The W108 series (1965-1972) 


 What can I say about the W108 Beautiful ? Of Course !, Reliable ? Yes. Every fault can be detected by the noise it makes, 3,000 miles before it breaks down. Rust ? NO, of course not ! :-). Unfortunately, rust protection on these cars was never very good and, apart from the air suspension on the W109 models, nothing is more annoying. It took an orgy of welding during the 70s and 80s to keep these cars on the road. Whether it is the replacement of large sections with genuine spare parts or a few odd patches to get the vehicle through its MOT, you will not find a single example that has has not needed welding done on it. The good news is that you can still get parts although the price is steadily rising. Restoring and running a classic Mercedes was never going to be cheap but this is a real piece of history. A cheaper option would be the W123 or W124. But it is a peace of history and the last propper with every model :-)


The W108 series was immediately preceded by the Fintail series which was not a great success. The look was very different from the yet older Ponton series but closer to the American style. Reliability was good which allowed the body to become accepted but never loved by its European owners. When the W108 series was released in 1966 it became everybody’s darling. It was planned from the beginning as the upper class or let's say the "S" class with no engine smaller than 6 cylinders. Unlike the Fintail which had been designed to appeal to a wide range of owners from the 190D for the taxi market to the 300SE at the high end, the W108 was aimed at the high end market although a choice of engines and length was available.
The longer versions were marketed as the W109 which, with more legroom in the rear to suit the cutomer with a chauffeur, the addition of very expensive air suspension added to the luxury which could be adjusted to give a firm sports ride or soft for more comfortable cruising.
The lower end of the range is the W108 series, all of which were fitted with a 6 cylinder straight 6 Engine. Beginning in 1965 with the 250S and 250SE (E stands for injection) and with the well known aluminium 3L engine from the 300SL and 300SE Fintail. The 250 engine was derived from the Fintail 220 engine but extended in size. Unfortunately, the the water channels between the cylinders were not similarly increased in size and many of the engines suffered from heat problems. However, it is still very hard to damage one of these engines these days as they are no longer required to exceed 100MPH for hours at a time. If you want to race take something else :-)


In 1968 the new engine (M130) was released. Everybody was grateful for the extra torque in low revs. and the completely new engine block design solved the cooling problems. That year also saw the arrival of the big blocks which replaced the old 300SEL 6cylinder version with the new 3,5L 8 cylinder V8. The top of the range engine, the M100 6.3L, went into service in 1969 and made the W109 300SEL 6.3 the fastest Saloon production car of its day. 

Driving a W108/109

And now lets go in and drive it. It's quite large by modern standards and the view over the bonnet with the Star at the end is quite amazing. You may have to hunt for the handbrake, in a RHD car, look right and you will find a stick to turn counter clockwise to release. Most of the UK cars are fitted with an autobox but Germans usually ordered a manual for their 6 cylinders. The V8s were fitted with autobox as standard. Appart from the very early version of the abox, the gear change is soft and you can feel the 1,6-1,9 tonnes starting to move. The passenger space is nearly an exact copy of grandmas living room where you 23 sitting on the sofa whilst watching a film called "My Life" goes by. And in case you have to stop the car just press the pedal and you can feel the 4 disks around the car breaking firmly as the front suspension is forced down against the springs. ABS would be an appropriate feature for the car but it is just not available.

