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Discussion Starter #1
Hi folks,

I've been looking for a late model 1990 or 1991 300SE but was wondering about the differences between these and the immediate (1989, 1988) earlier models.

Basically, I wanted to know whether:

They have a fuel pump relay, or a MAS relay instead?
They have first or second gear start?
They have the leather or rubber steering wheel?
They have the lighting relay? And if so, what does this control?
They have the passenger side airbag standard?
They have a convenience module (key closes/opens windows and closes sunroof)?
They have a rear fog light?

More importantly, I also wanted to know which specific items to look for when buying a 1990 or 1991 W126 300SE?

I'm not completely unfamiliar with the M103 since I have experience with the 2.6L (190E) and 3.0L (300TE) versions so I'm fairly familiar with my way around the engine, but wanted to know if there were specific differences for the W126.

Thanks! :thumbsup:
 

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'91 300SEL, '91 560SEC
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Hi, I can help answer a few of your questions. I own a '91 300SEL.

It has 2nd gear start. Unlike the V8's, however, the 300SE gear selector does not have the "B" click under the 2 in order to select 1st gear. I believe you would have to select "2" and shift to "D" if you want to start in 1st gear.

The models from 1989 to 1991 have a leather steering wheel. 1988 model has rubber.

Passenger side airbags were not standard on the 300SE(L) models. Mine does not have one, and from what I've seen it is quite rare for these models.

I don't know what you mean by rear fog light, I've never heard of that.

Sorry I couldn't answer your other questions; I'm not very mechanically inclined. Also, I've been driving my '91 560SEC ever since my 300SEL blew its head gasket one month after I bought it. That's one thing you want to look out for on the M103. They have a tendency for head gasket failure.
 

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1979 280SL, 1984 280SL
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I believe you will find they all have fuel pump relays

Passener side airbag was optional- it will be a hit or miss proposition to find one so equipped

To my knowledge, MB never equipped the US version of the 126 with the rear "fog lamps"
 

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'95 993 / 2011 F150 Raptor SC / Land Cruiser D4D V8 / 500 SEC
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439 Posts
The rear fog sounds decidedly European.

I was asking around on the F150 forum about rear fog for the truck, but no-one knew what I was on about.
 

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Always Remembered RIP
1991 560SEC AMG
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10,146 Posts
They are a good choice Patrick ---- as you surely know, that inline 6 engine is acclaimed as the best 6 cylinder gas engine ever made.

The door cards and upholstery patterns were changed starting in 1989 so these cars will have it, along with the Zebrano trim, not the burlwood that the 560 models got.

Otherwise they are prertty close to a stock US spec 560SEL in kit, except that being US models, most are pretty loaded and often as not found with a sunroof and the standard wheels. They will have cruise control, leather seats, Automatic climate control, and all hose things, the Becker radio if original will play a cassette or CD, probably the Becker Mexico I think it has. The late (1990/1991) ones have automatic radio antennae.


Get the best condition one you can afford. Books and records are more important than mileage or color.

The short wheelbase SE is more nimble than the SEL and both have a peppier rear diff than the lazy 2.47 the560 US SELs have. So the 300SE/SEL moves out far more smartly than you would expect, and at 70 mph and up cruises exactly as well as the 560 - smooth and serene.

Pretty sure it requires premium fuel though, you would have to check.

They are NOT economy cars, but they are iconic looking, built to a cost no object standard, wonderful highway cruisers, and will run to interstellar mileage IF properly maintained and incredibly safe and cmfortable for their age.

Other wise, check the same issues as some of the other w126ers would have, AC blows cold, rust n the usual places but esecially below the rear window, and so on. My old 1998 penned 560SEC buyers guide was on Satish's OLD MBCOUPES (NOW DEFUNCT) website but, probably can be found somewhere here, as his site is gone but thry buyers guide has been incorporated elsewhere.

Finding a mint condition one where you live, in ground zero for the US car culture ought not to be a problem.

