Guide Price £3,000 - £5,000
∙Early facelift-spec W140
∙Tough and economical straight six
∙Major service less than 5,000 miles ago
∙All original condition
It may have been billed as the best car in the world when it made its debut in 1991, but the Mercedes-Benz ‘W140’ S-Class was launched at just the wrong time.
Developed during the economic boom of the late 1980s, the S-Class was packed with incredible new technology but also carried the burden of US $3 billion of investment. Alas, by 1991, the world was a very different place economically to where it was during the height of the W140’s development. Western economies were mired in recession, incomes were cut, interest rates were spiralling and the luxury car market was taking a hammering.
In V8 or V12 flavour, the S-Class was a difficult sell. The sole preserve of fat cats, royalty, business bigwigs and celebrities, the bigger-engined Benzes were in limited demand.
But all was not lost. For those who wanted the decadence of an S-Class without the truck-like fuel consumption, there was a more frugal alternative in the form of the S280, which used the 2.8-litre straight six from the smaller E-Class. The 191bhp unit was a lot more frugal than the V-engined models, while retaining a sense of smoothness and perfectly adequate performance.
And that means that if you want a luxury liner that doesn’t drink like a regular in a newly reopened post-lockdown pub, the S280 makes a lot of sense – even more so now than it did back in the day. Affordable luxury? Here it is…
Supplied new by Cragside Mercedes-Benz of Harrogate, R719 LSF spent the majority of its life on a cherished numberplate, which it wore from new until 2019. As a result, the majority of the history with the vehicle refers to R33 TOP, but be assured it’s the same car. The current registration number is non-transferable as a result.
From Yorkshire, it worked its way south to Staffordshire and then to South Wales before being acquired by a dealer from Birmingham, from whom the current keeper acquired it at the start of this year.
He’d be keeping it, too, were it not for the need to finish restoring his Porsche 928, which has just swallowed a huge chunk of cash on an engine rebuild.
As well as a UK V5C and an MOT valid until June, the S-Class has its original Mercedes-Benz document wallet containing a handbook, service booklet, audio guide, dealer guide and key and radio codes.
The vendor is also including a period correct Blaupunkt radio and CD changer from his previous 1997 Mercedes, which would make a nice ‘original spec’ replacement for the modern head unit that’s fitted.
The service book is stamped comprehensively every year until 2009 then stops, but picks up again in September 2020 with a full service including new plugs. There is also a stack of MOT certificates going back to 2004, which corroborate the car’s stated mileage.
The W140 is imposing no matter what colour it is, but the brilliant silver of this example is quite an unusual choice compared to the dark hues allocated to most W140s.
It suits it, too. The car looks bright and healthy, the silver paint somehow shrinking it and making it look less cumbersome and bulky than darker W140s.
Overall, it’s in great condition and the original paint is in fine order – polished up, it looks fabulous. The underside is excellent, too, and according to the MOT history never appears to have seen any welding.
There are a couple of very minor areas that will require attention, however. There’s a small blob of surface rust on the offside rear wing, a bubble on the bootlid and some tiny rust bubbles on one front wing, but nothing disastrous or that points to any major problems on the horizon.
The wheels are all in good but not perfect condition, the plastic trim and lamp lenses are excellent, as is the (double-glazed) glass.
Being a facelift W140, this one has clear indicator lenses front and rear and a less fussy grille than launch spec models. And that’s about as daring a facelift got at Mercedes in the 1990s.
Even in its lower specifications, the W140 S-Class is a wonderful place to be. And while the S280 might not have every single one of the toys found on more upmarket and ore potent models, it’s far from left wanting.
Sure, the doors might not close themselves as they do on the higher models, but if you can force yourself to pull them shut you’ll find yourself ensconced in a truly lovely cabin, exquisitely well-trimmed and fitted with high quality, plush grey leather.
Heated seats, climate control, cruise control, electric windows and seat adjustment and even electrically adjustable head restraints are all present, correct and in full working order.
It also features roof-mounted fold-down vanity mirrors, just the thing for VIP rear passengers to make those last minute checks before alighting onto the red carpet.
With 191bhp fed through a five-speed auto transmission, progress is best described as ‘adequate’ rather than ‘sprightly’. It’s not slow, but equally it doesn’t leap off the line like some of its bigger-engined brethren. But then, that’s not what this car is about.
There’s ample power should you need it, while for smoking round town there really are fewer more appealing ways to travel. Exceptionally comfort, effortless steering, great ride comfort and enough power to not get left behind make it a very pleasant and relaxing car to drive.
We were able to conduct a short test drive in the car and can report that it appears to be in rude health mechanically. It starts on the key, the gears all engage as they should and there are no unexpected clonks or bonks from the suspension.
Indeed, it’s a lovely car to drive with surprising lightness and agility to its controls and handling.
The W140 is one of many Mercedes models of this era that is starting to attract a proper enthusiast following, with good examples now starting to command decent money.
And as decent examples go, this is one. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly in healthy order and looks pretty fresh. It drives nice and tightly, it looks fabulous and the cabin is in wonderful order.
If you want an S-Class with all the luxury and appeal, but with an easy-to-maintain drivetrain that won’t break the bank, you’ve just found it.
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