What Is Wrong – 1983 Mercedes 500 SEL

If you’re an old car nut who spends a significant amount of time scouring the various online listing sites for deals, interesting cars, and some combination of those, you probably think you have a good general grasp on the values of, say, an R107 Mercedes SL versus a Renault LeCar. But occasionally, a car pops up to shake your confidence – where apparent condition and price do not add up. Mostly this is on the high-price/poor-condition end of the scale, but in some cases the price is lower than the condition. One example of this is this 1983 Mercedes 500 SEL for sale for $1200 in San Francisco, CA.

1983 Mercedes 500 SEL left front

The RustyButTrusty Alfa Spider inaugurated the fleet in 1991 with 126,000 miles, some rust, hard starting, rough paint, a non-functioning radio, and split seats, all for $1300 – the equivalent of about $2300 in 2014 dollars. And here’s an elegant Mercedes luxo-boat with power windows and seats, a functioning radio/cassette deck, a sun roof, and those durable European-market cloth seats. Oh yeah, and it’s a grey-market Euro-spec car, with slim bumpers and the not-for-US-consumption M117 5-liter V8 with 228hp and 299lb.-ft. of torque.

1983 Mercedes 500 SEL right rear

Said to have driven a significant portion of the early 1980s grey market in automobiles, it did so because of more power for less money, beating the standard 380SEL to 60mph by 1.2s for a total time of 8.1s, and went on to a higher top speed of 137mph. Not that you’d need that in the US unless you were trying to get a shipment of coke into Miami. Specifically for this car, the exterior looks great, with glossy paint, complete trim, and nearly all panels intact. The only things marring the overall impression are the failed finish on the bundt wheels and some light accident damage on the passenger door and front quarter panel. If you want to go full Euro, you might want to save towards European-market lights and hubcaps on steel wheels, or some BBS mesh wheels.

1983 Mercedes 500 SEL interior

The durable cloth interior looks be clean and in good shape, though there may be some dirt on the seat fabric – it’s hard to tell from the pictures, but the seats are light in color so more subject to staining. That said, with most of these cars showing 6-figure mileage numbers, some light body work and a full detail will have you in an elegant, fast, and safe luxury car boasting several features that were ahead of its time. Who knows if they all work, but if the car’s as reliable as the seller claims, you’ll have a good time driving it either way.


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