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Mercedes 300SEL , S320 Limo 1993.
How I acquired the vehicle…
In my course of work (Mobile vehicle mechanic) I meet a lot of people in the trade.
Because of this, I get the nod when any quality vehicles turn up in the scrapper (for what ever reason they were scrapped).... many times this is down to un-economic repair costs. Which are for this beast, astronomical? ...well if you are prey to main dealer prices and practices, cars like this will never be owned by the 'less well offs' and I include myself in that statement. It's better to be lucky than rich sometimes. For me, it's a case of; sod the usual car buying outlets and get your self down the scrapper. Lucky for me then!
On first inspection of this car in the breakers yard, I was shocked by its size; it was huge, damaged, covered in dust + thick mud caked the wheel arches and lower parts of the car but still it looked beautiful in my eyes. The driver's front wing showed the signs of a recent accident and was the most noticeable damaged part to put off potential buyers to save it from its fate… The crusher.
Rear suspension & brake problems were other things for me to fix but the rest of the body and interior were perfect. Upon sitting in the driver's seat for the first time, the gorgeous smell of the interior, the thick leather seats & trim filling my senses with automotive pleasure! (From now on I didn't care what I had to do to fix it…. It was mine!) On checking the engine, I found a thick scum of oil in the coolant header tank, this lead me and 3 other mechanics to suppose that the head gasket had gone. Later I found out that the previous owner had topped up the oil by adding it to the coolant header tank, (donkey!) so after drawing off the excess with a large syringe no further problems were noted, temp' & pressure fine… Ye har, now I was on a winner.
A week after paying the £250 asking price to the scrap man to own the car, all the faults are now fixed, she is now back on the road again. Cared for by me in the way it was supposed to be, lovingly polished to death and drooled over, not driven round the scrap yard like a banger racer, some people just have no respect!
My first and lasting impression of this car is the smell of the interior, even in its sorry state at the breakers. It is overpowering, the high quality leather seats leave their ordure on your clothes for some time after you leave the car. The normal wood effect trimmings found in most other so say luxury cars are on this one the real thing, not plastic wood effect stick on rubbish. The carpets are deep and thick, top notch, thick layers of sound proofing below them help to insulate out road noise also the window glass is double glazed and adds to the silence inside when driving along. All the surfaces inside are soft and padded to the touch. A finger pushed into the dash will confirm a proper soft covering, not the tinny hard plastic harshness of other lesser makes. (I apologise now for my snobbishness!) Switches and controls are positive and purposeful, easily laid out and don't require a lot of thought to suss out what they do, as too the analogue dials in the dash which
Pictures of Mercedes S 320 CDI
The Merc... front view
are clear and accurate. At night, every thing that can be operated by the hand takes on a nice glow. These include roof mounted switches, climate controls and door window switches. The steering wheel is adjustable by way of a 4 position switch that will power extend / retract, raise/ lower the wheel. The front seats on this model are infinitely adjustable for height, reach, rake, leg length and lumbar support, the head rests are the first I've known to actually support your head into a comfortable driving position and will help save whiplash injuries in the event of an accident. An air supply pump system from the engine controls the pump up seats and central locking actuation. Driver & passenger air bags are fitted to this model. ABS braking will help here too with saving your life when things get out of shape.The rear seating area is a luxury space that will easily fit 3 adults but two can fully stretch out their legs in pure comfort. Individual cigar lighters are fitted to the ashtrays in each rear door along with extra storage compartments under the door grab handles. The rear parcel shelf has two large top quality speakers and a first aid kit built in to the central part of the shelf.
Separate rear air conditioning is also there for your pleasure. Again, the seats are of thick, soft top quality grey leather; with that Oh so gorgeous smell (If you like that sort of thing). Grabs rails in the roof, individual spot lamps and spacious surroundings complete the luxury feel.
Incidentally, Di & Dody died in a near identical model to this one (S280) god bless um, so I can imagine what it must have been like for them to travel in such a car as this. As for Henry Paul, I can see quite well how this / his car could loose its footing and sway off line at high speed, she's a heavy beast and the width will keep you constantly checking your position in tight places on the road. Although the handling is adequate for most situations, it's no sports car, you really do need to think about what you are doing when driving this car; I've driven nearly all types of other cars on the road and would say that this car is a definite handful. I do not find it easy to throw around its bulk, or park it and if I'd had a couple of beers with the paparazzi up my arse I recon I may well of ended up the same way as them.
On the road…
The car will fire up first time, every time. I always give my cars a few mins to warm up before setting off. The hand brake is set by a ratcheted pedal on the left side of the foot well, released by a hand lever just under the lighting controls on the dash, this I find a bit of a pain as I'm not used to this arrangement, but works well all the same. The gears will shift gently and smoothly to power you on your way. On this model there is a two position switch in the centre console that is marked S or E. I have found that in the S mode the engine will "kick down" and be much livelier to hustle you along, the E mode inhibits such sporty intentions and leads to better fuel consumption. (But that's boring) The S is always selected in this one!
