1988 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL - Reader Resto

By: John Hendriks with Guy Allen, Photography by: Shawn McCann

Presented by

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A low-ball trade-in offer led to a long-term high-end resto

Dad got this car back in 2000 from Doncaster Mercedes in Melbourne. He was looking for a 420 and they said they had something coming in that might be an alternative. Dad saw the 560 and said he’d never afford that, but the dealer promised it for trade-in cost, which turned out to be $15,000, which was pretty good for one of these back then. It had 160,000km on it, and so was a lot of car for the money, even a couple of decades ago. Back then it was still a quick car.

Mum drove it a lot and it was used as a work car, often carrying paint tins and stepladders. By 2009 it had 520,000km and Dad was talking about retiring it. He was disappointed when he was only offered $2000 for a trade-in and offered it to me for the same money as a project car.

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I started with the interior. There was a company in America that could supply the whole pre-made kit in leather, with all the extra foam required.

Overall the interior involved a lot of work, cleaning it up, installing the new leather and a host of smaller jobs. For example, we got the timber panels redone.

With 550,000km it was getting very tired mechanically. The timing chain went, which necessitated a top-end rebuild. Mechanical parts for these cars are easy to obtain, with several suppliers around the world who can usually get you what you want very quickly.

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About this time the gearbox gave up, too. I thought was a pretty fair effort when you looked at the mileage! That got treated to a complete rebuild as well. By now we had it at a point where it was okay – running right and you knew you could rely on it.

At first we left the exterior mostly alone. This was going to be expensive to fix and we needed to get a few more years out of it. We did however track down an original set of wheels and refurbished them.

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One of the great aspects of a job like this is you get to meet a lot of people around the world as you’re chasing various parts. It got to the point where people were offering me stuff. I met a guy in Germany who had an incredible supply – lots of rare components and accessories that had come out of Dubai.

He was a great source. We got all sorts of rare stuff from him, such as trip computer, picnic table, window blinds, heated seats front and rear, an auxiliary heater system to pre-warm the car before you got in. No-one has that stuff here and it just got to the point where I said I want it all.

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At some point we were going to Europe and I had toyed with the idea of sending the car overseas to get the body done, if it made financial sense. I met a guy in Holland. He owned a workshop called Autorestauratie Aalte – you’ll find it on Facebook. He did pagoda-roof Benzes, Porsche, Ferraris, that sort of thing. He wasn’t at first all that interested when I mentioned the 560. But he suddenly took notice when I said it was from Australia.

The body was pretty good, but it needed a complete respray. It cost me $24,000 all up, including shipping it there and back. Given a similar job here would have been 30-35, I think it was good value.

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In the end the body was straight and there wasn’t much rust, except for a little in the rear window.

My mate calls it a boat and it doesn’t like tight twisty roads. However it’s very smooth and it’s easy to drive. It’s narrower than a later W211 (2002-2009 E-class) and is fine around town. It’s obviously happier on the open road and then it’s exceptional to ride in.

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The big V8 was all about delivering  a deep wave of torque, rather than outright horsepower

With the big 5.6lt V8, it was a powerful enough car for its day at 220kW. But really it wasn’t about speed with these cars. It’s the same idea as a later S-class but in reality it’s worlds apart. And they’re a unique thing to drive – quite different to any other Mercedes that I’ve driven.

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There’s a sight guaranteed to strike terror into most of us. However it’s now all working as it should

In the end, I will have spent a lot of money on this car, but I don’t regret it. It has sentimental value, is a great thing to own and seems to have a bit of a story behind it.

I actually tracked down the family of the first owner, who had since passed away. It seems he was a pretty colourful character who paid cash for it new (at the time about the price of a very good house), without quibbling over little details like what colour it would be. (Impala Brown, as it happens…)

The story goes that it was used to tow horse floats and caravans all over the country and may once have been involved in a police chase. Evidently he kept the boot in and got away!

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We have a few Benzes in the family, including a 560SEC coupe that will be our next project. It’s been resprayed at some stage, but its original colour matches the sedan and we’ll take it back to that.

When it comes to buying these cars, the standard advice usually applies, which is buy the best example you can afford. That said, a good project car means you’ll have something to do in your spare time, and you will get to know lots of interesting people around the world!

A lot depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

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This was top-end luxury back in the late 1980s and to sit here would have cost you roughly the same as a good house!

For me, the coupe should be relatively easy. We did the timing chain as a precaution and it seems pretty good mechanically. A lot of money had already been spent on it.

As for the interior, it’s in fair shape as well and we won’t have to put anywhere near as much effort into it.

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With a little luck, we’ll end up having a 560 coupe to match the big sedan – that should be quite a sight!

THE RESTO:

Nice skin

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Despite the high mileage, the body was in great shape

 

Rust eviction

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The rear screen surround neeeded some remedial work.

 

Colour code

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That colour is Impala Brown, which looks better than it sounds.


Fast company

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The Dutch firm that did the body normally handles sports cars.

 

Nice & shiny

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The work looks good and seems to be lasting well.

 

Traveller

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The Benz clocked up some serious shipping miles.

 

Original car: 1968 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL
Length of resto: 7 years+

1988 MERCEDES BENZ 560SEL

Body: LWB sedan
Engine: 5.6lt SOHC V8
Power: 220kw
Torque: 455Nm
Transmission: 4-speed auto
Suspension: coils both ends with hydraulic dampers.
Breakes: Discs all round with ABS.
Top speed: 250km/h

 

From Unique Cars #451, April 2021

 

 

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