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Old 14th April 2021, 08:25   #1
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Default Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

Shreya drops in this question for us.

Hi Team-BHP,

I'm writing this message expressing a concern. I have a '97 Mercedes S280 that is currently not in working condition. I want to restore it, but I want some help with trustworthy and reliable mechanics / restorers who could help. Please help me bring back a beautiful car back to life. Thanks, Shreya
My advice = junk it. In the 60s, 70s & 80s, German cars (especially Mercedes) were built to last a lifetime. It sure helped that they were mechanically robust and had minimal electronics. The 90s saw a new approach to luxury car manufacturing, cost cutting and "built for leasing customers". IMHO, German cars eventually became designed to last just 10 - 15 years. Eventually, the complex problems & shoddy reliability result in a huge cost of money + time. When the cost of repairs greatly exceeds the value of the car, they end up junked.

I love the W140, but its the epitome of the paragraph above. Obscenely expensive to buy and to own, unbelievably complex too. It's the kind of 25-year old car that can make grown men cry in frustration. Have seen even industrialists with unlimited resources not being able to make a W140 run reliably.

I repeat my advice = junk it. With the saved money & time, buy a W221 or W222 S-Class (preferred). If you really want an old Mercedes, then get a W126 or W124.

Last edited by GTO : 14th April 2021 at 10:11.
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Old 14th April 2021, 11:16   #2
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

The W140 was pretty controversial when it was introduced. It still is to date. There are those that love it and those that hate it. Many of the latter ones ended up buying poorly maintained versions. And then you run into massive problems.

The good news, parts availability is very good! But without somebody working on the car who really knows it inside out it is going to be a headache.

I know quite a few very happy W140 owners that manage too keep theirs going at a very reasonable cost, once all the initial problems have been solved.

One of the biggest problems is the wiring. Over time the insulation just pulverises and that is a constant source of endless problems on a car with so much electronics. Any proper restoration starts with replacing the complete wiring loom. A massive undertaking by itself. Yours is a later model and from the series 2 onwards the quality of the wiring loom is better. But still it is always advisable to replace fully.

These cars can be expensive to restore because there tends to be so much that requires attention. But the biggest problem is specific knowledge and experience. There is simply not many people around that have rebuild at least a couple of dozen cars and maintain a few hundred of them on an annual basis.

Here in the Netherlands we have a couple of specialist that have been doing just that for the last two decades. Without that experience it is likely your restoration might end up as a very expensive nightmare.

The other thing, these cars are still relatively cheap. No matter how much time and effort was spend on a restoration it will never be reflected in the value of the car. I know that is not always a factor for classic car owners. God knows I have spend way more on my three classic cars then they will ever be worth.

So think carefully, but I doubt very much that sufficient expertise is available in India for a successful W140 restoration.

Like GTO suggested, you might want to consider something else. I am still very happy with my W123! The last proper in-house designed and build Mercedes.

Good luck

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Old 14th April 2021, 11:27   #3
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

W140 was <3

It was really such a beautiful and badass looking automobile, that anyone would want to own and run one in the current traffic. I am a fan of the design, it looks so stately.

But as suggested by GTO, even my advise would be to junk it. Not because the car is filled with a lot of problems, in mechanical and electrical engineering - every single thing can be repaired and made to run reliably.

Issue is not 'what', it is 'who'? Who is there in India whom we can trust with such a complex project? Restoration doesn't just mean mechanicals and electricals - it means entire car, and even more important - the interior.

In a car like W140, if the interior isn't done perfectly, all the charm of the restoration is lost right there. One improper switch or button, and the mood goes down the drain. Jeep and Gypsy restoration is different, but a W140 - well, only if the user can find someone who has done it before and done it multiple times, then this is a restoration project that will keep her grinning ear to ear, if done right - nothing, absolutely nothing is on the roads which looks as timeless and well designed as a W140. But if done wrong, then it will turn into a money well, you can keep on feeding it, but it won't suffice. In other words, the risk is rather clear, if done well - super reward. If not done well, then the restoration money also goes to the junk with the car.

Last edited by VKumar : 14th April 2021 at 11:30.
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Old 14th April 2021, 17:30   #4
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

If one thinks rationally, then it makes no sense to restore a 20-25 year old car, especially one that is as complicated as the W140. If you want to get an impeccable job done, the investment you are looking at could easily run into figures that resemble house renovation costs. Then there's sourcing parts, supervising and following up the work being done and rectifying the niggles that would crop up even after restoration.
But if you know what you are doing, then it's well worth the effort. Depending on where one is located, it shouldn't be too difficult to find the right kind of labour. There are various garages that specialise in such cars in Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore. As far as parts are concerned, brand new OEM parts would cost loads of money, but if you want to keep the budget in check, it is not very difficult to find used parts at breakers yards (both in India as well as abroad), good quality Taiwanese or Chinese parts or remanufactured parts. You might have to import the parts, which could potentially involve a lot of headache at customs. If you find a good donor car for cheap, then you could save a lot of money on certain parts.

In the end, it all boils down to the effort and money one is willing to put into the car. I wouldn't ask you to junk it right away; I would recommend that you show it to the authorized MB dealer or a good mechanic and ask them to give you an estimate for fixing everything. If it seems too high, then ask them to give an estimate of the minimum amount of work needed to bring the car to decent shape. If this also doesn't seem to work, then of course, it makes sense to say good bye to it.
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Old 14th April 2021, 23:04   #5
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

With the right support the S280 can be restored. It's a reliable inline 6 unlike the S500 V8 or S600 V12. Look for an FNG, which can help you source parts from UK or middle East.
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Old 15th April 2021, 10:01   #6
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

I have another suggestion, a rather unconventional one. If restoring the car doesn’t work out but you happen to have enough driveway space, you could simply get the paint and body work fixed, maybe get the interiors some new leather and trim and invest in a good set of axle stands. The W140 is a beautiful car and can be an awesome driveway ornament. This would cost 2 lakh rupees at the most and it would still allow you to admire the beauty of the car. This is one option that I have been seriously considering for my 1993 Tata Estate if restoration doesn’t work out in a couple of years.

