Guest contributor: Otis Blank on his 1966 Mercedes-Benz W108 250SE
I have always had a love for what I once called “stacked-headlight” Benzes. Every time I’d see one, my heart would jump just a little bit. We even had one in the family— a slightly worse for wear 1962 W111 220SEb owned by my father. I’d always adored the looks of that car, though I never actually considered owning one for myself. I always thought of myself as the kind of person who would drive something a bit smaller, a bit sportier.
The first car I had that I could call my own was a 1988 Saab 900 Turbo: a fantastic car, but nearing the end of its life and simply unreliable by then— it was constantly threatening to catch fire or explode. Next, I received a 1989 BMW 325is as a high school graduation gift, as well as a replacement for the beater Saab. It was a true driver’s dream, taking almost anything I could throw at it. I say almost, because one day I ended up throwing it into a tree. I was physically fine, but losing that car was like losing a member of the family.
From the day I lost the BMW I was on Craigslist every day, searching for anything interesting with my budget of $2000. I had decided I didn’t need to own a sporty car again, though I certainly didn’t rule it out. I would be perfectly satisfied with something like an E28 BMW 5-series, or even a 1970s or 1980s Mercedes sedan of some sort. A couple of months went by, and I didn’t finding anything worth even looking at. Then one night I saw the ad: 1966 Mercedes – $1325. I had seen other Mercedes ads for pre-1980 cars, but they were either rusted out and undrivable, or too expensive. I clicked the link, not expecting much. What I saw was a perfectly good W108.
From the small Craigslist photos, I might have even said it looked mint. I thought to myself, this is too good to be true, there has to be something majorly wrong with it. Based on what I saw in the photos, a price of $13,250 seemed much more likely than the advertised price of $1325. As it was 11 o’clock at night when I saw the ad, I decided it was probably best to wait until the next morning to call the seller. The morning finally rolled around after I spent the entire night dreaming about the car. I called the seller, no response. I called again, no response. At this point I was worried that the car had already sold, even though the posting had only been up since late the night before.
I waited an hour and called one last time. Finally I got an answer. Thirty minutes later, I was looking at the car. It was almost every bit as good as it seemed in the photos. The paint could’ve used a good buffing and there was a little rust near the wheel wells, but nothing to be worried about. The interior was in fantastic shape for a 44-year-old car. The wood was a little dried out and didn’t have its original shine (which would have been unacceptable on a $13,250 car), but for $1325, I wasn’t going to complain. The seats were all in fine condition— no rips, tears, or discoloration. The same went for the headliner.
After inspecting the car inside and out, the seller told me the car was bought new in Germany in 1966 and stayed there until 1994, at which point it was brought to the US to be used as sort of a weekend driver for the elderly owner. The seller was actually selling it for the original owner, technically making it a one-owner car.
The vehicle’s history was perfect. Cosmetically it was perfect. There was only one thing left to check out: how it stood mechanically. I was handed the keys and was out on the road before I knew it. Having driven my father’s W111 before (essentially a W108 coupe), I wasn’t nervous about it. And the car felt fantastic to drive. It had a perfectly vintage feel, but with the modern convenience of power steering and brakes. The only issue was the transmission, which had a fairly significant clunk to it. But I had also read that this was common in these cars (W111s and W108s), and that it wasn’t much to worry about.
At this point the decision had been made. Given the history it had, the condition it was in, and the price at which it was being offered, it was impossible to pass on this deal. Next thing I knew, I was taking it home. I couldn’t believe I had it. I was proud of my E30, but the E30 was nothing like this.
If there’s one word I would use to describe it, it would definitely be classy. It has a presence to it that isn’t threatening or flashy. It makes itself known, yet it’s reserved. No one goes “Hey, look at this asshole” when you show up in a W108. I’ve had the car for over three months now, and not once have I felt anyone disapproving the car. It’s been nothing but smiles, stares, questions, and comments. By far the question I get most often is “What year is that?”, usually followed by a compliment of some kind.
There are two things I hear most often from my friends about the car. They’ll usually tell me such gems as “you could fit plenty of bodies in the trunk!” or “it’s such a Mafia car!” The best reaction, however, was from a little kid whose mother was attempting to strap him into his child seat in their modern conveyance. When he saw the Merc, he sprung up and jumped up and down and pointed with this huge smile on his face. His mother looked up to see what all the commotion was about. She, too, smiled, and I waved back at them. It’s really the little things that making owning a car like this such a pleasure.
Would I recommend a car like this to someone looking for a new car? Maybe. Though it’s been extremely reliable so far, it’s still a classic. The chances that something goes wrong are much higher than they would be with something newer. I use mine as a daily driver and have taken it up some mountain roads before with nearly no issues. With regular maintenance, there is no reason a car like this can’t stay on the road for several more years to come.
Would I recommend it to someone as a second car? A thousand times yes. It’s a very rewarding car to own. The build quality of the car as well as the driving experience makes you love the car more and more with each drive. The W108 was built in the era when Mercedes were still building cars for smart people rather than rich people. It doesn’t have any ridiculous luxury features, just lots of clever engineering that make driving a better experience. Combine that with the great feeling you get from the reactions of others, and you have a car that’s just about as close to perfect as you can get. As perfect as you can get for $1325, anyway.
Words and images: Otis Blank