1973 Mercedes Benz 450 SE W116, 160,000mi, $12,000 in Orange County, CA
VIN 11603212007920 in excellent condition!
I acquired this beautiful car in March 2015 with the intention of completing a full restoration and holding for years to come. A long-time gearhead obsessed with the quality of German engineered cars, I was on the lookout for a classic Mercedes when I came across this one. I consider myself to be the second owner of the car which was purchased new and then handed down to the original buyerís son in 2008, who then sold it in 2013. It appears that it was then shuffled around to a couple of shops looking to turn a profit on it, but essentially stored for the next two years without maintenance or driving. After registering and insuring it in Southern California early last year, I have put about 1,000 miles on it in an effort to identify and complete all of the necessary mechanical work that would return this incredibly manufactured machine to its former glory. All-in-all, there have only been about 2,500 very easy miles put on this car since 2008.
At first sight upon delivery, I noticed that the car looks spectacular. The color and finish are striking. The exterior Mercedes 903 Blue paint, and the chrome trim were in excellent condition, except for a few missing pieces and a sagging, rattling exhaust. It is a color that stands out in a crowd, but is not offensive like some of the other questionable color options of this period. I have clayed and waxed it several times and it has been garaged since I purchased it. I get at least one comment a day from people admiring the condition of the car. Looks arenít everything, though...
At first drive, the a/c blew strong and cold which surprised me for such an old car, but I found out later that the previous owner had the a/c serviced in 2009. I could, unfortunately, also tell that this car had been neglected for some time. The starter only worked once every five tries, but once running, the engine ran strong and smooth. However, it was leaking oil badly in my garage. The car was surprisingly easy to drive, but the brakes were noticeably weak, the steering was loose, the front end suspension was loud and wobbly, the belts were squealing, the shifting was rough. My first look under the hood revealed substantial amounts of oil accumulation under the valve covers, seeping onto everything in its path. The head, the exhaust manifolds, the starter, and the steering box were all coated with years of oil.
After a thorough analysis, the restoration efforts began using all OEM or equivalent parts. No expense was spared in sourcing the highest quality and period-correct components. It certainly helped having the Mercedes Classic Center as a local resource. Missing exterior trim pieces and rear taillight assembly were sourced and installed. I was probably fortunate to locate some brand new pieces at a reasonable price. The brakes were completely overhauled: new rotors, new pads, new lines, new fluid, new booster hose, and wheel bearings repacked. The starter was replaced. The original 3-speed W3A040 transmission was serviced with a new filter, fluid, and gasket. The exhaust suspension was replaced with new hangers and bushings. All belts were replaced and re-tensioned to the proper specifications, including several tensioning nuts and brackets that had to be replaced due to 40+ years of wear and tear. Then the fun really began. The entire front-end suspension was rebuilt with all-new control arms, drag links, shock absorbers, ball joints, and bushings. The steering box was removed and rebuilt, along with a new pitman arm and steering shock absorber. The valve covers were both removed and all gaskets and o-rings were replaced, along with a new supply of engine oil and a new oil filter. In the process I found that one cylinder had not been running due to a completely corroded spark plug wire caused by the leaking valve cover gaskets. All spark plugs and wires were then removed and replaced with new ones. The exhaust manifolds were removed and cleaned of the accumulated oil, and all gaskets were replaced on the manifolds as well as the exhaust tubes.
The results have been phenomenal. The engine runs stronger, smoother, and quieter than it has in probably 30+ years. The front end is solid, straight, quiet, and responsive. The brakes are strong and firm. There is not even a drop of oil leaking anywhere now which I continue to confirm by driving it daily. I continue to be amazed by the driveability and capability of this 43 year-old car. I remember reading when I first purchased this car that, if well maintained, these engines will go for 500,000+ miles. Now I can see why. Exquisitely over-engineered components surround every inch of this car. I canít put into words how advanced this car must have been for its time. I have been impressed with every detail that went into the design and manufacturing of this vehicle, which is still perfectly capable of keeping up with todayís driving in stop-and-go city traffic as well as long tours with the family riding comfortably along in the spacious cabin.
Now, for the disclosures. This is a 43 year old car in very good condition, but it does have some minor flaws. I bought this car with the intention of completely restoring it, weekend driving it, and garaging it for the next decade. I feel like I have done a great job to getting it most of the way there. I think it is currently a solid 2.75 on the Hagerty scale and could be a 1.5, worth twice as much, with some more effort. The interior is all-original except for the hideous tape deck that the previous owner put in. This is easily rectified, but since electronics are such a personal preference, I decided to leave that for the next owner. There are some very tiny scratches and cracks in the wood trim, but absolutely no cracks in the dash. The original upholstery is a little tired and could be refreshed, but still in great shape for 43 years old. The previous owner disclosed that the odometer reads about 36,000 miles less than what is actually shown, and that has not been adjusted since I bought it. The power windows and sun roof all work well, but the power door locks are intermittent. The car has been resprayed, but it appears to be well done and matching the original color with some small areas of overspray to the trained eye. I have many receipts and documents dating back to the original owner and all of the receipts for the parts on the work that I performed which I estimate at $5,600.
I wish that I could keep going and finish the full restoration on this beautiful Benz, but life has taken its turns and this is now a project that I need to pass on to the next lucky owner, who will undoubtedly be as impressed as I have been in owning this car. In the least this is a solid daily, weekend, or long tour driver that will last for decades to come, especially with the recent work performed. Most likely, this is a car that has incredible restoration potential with a little more effort that I just canít give it right now. The collector values on these cars have been essentially flat for quite some time, but they are sure to appreciate in the near future. This is a great opportunity to own a classic, mechanically sorted, Mercedes Benz in very good overall condition at a fair price, before values start to increase.
Please let me know if you have any interest or questions.
Follow this link to a full album of pictures taken this week:
1973 Mercedes Benz 450SE by 73Benz450se | Photobucket