As I have mentioned, this is not a sports car at all. If you brake in a curve the back will lift badly, a tribute to the pre-war suspension in the rear. And we all want to avoid this, don't we? :-) My baby is fitted with a 5 speed manual providing very good fuel consumption. I'm fine whilst driving around with 12.5-15.5L / 100 km. The 250S manual uses between 16 & 14L/100km and the 8 cylinders are around 18-19L for the 3.5 L engine and 19-45L/km for the 6.3L engine :-) If you are not sure what this means in mpg just grab a calculator. But according to a enthusiastic English owner the fuel consumption is less than in a Jag but nearly doubled compared to modern 8 cylinders. We don't want to count the CO2 coming out of the exhaust so we have no problems driving around and feeling guilty.
This was state of the art technology in the 60s but If you would like to save something on fuel, just fit a LPG conversion which became popular in the 70s after the oil crisis. You will need to shop around as many of the LPG fitters in UK don’t know the old technology. It may prove worthwhile to go to Germany or the Netherland to get the conversion done. The boot offers plenty of space for the fitting of a tank. There is enough room as the fuel tank is still under the boot instead of behind the backseats like in the W123 & W124 series. The acceleration is excellent and will give you a great feeling as nearly 2 Tonnes of car leaps forward. It is an experience you will never forget. Listen to the engine music while you press the pedal and just enjoy. Don't worry about a burp from the carburettor whilst guzzling the fuel... This is part of the game :-)

Maintenance and restoring

It is a lot of work to restore such a complex and big car even when compared to other cars of a similar age. As explained, the car is very prone to rust in cold European winters. Together with salt on the road the car can deteriorate badly over 2 winters! Some very well preserved cars are given to friends having no garage. Sitting out for a winter the car is also disasterous for corrosion. Also the bodywork is not optimized to let the water drain away without leaving some holes over the years. If welding is not among your skills, look for the best welder you can find.
It's worth paying a little extra to get a good job done. In the early days, I had work done by several different people and, by looking particularly at the underneath , it is obvious which were the cheap jobs. In the end, high quality, more expensive work from a true craftsman will prove much better value.
When buying such a car, the condition of the interior is of great importance as getting spare upholstery to match is almost impossible due to the vast range produced. This also holds true for the next range the W116. Leather wears well but most of the cars in the UK were fitted with MB Tex (leatherette).
There is nothing wrong with Leatherette – it can still look good even after 40years. But your bum gets a bit hot in the summer after leaving the car in full sun. Leather is more exclusive and there are a lot of companies out there doing a good job in repairing and restoring. Cleaning can be done by everyone. You just need the right tools and leather upholstery will improve greatly after a Saturday morning with brush and cleaner.
The next important thing is the front suspension. Complex but also very comfortable, it benefits from low maintenance. It must to be greased regularly as does the rest of the suspension. If this is not done the grease will get hard and resin-like. You may feel it whilst driving or just by pushing down the front wing (but be careful not to deform the wing whilst doing this). Overhauling the suspension will cost at least 1000 pounds, just for the material. All spare parts for the central locking £350. A new door skin is £800. The injection pump for the M100 6.3L 8 cylinder is a mechanical masterpiece. You can get it new from your dealer for a bargain price of £12,000. Luckily I've a spare one for sale :-)  

The next important thing on the steel suspension cars is the "Hyromat" or "Boge Bein". It is a pneumatic part like a self levelling shock absorber but it is located in the middle of the break axle. This keeps the car level even it is loaded or towing. Not using the car means this "Boge Bein" will stop working after a while and you need a new one for just £1000. Or replace it with a spring version originally used in the Fintail but take the heavy load type. Also, think about the medicine for the kids in the backseat. Otherwise they attempt to vomit after a while :-)  The last bit is the chrome and wood, both of which have to be refurbished professionally I'm afraid. The difference will pay off. I've been told about companies in Thailand rechroming bumpers etc.. to avoid the sometimes stupid health and safety stuff but I have no own experience with this. My chrome is still fine. Ok, some rust here and there but cleaned off with some Never Dull once a year and you can use your bumper for a couple of years. Unless you are going for a complete restoration but this would make the car too valuable to drive regularly which, to my mind, takes all the fun out of it. You can easily spend 20-30000 Pounds in your car if you want but be aware this pays off just only on some rare cars with history, the 6.3 versions, a wonderful 300SEc Coupe with air suspension or of course the Cabrios. Anything else, if sold, will never recoup the money you have spent. Who knows what the future will bring. If we can fix a flux compensator instead the old engines the cars may go up in value :-)

And always think about it: 30 minutes driving means 3 hours cleaning :-)



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