Take your time, be pick, look for one with all books and records, preferably with one or few owners, this is still possible in So Cal; virtually NONE of them will be "souped up" with aftermarket wheels or anything else

Good luck
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks folks. I've been seeing a mixed bag of sorts. Some 91's had the passenger air bag, while some did not. But all 90 and 91 I've seen so far had the leather wheel.

Did all the Gen II W126's have the light relay?

I know that the rear fogs were on US W124's starting after 1990 (1991 and up). My sister's US version 92 and former 93 190E had the rear fogs. But since the W126 already ended in 1991 in the US market I doubt it will have them, but it won't hurt to ask.

I'm aware of the M103 head gasket issues, my 190E is on its second :eek: but the second one required a valve job.

Does the M103/300SE/300SEL suffer CA smog issues a lot?
 

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Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)
I believe you will find they all have fuel pump relays
I've seen an advertisement where the seller said that his 1990 300SE has a MAS relay. This MAS relay is a combination relay, unlike the fuel pump relay it also controls other items, IIRC. I don't recall what else the MAS relay controls, but it's a more expensive repair than a lone fuel pump relay. But nonetheless it's good to finally confirm that 1990 and 1991 300SE's had them.
 

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'73 450SL, '83 300CD, '01 E320 4matic
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You're asking about CA emissions, so your mileage may vary. I have an 88. After suffering the inevitable head gasket failure- which all 103's suffer from at some point, I learned a bit about how the engine itself changed between 88 and 89. I assume the 88 and earlier are the same, and 89 and up are the same.

Internally, the engines are different. I think the block castings may be the same- down to the number, which caused confusion as I was sourcing parts for my repair. My cylinder head needed to be rebuilt, and my cam had failed due most likely to running out of oil after my oil pan came into contact with something large in the road. OOPS!

Long story short, the cams are the same. The heads are different. The combustion chambers are very different. The pistons are different. What any of that has to do with the overall reliability, economy, power of the engine? Who knows. Somebody may know, just not me! However, at least in the 49 state versions, the emissions controls are WAY different between the two. The advantage of the earlier 103 is that there is no EGR valve, and no AIR pump. I think in 89 the engine got both those items, which of course will reduce midrange power and waste fuel. CA might have gotten those items earlier.

Premium gas is not really necessary, as it's a low compression engine. I run mine on 89 octane, and suffer no ill effects after owning the car for 140K of it's current 222K miles.

The upholstery is different. When I went to the junkyard for a donor cylinder head for my 103, the car I found it in was an 89. The internals of the head could be used, but not the head itself. The interior however, was the same color as mine, and MINT, so I swapped all the door cards and seats into my car, and the 89+ interior is decidedly more modern and nicer. You also get the door speakers for the upgraded stereo as standard equipment in the US on 89 models, I believe.

So in a nutshell, 89+ is a nicer car, overall. 88 and below might be a bit simpler, mechanically.

As for emissions, the secret to the M103 is to have all your ignition components (cap/rotor/plugs/wires) in good order (new, preferred). A new oxygen sensor is a good idea. There must be NO vacuum leaks. Run the engine hard and get it HOT before the inspection, and they will typically pass.

While in my opinion the M103 is MB's gas version of a 617 turbo diesel in terms of reliability, it's still a Mercedes fed by Bosch CIS injection, which comes with all of the irritations of owning any vehicle with said injection system. An Audi, Volvo, BMW, VW, it doesn't matter- they're all the same big pain in the ass when you have a problem, and troubleshooting can be tricky until you get used to working on them. But it's a reasonable price to pay for driving such great vehicles. And once you're done chasing a problem, they're reliable for a long time.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
You're asking about CA emissions, so your mileage may vary. I have an 88. After suffering the inevitable head gasket failure- which all 103's suffer from at some point, I learned a bit about how the engine itself changed between 88 and 89. I assume the 88 and earlier are the same, and 89 and up are the same.

Internally, the engines are different. I think the block castings may be the same- down to the number, which caused confusion as I was sourcing parts for my repair. My cylinder head needed to be rebuilt, and my cam had failed due most likely to running out of oil after my oil pan came into contact with something large in the road. OOPS!