I remember seeing a W140 on display at the Heritage Transport museum in Haryana. I don’t think that car runs, but body work has been restored beautifully and the car has been placed on axle stands. Looks majestic:

Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it-031c61a0c783426796f2233842724485.jpeg

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Image source: the museums social media page and Team-BHP thread.

Last edited by Sanidhya mukund : 15th April 2021 at 10:11.
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Old 15th April 2021, 10:39   #7
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

Well I think its pretty simple, if it isnt a classic, there is no point restoring a 20+ year old car. I think this holds true even for normal cars.

May be if its an 800 or Omni yes, but, otherwise, NO.
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Old 16th April 2021, 09:44   #8
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

I want to go against the tide here. Yes it's an arduous task to keep these cars running but somehow it's also very satisfying to do so.

It's obviously not going to be a walk in the park but it can very well be restored as far as you plan to keep it for a while and are willing to spend the money.

If you choose not to, let me know I'd be interested in taking it up as a project. I have a W124 and 2 W123s in my garage already.
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Old 16th April 2021, 10:26   #9
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

By now I think we have established that its difficult to restore it to original condition. So what next? Mod it \ restomod it.

Make a cosmetic rally \ race version of it, keep whatever is in good shape and swap the rest of the parts with whatever is available. Its RWD so you have more options to play with from an engine and drive train perspective.

The wiring for basic amenities inside can be redone with aftermarket bits - the rest leave them as is.
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Old 17th April 2021, 09:43   #10
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

First plan of action should have you looking for forums and online material on the car.

There will definitely be someone who has done such a restoration earlier

Request you to share the issues that you are facing with the car and what's wrong with teamBHP, ma'am. Maybe some of us can help you out.

There is never a single specialist restorer, not in our country at least. There will be different guys for different issues. Even if money is the last concern, the time investment will be huge.

I do not mean to scare you away by calling it a nightmare and asking you to dump the idea, but a project like this takes immense commitment. An example, (How NOT to restore your old motorcycle)

Projects like these, and unreliable or niggle prone cars are the ones that tend to teach you the most about cars. I assume, the car has been sitting idle for a while, let it sit a while longer, nothing bad in a few more weeks or months, spend those days reading up online and corelating and observing those issues in your car. Maybe even start a thread on teamBHP. But if in those weeks/months you find yourself not being able to devote so much time for this, there will be no point in restoring.Many people have a busy schedule and it's difficult spending so much time. Sadly, cars like these can't be restored just by throwing money at it, a lot of patience and time is involved.

Wishing you all the best. Would love to hear the story of this car. You should try signing up for the forum.

edit: you should turn to the classic car threads/mercedes vintage rally threads on the forum for experienced restorers

Last edited by viXit : 17th April 2021 at 09:45.
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Old 17th April 2021, 14:48   #11
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

Going by the tone and words chosen by Ms.Shreya, it looks like she isn’t too keen on knowing “if” she should restore the car but rather “where” she should restore the car.

Maybe someone can point her to the right resources and give her some idea of the potential costs involved? The other inputs can be in addition to answering her basic queries.
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Old 17th April 2021, 14:53   #12
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

Originally Posted by GTO View Post
...It's the kind of 25-year old car that can make grown men cry in frustration.
Originally Posted by VKumar View Post

Issue is not 'what', it is 'who'? Who is there in India whom we can trust with such a complex project?
Response to both... I've seen a grown man cry over his second-hand W140...this was a decade ago. The bodywork and interiors were pristine. Major mechanical faults culminated in a complete overhaul of the engine. There was always something or other wrong with it in the years that followed The irony? He is a fully qualified mechanic of Indian origin with a sizeable UK based Bosch certified Service Repair & MoT garage with x8 bays/ramps/lifts. He still owns the car and is proud of it.

His sons have taken over his business so all his service repairs are in-house otherwise a money-pit of a vehicle that will rarely attain status of a collectible.
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Old 17th April 2021, 14:59   #13
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

Not sure where the location of this car is but there are definitely many shops that carry out such kinds of restorations in Mumbai. The question right now is what this 'restoration' entails. Depending on how major or minor it is, there are different shops/companies who would make the cut.
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Old 17th April 2021, 15:32   #14
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

Restoring a W140 us nit suggested in any way whatsoever just being the number of issues one could have to bring back some life in the engine if it was just sitting there, first the electronics would be a big hassle then all the sensors, plastic parts on various heat exchangers, manifold would have given away that era of cars never had good quality plastics as they were perfecting things at those times, yet we still se worst quality.
But, if it has some sentimental value you could try to salvage some parts from it outer shell & try to implement somewhere in your life, like in a living room themed around cars or a movie theatre or room for watching movies with friends or family. I once watched a fifth gear video where Gordan murray converted a cadillac into a film storage.
Watch from 3:30 you could get some ideas.

And restoring a car is always about commitment more than about money. It is the commitment which drains your brain & time.
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Old 17th April 2021, 17:29   #15
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Default Re: Old Mercedes W140 S-Class : Restoring it vs junking it

Well before coming to a conclusion it would be better to see what condition the vehicle really is in. If it required minor work, to a W140 fan it would be an ace opportunity, if not, junking surely would make sense.

Either way, I'm sure it would fetch decent money knowing W140s are in demand in the right cicles. Any way we can contact her to discuss a sale/get more info?
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