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1981 Mercedes Benz 380SL
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm curious if anyone has any information on swapping engines with something more modern that delivers stronger and smoother power. I don't want to dump an LS or any other engines that can deliver tons of horsepower, but I'm looking for something that is smoother and more reliable. I was thinking about the V8 engine from an early 2000's Mercedes E430 which puts out a decent amount of smooth power. Not sure if it would even fit in my 1981 380SL so if anyone has any experience with this swap or any other more modern engine swaps please let me know if you have any information on it. I'm also open to different recommendations on engines that work with the car. Thanks again!
 

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Outstanding Contributor , Bob's Your Uncle!
83 280 SL- 5 speed-The PIG
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31,804 Posts
We have a V12 expert on the board. :)

@roncallo
 

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Premium Member
1986 560SL with M120 V12 Engine, 1988 560SL Stock
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12,445 Posts
I'm curious if anyone has any information on swapping engines with something more modern that delivers stronger and smoother power. I don't want to dump an LS or any other engines that can deliver tons of horsepower, but I'm looking for something that is smoother and more reliable. I was thinking about the V8 engine from an early 2000's Mercedes E430 which puts out a decent amount of smooth power. Not sure if it would even fit in my 1981 380SL so if anyone has any experience with this swap or any other more modern engine swaps please let me know if you have any information on it. I'm also open to different recommendations on engines that work with the car. Thanks again!
Yes. I installed the M120 V12. It is smoother has more than twice the power and gets about 10% better gas mileage than the 380SL. Also will be working on the M113 engine (E430 engine). Whether you do the M120 V12 or the M113 V8 the amount of work is almost the same. You will only save time on the exhaust with the V8.

The task is huge. Getting the engine in is not too bad. Getting all the features to work as they did from the factory makes it an enormous task.

See this thread. The Making of Samson Worlds First V-12 107
And this thread. Theirs a new one coming

V12Installation.JPG
 

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1981 380SL, 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio, 2008 Corvette, 1965 Dodge Dart Wagon
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417 Posts

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'72 350SL, '85 300D, '98 E320, '19 Subaru Outback (sold '14 GLK250)
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12,092 Posts

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1974 450SL; 1961 Besasie X-3 (being restored)
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1,541 Posts
I've heard that getting the computer to work with a 560SL engine in a 380SL is a PITA, unless you're knowledgeable about that.
It's kind of sad that today's engines won't run, or at least run properly without a computer. Unfortunately, emissions come into play, and older engines, that can be built for power and are relatively easy to work on, probably won't meet emissions standards without a bunch of electronics and computers involved.
 

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1986 560SL with M120 V12 Engine, 1988 560SL Stock
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12,445 Posts
There is at least one member here (Steve) who swapped in a Chevy engine. I think many have done that. Saw a 107 for sale here in Canada that says it has a Ford engine & transmission. Couple of diesel conversions too.

An M112 V-6 out of a W210 would be great. More compact, but no easy swap I would think.

EV conversion would be my choice :)
M112 would be a good engine except for reliability. I don't know if MB came out with a suitable fix for the camshaft balance shaft issues. In its most common form as in the 3.2L versions you could retain the power of a 560SL, while loosing significant weight and gaining about 50% more gas mileage. It is also available with a manual transmission. (y) (y) (y)

The AMG supercharged versions are also available in up to 350HP.
 

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560SL,380SL,E350
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The thing that's "bad" about the (double timing chain) US 380SL engine is the embarrassing lack of power. It isn't inherently unreliable. A set of cams can wake them up, but Euro 380 cams are hard to find and even then they won't do anything about the lack of compression and the restricted exhaust.

when I daily drove the 380 for 90K miles or so it was nice that it ran fine on regular and wasn't awful on gas mileage.
 

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560SL,380SL,E350
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There is at least one member here (Steve) who swapped in a Chevy engine. I think many have done that. Saw a 107 for sale here in Canada that says it has a Ford engine & transmission. Couple of diesel conversions too.

An M112 V-6 out of a W210 would be great. More compact, but no easy swap I would think.

EV conversion would be my choice :)
WHY won't people show us pictures of these engines installed?

The time that I saw a fairly documented Ford 302 installation on the Internet (now gone), the installer had to compromise the header tubes near the steering box the engine effectively was running on seven. He did manage to get it in on the original subframe, though.
 

