Date registered: Feb 2008
Vehicle: 2004 W220 (S430) ; 2001 R129 (SL500) Sport
Location: Alabama Gulf Coast--formerly Charlottesville, VA
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There are two chassis that look identical.
The W108 is the chassis for the 280 models including the 3.5/4.5 liter V-8 cars. They come SWB and LWB. They have springs and shocks on all four corners and come in a variety of trim levels as well as engine power.
The W109 is the chassis for the 300 models including V-8 versions. They come in LWB only , I believe. The W109 chassis comes with air suspension, and only the highest trim levels are available. I'm not sure if any 6-cylinder versions were imported into the US.
The ultimate W109 is the 300SEL 6.3, which had the engine from the 600 chassis shoehorned into the W109. It was godawful fast for its day and full of luxury, though the 600 was the ultimate luxury.
W109 chassis are more expensive to buy and much more expensive to maintain than the W108 chassis. The air suspension is very expensive to repair and is hardly ever in great condition unless you buy a show-quality restoration. W109 chassis cars are not unreliable or particularly fragile, but they cost a lot of money when they need repair.
If you are looking for a driver, buy a W108. If you want a garage queen that will get little use, you might think about a W109. I owned a W108 ('72 280SEL 4.5) as my first Mercedes thirty years ago. It was a terrific car and I drove it from 100k to 144k without repair costs save maintenance. The SWB models are a bit sportier than the LWB models, but that is largely preference. Truth is they aren't all that sporty, fast, economical, or luxurious compared to a modern version, but they were pretty special in their day.
Good luck in your search.
"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you."--John Steinbeck