Long story short, the cams are the same. The heads are different. The combustion chambers are very different. The pistons are different. What any of that has to do with the overall reliability, economy, power of the engine? Who knows. Somebody may know, just not me! However, at least in the 49 state versions, the emissions controls are WAY different between the two. The advantage of the earlier 103 is that there is no EGR valve, and no AIR pump. I think in 89 the engine got both those items, which of course will reduce midrange power and waste fuel. CA might have gotten those items earlier.

Premium gas is not really necessary, as it's a low compression engine. I run mine on 89 octane, and suffer no ill effects after owning the car for 140K of it's current 222K miles.

The upholstery is different. When I went to the junkyard for a donor cylinder head for my 103, the car I found it in was an 89. The internals of the head could be used, but not the head itself. The interior however, was the same color as mine, and MINT, so I swapped all the door cards and seats into my car, and the 89+ interior is decidedly more modern and nicer. You also get the door speakers for the upgraded stereo as standard equipment in the US on 89 models, I believe.

So in a nutshell, 89+ is a nicer car, overall. 88 and below might be a bit simpler, mechanically.

As for emissions, the secret to the M103 is to have all your ignition components (cap/rotor/plugs/wires) in good order (new, preferred). A new oxygen sensor is a good idea. There must be NO vacuum leaks. Run the engine hard and get it HOT before the inspection, and they will typically pass.

While in my opinion the M103 is MB's gas version of a 617 turbo diesel in terms of reliability, it's still a Mercedes fed by Bosch CIS injection, which comes with all of the irritations of owning any vehicle with said injection system. An Audi, Volvo, BMW, VW, it doesn't matter- they're all the same big pain in the ass when you have a problem, and troubleshooting can be tricky until you get used to working on them. But it's a reasonable price to pay for driving such great vehicles. And once you're done chasing a problem, they're reliable for a long time.
Thanks for the thorough response Aaron! :thumbsup:

You're right about the CIS injection system, I've had my fair share of headaches dealing with my 190E's engine management, including several stalling, non-start and rough idling episodes.

My 190E is an 89 w/o the smog pump. I suppose an '89 would be a good idea too, thanks for mentioning that. My '89 190E also does not have the EGR.

How different is the upholstery?

My mechanic also recommends an M103 engine (I'm also considering a W124 M103 or M104), because it's simpler & parts are cheaper. But I don't want this to turn into an M103 vs M104 thread. :)
 

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'73 450SL, '83 300CD, '01 E320 4matic
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Thanks for the thorough response Aaron! :thumbsup:

You're right about the CIS injection system, I've had my fair share of headaches dealing with my 190E's engine management, including several stalling, non-start and rough idling episodes.

My 190E is an 89 w/o the smog pump. I suppose an '89 would be a good idea too, thanks for mentioning that. My '89 190E also does not have the EGR.
You're welcome, and that's interesting. I know for absolute certain that the engine that I pulled the head off of for parts was in an 89 300SE, and it most definitely had EGR. I'm about 75% sure it had a smog pump also. It's very curious- the heads were very different, the EGR port was present on the 89, the combustion chambers were COMPLETELY different (I actually have pics somewhere) The pistons were different to compensate for the different combustion chambers- but it was the same engine number as mine. So at some point they changed it up- perhaps it was during or near the end of the 89 MY?:dunno: Mine actually has a spot on one of the exhaust manifolds where the EGR valve would mount- but it was never drilled.

How different is the upholstery?
The upholstery in the 89+ models is decidedly updated. Check on ebay for the various differences, it's a great place to see what's different. The 88 and earlier has the pleated seats we're used to in the older models, such as the W123. The 89+ has large horizontal pleats, and the seats look like a ten year old design instead of a 50 year old design. The door panels, however, picked up pleats that they did not have in previous years. Definitely check ebay, you'll see the big differences. I like the updated interior much better. I think the SEC's had more updated looking seating much earlier.

My mechanic also recommends an M103 engine (I'm also considering a W124 M103 or M104), because it's simpler & parts are cheaper. But I don't want this to turn into an M103 vs M104 thread. :)
I won't turn it into a 103 vs 104 thread either- but between the two, the 103 IS more simple and won't have any rotten wiring lurking beneath the rocker cover. The 104 is a fine engine, but for daily use with minimal headaches, the 103 is the way to go.