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'72 350SL, '85 300D, '98 E320, '19 Subaru Outback (sold '14 GLK250)
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12,092 Posts
M112 would be a good engine except for reliability. I don't know if MB came out with a suitable fix for the camshaft balance shaft issues. In its most common form as in the 3.2L versions you could retain the power of a 560SL, while loosing significant weight and gaining about 50% more gas mileage. It is also available with a manual transmission. (y) (y) (y)

The AMG supercharged versions are also available in up to 350HP.
We have had our W210 with M112 V-6 for 23 years (260k km) Never any engine problems. Just some small issues like sensors, balancer pulley, oil leaks, etc. I have been on the BW W210 forum (and at times the MBWorld forum) for same period and don't recall reading of any camshaft issues on the W210. You had me worried, so I did a search and came up with same same result. No camshaft issues except for the 2002 AMG C32s. It seems they did not have solid camshafts. They did have failures and the design was later changed.

Don't imagine too many will be doing this anyway! Only mentioned M112 because it has proven to be a great performer for us (and others) and as you say, with very good gas mileage. It was our Go-South car - covered many miles on the I-95!
 

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Premium Member
1986 560SL with M120 V12 Engine, 1988 560SL Stock
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12,445 Posts
We have had our W210 with M112 V-6 for 23 years (260k km) Never any engine problems. Just some small issues like sensors, balancer pulley, oil leaks, etc. I have been on the BW W210 forum (and at times the MBWorld forum) for same period and don't recall reading of any camshaft issues on the W210. You had me worried, so I did a search and came up with same same result. No camshaft issues except for the 2002 AMG C32s. It seems they did not have solid camshafts. They did have failures and the design was later changed.

Don't imagine too many will be doing this anyway! Only mentioned M112 because it has proven to be a great performer for us (and others) and as you say, with very good gas mileage. It was our Go-South car - covered many miles on the I-95!
You are correct. apparently it's the M272 V6 and 273 V8

 

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'72 350SL, '85 300D, '98 E320, '19 Subaru Outback (sold '14 GLK250)
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12,092 Posts
Right - At one time I was looking into buying an SUVZ with the m272 engine. Found there was a problem with camshaft gear or something on that engine over one or two model years
Bad material from one supplier, I believe. But they did not know which cars got the bad component. No recall.

Decided on buying a new GLK250 which, as it turned out had the unreliable/illegal or whatever emission system. Traded for an Outback!

MBs ain't what they used to be!
 

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1983 380SL, ivory/dk brown, 46k miles, dual roller timing chain. 1986 560SL, red/white, 190K mile.
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8,228 Posts
The easiest solution surely is to get your 380SL engine running properly. My 1983 380SL runs extremely smooth and has more than enough power to be a "cruiser". If anyone tells you that the 560SL is powerful, my wife's 4 cylinder Camry can out run it :). These R107s are cruisers, not super cars.

I will confess if the engine in my 380SL got destroyed, I would actively look for a 5.L 500SL engine and make it into a "clone" 500SL.
 

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1987 300SL
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1,249 Posts
I will confess if the engine in my 380SL got destroyed, I would actively look for a 5.L 500SL engine and make it into a "clone" 500SL.
Then I'll have to fess up too, the 500SL engine gets my attention as well. But thankfully my 3 litre straight six sings so pretty now I'm more than happy with it
 

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1986 560SL with M120 V12 Engine, 1988 560SL Stock
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12,445 Posts
Then I'll have to fess up too, the 500SL engine gets my attention as well. But thankfully my 3 litre straight six sings so pretty now I'm more than happy with it
Your 3L six has about 30 HP more than a US spec 380SL and it was available with a stick.
 

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Outstanding Contributor , Bob's Your Uncle!
83 280 SL- 5 speed-The PIG
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31,804 Posts
It's nice that the OP started this thread to get everyone talking except him.
 

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'71 350SL, '76 450SLC (Euro both)
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361 Posts
It's nice that the OP started this thread to get everyone talking except him.
This is mostly a group therapy session anyway.

I toss this idea around a lot. Now that I'm keeping my '71 I need to address the blown motor. A couple of years ago I bought a cheap 300E, pulled the motor and installed it in my 190 2.6. It's a wonderful motor and a great upgrade. I love the M103 so I think that may be a good option, then I look at the M104 with its increased hp and twin cams, going OG and finding a M116.982, carb the M117, etc., etc. There's a lot of options out there for the 107.
 
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