Dmitry Zaltsman © 2015 Auctions America
Under the bonnet of this German-engineered car is an inline 6-cylinder engine that is extremely detailed. Connected to the engine is a smooth- shifting 4-speed manual transmission. The burgundy exterior shows really well, along with the brightwork, whitewall tires, color-keyed wheel covers and the factory road lights. The interior is tailored with tan leather upholstery, beautiful wood trim, Becker Mexico radio, electric clock and modern seat belts for the front passengers. This stunning Mercedes-Benz 220SE, originally from Washington state, was the beneficiary of a body-off restoration and has been displayed in a museum since 2002.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1959 Mercedes-Benz 220SE Sedan
Years Produced:1958–59
Number Produced:1,974
Original List Price:$5,500
SCM Valuation:$25,000–$40,000
Tune Up Cost:$800
Distributor Caps:$39.21
Chassis Number Location:Front of right side structural rail in engine bay
Engine Number Location:On rear left side of block
Club Info:International Ponton Owners Group (IPOG)
Alternatives:1956–59 Mercedes 220S, 1954–62 Borgward Isabella, 1960–65 Mercedes 220SEb
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 3106, sold for $50,600, including buyer’s premium, at Auctions America’s Auburn Fall sale on September 4, 2015.

Behave yourselves, now. I don’t want to hear any complaints about this hidden-gem Mercedes being sold here for too much money. If you’re holding your breath anticipating a discussion of the Ponton cabriolets and coupes, that isn’t going to happen, either.

Derided for years as homely, underpowered and boring, the Mercedes W180 and W128 sedans have come into their own as actual collectibles that merit the attention of those who want to own classic cars and use them as well.

A totally drivable, usable classic

The biggest issue with any car from this era concerns its lack of usability. The Ponton’s more visually appealing peers tend to get noticed for their looks or their performance, while not enough emphasis is placed on drivability and durability.

To underscore how good these cars are, just start looking on Craigslist. They are still available, but their competition is nowhere to be found.

While the uninitiated tend to admire the leather, wood and chrome on these Mercedes, the real meat is found in their engineering. A good place to start is the front subframe and suspension. The steel tubing could have been from a railroad car, and it attaches in a triangular fashion to the front and sides of the unibody (which effectively makes a “body-off” restoration impossible). The passenger’s cell follows the same design cue: total rigidity and strength. While the rear suspension is nothing more than a simple and very flexible swing axle, even after 50 years they tend to need nothing more than rear wheel bearings, rubber mountings and a differential boot.

It gets better. The W180 220s used the proven M180 carbureted 6-cylinder engine, but the W128 220SE housed the reliable and powerful mechanically injected M127 Einspritzmotor. While this is similar to the M180, it starts, idles and pushes the car along with a certain magical intensity. If anyone tries to tell you the car’s fuel-injection system is temperamental, it’s only because they lack an understanding of the mechanical injection system’s fundamental adjustments. I’ve spent many hours tuning M127 engines in parking lots to make them sparkle again, and believe me, it’s not rocket science. All of these points translate to an affordable classic Mercedes that can be used without anxiety.

Punish the mediocre, reward the diligent

I frequently hear grumblings about the cost of sorting or restoring a classic Mercedes. Replacement parts for these cars are indeed expensive. Throw in the fact that the labor pool is tightening and that they require a textbook full of scheduled maintenance items, and you can see why the 220SE is best suited for the obsessive Benzophile. To underscore this, even the injection pump requires its own oil service.

The most common issues with these cars involve correcting repairs that were never performed right in the first place — and yes, this frequently includes engine rebuilds gone awry. While this is typical with many older cars, Mercedes engines use very tight tolerances and high compression (on the M127 it’s 8.8:1), causing them to self-destruct further when shortcuts are taken.

But these cars can be handled by the do-it-yourselfer, even if doing so typically requires one to be divorced from financial expectations and have the compulsive drive to really do things the right way the first time. Frequently, stubborn DIYers put more time and effort into sorting their cars than most repair shops will. This probably has to do with the amount of time it takes to decode the various mechanical ingenuities incorporated by Daimler engineers. But when you do succeed, you have the privilege of driving a pioneering fuel-injected German sedan. For those of us who nerd out to — instead of running away from — early examples of mainstream technology, that’s what it’s all about.

A gem of a Ponton

The downside of the W128 is its rarity. Fewer than 2,000 examples of the 220SE sedan were built in a year and a half of production. Fortunately, the engine lived on in the W111 Heckflosse (finback), and they made many more of those. While finding a 300SL is easier, there are still a few unrestored 220SEs begging for new homes. If you don’t mind the more mainstream 220S, there are plenty of those out there looking for willing foster parents as well.

The specimen featured here is unique in that it has benefited from what appears to be a comprehensive restoration. This example actually appeared a few years ago in an issue of The Star (the Mercedes-Benz Club of America’s magazine), so it was well known in enthusiast circles.

While I suspect the original color tag was replaced with one that says “DB 516” (medium red), in its pictures the body is straight and it maintains the proper “I’m ready for anything” stance that these cars had from new. The interior woodwork is also charming, being finished in a way so that it blends in instead of stands out, which is how it was done when these were new.

The engine bay is especially pleasing, although it should have Beru cotter-pin clamps and some items are not plated correctly. These nuances, however, don’t detract from the usability of this 220SE, and while I’m sure there is some sorting to do (as is often the case with ex-museum vehicles), I don’t think $50k was too much money. In fact, compared to a $55k valuation for a coupe or a $175k valuation for a cabriolet, I think this restored 220SE sedan was well bought, especially considering the work already done. Hats off to the buyer for making an astute purchase. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Auctions America.){/analysis}


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