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Owner Review

1989 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL Review

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Like many motoring enthusiasts, I held this desire to own an older, classic car for recreational use. After much thought, my decision was the top model Mercedes-Benz S Class made during the late 1980s.

One criterion for selection, albeit not major, was the cars’ potential to increase in value over time. This is why the category “Price & Features” shows a rating of 10. If selling today, I would easily obtain more than double the price paid for it.

Searching for a 560 SEL in really excellent condition was a long and frustrating process. Enquiring about this one commenced with a very sceptical phone call to the seller, given my lack of success over the previous three years. The decision and effort, however, was definitely worth it.

What is a 30-year-old Mercedes S-Class with a 5.5-litre V8 like to drive in 2019? This is a model that, when introduced in 1986, was considered by many as “the best car in the world.” It was certainly the daily drive choice of professional Formula One racing drivers. They either purchased a SEC coupe or the sedan. This decision was possibly aided by Mercedes' 15% discount off the list price to them. But you can understand their non-financial reasons. Here was a 5.1-metre-long car that even today has astonishing acceleration, especially after you reach 80 kilometres per hour. The guttural growl from the engine is also terrific, yet it handles with an assured grace. Of course there is more body roll than what is currently accepted today, but there are major reserves in the ability of the suspension to deal with corners (rough or smooth). In addition, the automatic’s eager kick-down supplies lots of power to the rear wheels to push you out of bends.

Adding to the feeling of confidence is the build quality. This car is solid. With almost 240,000 kilometres reached there is not one single rattle or squeak. There has also never been a break-down of any kind (having only one owner before me, so all its history is known). Along with the W124 series E-Class, these are the last of the over-designed and engineered Mercedes. Management’s decision to decrease quality in the late 1980s is understandable, however it has largely reduced the firm to being just another car maker.

An example of this lost excellence is in the leather used throughout the interior of this 1989 vehicle. Forget the synthetic feeling material car manufacturers use today except in the most expensive of vehicles. This Big Benz has really thick and beautifully soft hides. Treat these with some decent quality leather crème regularly and they will last forever.

It’s happiest when out on country roads and not travelling around the city. Sauntering along at 110 kilometres per hour doing 2200rpm (in third gear, as fourth doesn't engage until 160) is as quiet as many modern vehicles. Reviewers, when this was released, complained of tyre roar, but fitting today’s improved tyres reduces this annoyance considerably.

Fuel economy? Next question please.

CarAdvice has a scoring system that rates tangibles such as “Technology & Connectivity.” They should add another, being “Character and Personality.” The Panzer Wagon would score very highly in this category. Some may be surprised with this, thinking that it is probably a rather cold, clinical vehicle. Not so. It has a formidable aristocratic aura, but at the same time an attitude of “I’m here to help and serve you, so let’s get going together.”

I’ve had the car for almost seven years now, with the intention of keeping it for at least another 10. Still, I’m just a temporary custodian. No doubt the owners after me will develop the same viewpoint.