right, and Wikipedia's claim of it is based on a throwaway line in the source. The S designation stood for the very beginning for "Sonderklasse," just meaning "special class." Mercedes first used the designation on the facelift of the Ponton cars in the mid-50s, and continued using it without a pause on the Fintails (with the odd exception of the very base 220) and the W108s. I'd consider the Ponton 220S to be the first S-Class car.

  • Jeff S I rented a 2012 Chrysler 200 with the 4 cylinder from Enterprise for business travel and it was not a bad car but I would not buy one. I would have picked a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, or a Ford Fusion over a Chrysler 200. I have known people that bought Chrysler 200s that had nothing but problems with them. I appreciate these old reviews and miss the old TTAC before it became what it is now with many articles that are slanted toward politics. Don't have to agree with everything but it is good to read an honest review of a car.
  • Jeff S The Cybertruck was first unveiled and announced on Nov. 21, 2019. For over 3 years Tesla has been saying that this truck was going to be released soon. The mystique and surprise is no longer there. I think the Cybertruck is hideous but then I am not the target for this. Since its initial unveiling there has been the introduction of the Lightning, Hummer, and the Rivian truck. The anticipation of this truck and the mystique has faded. There will be a few that will buy this because they are hard core Tesla fans and some because it is different but Tesla should have been the first to market an EV pickup. GM is planning a compact EV pickup under the GMC brand starting at 25 MSRP. This should have been Tesla and Tesla could have downsized the Cybertruck to either a midsize or compact truck and been first. Tesla should have been first at the very least to release a smaller EV truck.
  • Bloke Wow, this should make a big difference, to those catalytic converter thieves who don't have tools like 'angle grinders' with them.
  • Carlson Fan The way the truck drops in the rear and the bed/tailgate become a ramp is genius! I'd buy it just for that alone!!! It would be awesome for loading snowmobiles and garden tractors in the back. However, my trucks need to be able to regularly tow heavy loads long distance, summer & winter. Sorry folks, current battery tech. isn't even close to what it needs to be for me to think even one second that a battery truck could replace my current ICE powered truck. An EV for a DD makes sense , but for truck you need a MUCH better battery.
  • Inside Looking Out For midsize sedan it is too small. It basically is a compact car.