The suspension, as stated earlier is on the soft side, in keeping with what the car was designed for i.e., poncing around town from one business meeting to another or what ever it is the rich do with their time, to get out of working for a living. Weddings & funerals could be other uses well suited to this kind of vehicle and perhaps a good way of earning a few quid (now there's a thought)
Pushing the Mercedes harder into bends is possible and quite fun, but careful use of the throttle / power to pull it through the bends is necessary to avoid too much body roll. The large amount of weight will have the balloon type tyres screeching too. If you are a 30mph lover for all situations then you'll never have a problem with the handling. ;-) I recently did a long distance trip in it and found this is where the Merc' is at its best. It will kick down in the 90's and pull very strongly up to incredible speeds (test track of course officer) and will see many other lesser cars disappearing backwards (other DTM racing drivers of course officer) all in super quiet luxury. The power steering will stiffen up, as it is speed sensed to provide a safer feel at high speeds (70mph) the test track will see over 140mph, so they tell me.
High speed antics like this return around 24 - 27 MPG in my experience, around town this will drop to 20 if you're lucky, then again if you worried about the fuel consumption you god damn wouldn't buy a car like this now would you. But, it's nice to live a little before you die instead of eating crap all your life in my way of looking at things. I've had cheapo nasty little cars that do 50 mpg and I was …oh so bored with all that sensibility, the government can kiss my arse because I'll not be forced into buying a micro car just to keep them lot happy. Seems like none of us are allowed to be able to enjoy ourselves anymore… like they do… Mr. 2 jags are you listening? Spotted Blaire the other day getting into a top of the line Range Rover? This car rules hehe.. I love it !
From my experience I find the beast fairly easy to work on, brakes, suspension and steering all being bread and butter jobs much like other vehicles, if you are mechanically minded and would like to save hundreds of pounds, you can do a lot of the repairs yourself. All underneath is logical and well laid out.
Incidentally this one came with some serious rear end problems, both rear wheels were leaning inwards at a severe angle, the faults were down to knackered camber control arms that were pushing into the rear brake back plates on cornering, leading to severe grinding noises, replacements were sourced at £26 each ...Euro car parts.
After removing the rear wheels it looks like a piece of pie to fix, until you realise the top mounting bolts have been put in the wrong way round, (from original factory build) you need to hacksaw the bolt heads off to allow you to push the offending bolts out the correct way, after removal, re-fitting will be the other way round if you ever need to do the same job again in the future. Most other stuff is pretty easy to fix in this department.
The engine is bullet proof, so generally you shouldn't need to prod it too much, apart from regular checks of all fluid levels (something all of you should do with any car you own, if you want it to last). Regular maintenance will hold back any worries of nearly all major problems suffered by the rubbish new cars of today If you want to give it a service, and save £1500 by the dealer rip off;
1) Run engine for 20 mins. 2) Drain engine oil. (either by way of the sump plug or a suction tool from the dipstick) 3) The black plastic oil filter housing (right hand rear of the engine, standing facing the engine bay from the front) can be unscrewed with a suitable tool, I did mine with a strap wrench type flexible oil filter removal tool ½ " drive with a long extension. Take the cap off and replace the cartridge element inside ( £3.50 odd … Euro car parts) 4) Re-fill with 10w / 40 good quality engine oil, 7.5 Litres! (but check specs' of your car first) start engine and let oil warning lamp go out on tick over. Stop engine and re-check oil level. 5) Change air filter element, left hand side front of engine, secured by snap clips. Remove and replace. 6) To change spark plugs, un screw black plastic top cover of engine, secured by 4 allen screws, see 3 coil packs & 3 separate plug leads underneath, un screw the allen screws of the coil packs & un pick the leads to each plug, carefully lay the coil packs & leads in order, so as to re-fit properly, replace plugs (these are NGK BCPR-6ES, same as escort CVH engine, so don't be conned into buying expensive Mercedes plugs that some like to sell on ebay for £50) buy from somewhere like Halfords or Euro parts, approx £12, re-fit in reverse order, replace top cover. 7) Check all levels, top up screen wash at front of engine by obvious filler neck, see plastic tube with red coloured level indicator. 8) Check auxiliary drive belt (alternator belt) for condition and tension. 9) Lubricate all door hinges and catches with "white grease" including bonnet & boot hinges and fixings 10) Operate all lights & check for correct operation (get a helper for the brake lights) 11) Check Wiper blades for splits and correct operation. 12) Check all tyres for correct pressure; tread depth & foreign objects that may compromise safety, check spare pressure.
This is basically all the main dealer will do, if you're lucky, and charge the earth for. The Mercedes dealer round here is notorious for repairing a previously unknown slow puncture or two to top up the bill a bit more, you get the idea.
Generally though, this model year of car can still be fixed by the independent mechanic or competent DIY owner, although there is still a good amount of complexity lurking within to rattle the best repairer. The new cars of today (in my opinion) are far too complex and the build quality is just not as good as it used to be and I include the newer Mercedes cars in this. Most repairs will see a bill of at least £500, for just about anything that goes wrong. This is because the expensive technology has to be replaced rather than be fixed. The dealer loves this and will be happy to take your cash!
As you've guessed I don't trust the dealers… so end of little rant! If you can get hold of one of these cars you wont go far wrong, providing you can get your servicing sorted by a good trusted garage.
Could this be a car to keep forever?
There are many copies of this vehicle with different badges attached but seeing that 3 pointed star at the end of the bonnet will tell you that this is the car by which all others are measured.