- Post is under moderationBack in the late 1960s and early 1970s I worked in a European car dealership called Foreign Motors. The name seems quaint now, but back then most people bought Detroit iron because it just seemed like you got more for your money. It seemed foolish to pay more for a six-cylinder Mercedes when you could get a Cadillac with an enormous V8 engine and automatic transmission for a whole lot less.
/ #Mercedes-Benz-300SEL-6.3-W109 / #Mercedes-Benz-300SEL-6.3 / #Mercedes-Benz-W109 / #Mercedes-Benz / #1967 / #1968
Then in 1968 came the game changer: the #300-SEL-6.3 , the fastest four-door sedan in the world. It’s hard to convey the impact this vehicle had on the world when it was introduced. Horsepower and torque were something Americans understood. Even Hot Rod ran a feature on the Mercedes. Car & Driver had drag-racing superstar Don Garlits look it over in an article entitled Superman Meets Super Machine. I still have my copy from October 1969.
I remember one particular detail in the engine compartment that seemed to stump Garlits, an inner fender panel switch. Then it dawned on him: it was there for safety reasons. It turned off the auxiliary cooling fans when you raised the hood, so you didn’t lose a finger. That was a small example of the level of engineering in this Q-ship.
There’s no need to re-tell the story of how the car came about. Everyone knows that engineer Erich Waxenberger took the V8 from the Mercedes 600 and shoehorned it into the W108/W109 platform. Kind of like what John DeLorean did when he created the Pontiac GTO by putting the 389ci V8 into an intermediate-sized Le Mans body. Or ‘Le Manz’ as they say here.
The impact the SEL 6.3 had on me as a 19-year-old was unbelievable. Sure, there were bigger American V8s, but they didn’t have overhead cams, fuel injection, air suspension and four-wheel disc brakes, as well as all the amenities American luxury cars had such as sunroof, air-conditioning, acres of wood trim and a leather interior.
It took me 40 years, but I finally got one. Mine was a 1968 with over 300,000 miles on it. The previous owner had died and the son just wanted to get rid of the car. I offered him $5500 cash and he took it. That was over ten years ago. Since then, I’ve put another 25,000 miles on the Merc and have had relatively few problems.
Then it started to go downhill. First off, the air suspension was starting to leak overnight and it was taking longer and longer for the air compressor to raise it back up. Another bad sign was that the warning light on the dash was staying on, indicating that the air compressor could not maintain normal driving pressure.
I know these cars are supposed to be a nightmare to work on, but the good news is that it’s a mechanical nightmare and not an electronic one. First thing we did was to take off the engine-driven air compressor, thinking we could replace it with an electric one. Then we realised this wouldn’t work because it drives the power steering. We then proceeded to take apart the compressor, figuring we would replace the valves and the piston rings. That didn’t work either, because once we got the piston out we found there were no rings that were commercially available. Before admitting defeat, I then used the greatest tool in my #Mercedes -Benz tool box: the Classic Center.
I often hear people complain about the prices of classic parts, but only before they start their search, not after. After nearly a week of calling breaker’s yards and various piston-ring manufacturers, trying to find something that worked for a car of which they made only 6526, I finally called the Classic Center.
I said, I’ve got a 1968 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 and I need an air compressor for the suspension. After I’d had seven days of hearing ‘Good luck finding one of those’, and ‘Yeah, right’, click, the voice on the other end said, ‘Do you want rebuilt or new old stock?’ ‘New old stock’, I said. ‘Next day delivery OK?’ And I had it the next day. Was it expensive? Yes. But not as expensive as a lost week, searching high and low.
‘THE SWITCH TURNED OFF THE AUXILIARY COOLING FANS WHEN YOU RAISED THE HOOD, SO YOU DIDN’T LOSE A FINGER’
I then realised I could make my 50-year-old car not quite brand new but pretty damn close. I ordered new rubber bladders for the suspension plus bushes, kingpins and everything else to make it last another 50 years. If this sounds like an ad for Mercedes, it’s not. Jaguar, Lamborghini, Ferrari and other such brands are now all doing the same thing. I’ve had too many close calls caused by using replacement parts made by someone other than the original manufacturer. Most recently a front tyre on a 4500lb Duesenberg blew out at 70mph, when the replacement inner tube disintegrated with less than 300 miles on it. The box it came in looked identical to those I had purchased for years from a brand-name manufacturer, except these ones were made – well, you can guess where.
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Buying a W108/109 What to look for with the late ‘60s S-class. One of the most imposing saloons of the late 1960s, the W108 S-class makes an excellent investment today. Mercedes-Benz Driver editor Sam Skelton outlines how to buy the best. Words and photos Sam Skelton.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
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