W124s are fine cars, but the W126 with the short wheelbase has been one of my favorites. I had a 560SEL, and really never cared for that car. The short wheelbase with the 6 cylinder is a lot easier to throw around and basically enjoy. With a good set of shocks you really can't beat 'em. The 124 is a different 'feel.' You'll have to try each and decide which you like best.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of a 124 would be the availability of the 2.6L engine in many models- which would save some $$$ at the pump.

There was a 260SE available in Europe, and they seldom show up here. I'd LOVE one- especially with a 5 speed.

Since you have a 2.6L engine already, you're familiar with it. The 3.0 isn't amazingly more powerful. And between the two, you won't notice any difference working on them, they're basically identical.
 

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1990 300SE
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I've never had a benz with the earlier interior. But, like akimball mentioned, the later design is far more modern in appearance than the earlier iteration. I haven't sat in an early design seat, but the later design seats that I've had/have now are fantastic! I pretty much would not buy a Benz that had the earlier design seats, that's how outdated I think it looks.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Are the 300SEL's difficult to park? I know these old MB's are easy to park but I've only had experience with the W123 and W126 SWB, so what about the LWB?

What typical MPG's should I expect when driving a 300SE vs 300SEL - are they relatively the same?
 

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1990 300SE
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Don't even worry about difficulty parking one of these long wheel base W126s. It's easy-peasy. The steering angle that these cars have makes the turning radius very tight. In fact, the 420SEL I used to have was easier to park and could do U-turns on narrower streets that my current Camry can only dream of doing.
 

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'91 300SEL, '91 560SEC
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Are the 300SEL's difficult to park? I know these old MB's are easy to park but I've only had experience with the W123 and W126 SWB, so what about the LWB?

What typical MPG's should I expect when driving a 300SE vs 300SEL - are they relatively the same?
Although the 300SEL is only 7 inches longer than an SE, it does make a difference. I believe it's an extra 80 lbs. Parking is relatively easy, but it doesn't take long to get used to the extra length. The only trouble you might run into is when trying to parallel park in a space which would easily accommodate an SE or SEC.

MPG between a 300SEL and 300SE is negligible. In fact, the 1990 MB sales brochure I have states that there is no difference in MPG. The MPG is around 17 city and 22 highway.

Driving an SEL is a little different than an SE. The SEL is more tail happy in the turns. I assume you won't be throwing it around on a track, but you'll notice the difference when driving around town. The SE is definitely the better handling car. The SEL will also be a tad bit slower off the line due to the added weight.

Don't be put off by these differences, though. I prefer the SEL over the SE because of the extra room, and I believe it looks better. They're both great cars, but the SEL is slightly different driving-wise.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Thanks for the feedback gentlemen. I looked at a '90 300SEL and it needed a lot of work for the asking price. This actually made me appreciate the '89 190E a little more.

Interesting to note the tail happiness of the SEL compared to the SE.

I did notice that the 300SEL had the engine mounts similar to my W123, including engine shocks beside the mounts. This was interesting to me because I thought the M103 already used the hydraulic engine mounts found in the W201/W124 M103-equipped variants.
 

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1983 380SEL
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Although the 300SEL is only 7 inches longer than an SE, it does make a difference. I believe it's an extra 80 lbs...
The difference in weight between a 300SE and a 300SEL is 40 to 45 pounds.

For the 1988-1990 models the first column of numbers is the weight. For the 1991 models the weight is found in the third column from the right.
 

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1990 560 SEL
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Don't even worry about difficulty parking one of these long wheel base W126s. It's easy-peasy. The steering angle that these cars have makes the turning radius very tight. In fact, the 420SEL I used to have was easier to park and could do U-turns on narrower streets that my current Camry can only dream of doing.
+1 to this, parking is easy peasy due to the ridiculously awesome turning radius. The first time you pull in to a parking space you might want to leave the engine on and do a quick walk-around to make sure you're far enough forward and your ass isn't hanging out, but you'll get used to it quickly.
 
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