Formerly Nice Cars That Aren’t Sensible At All: Mercedes 450SEL vs BMW 750iL

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Hey everyone, it’s Thursday! One more day to go. For our last matchup of the week, I decided it was time to be a bit less sensible, and look at two cars that used to be nice, and maybe could be again, if you have infinite patience and a large bank account. Before we look at them, let’s settle yesterday’s score:

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No AC in a black car. Hey, who doesn’t love a good Korean BBQ?

Now, today we’re going to check out two of Germany’s finest offerings from their respective eras, a pair of top-of-the-line long-wheelbase sedans. These cars were the ultimate in status symbols (well, almost; we’ll get to that) when they were new, but now they’re not likely to impress anybody without some work. Let’s take a look.

1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL – $1,650

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.5 liter V8, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Gardena, CA

Odometer reading: 150,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but “needs a major tuneup”

First off: No, this is not a 6.9. I doubt it would be under $2000 in running condition if it were. But the 4.5 liter V8 in the “normal” W116 is no slouch, and it’ll certainly move better than the turbodiesel version will. It’s just not quite the velvet sledgehammer that its big sister was. Still, even without the extra displacement and the magic hydropneumatic suspension system, the 450SEL badge means something special.

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This one is apparently owned by a cinematographer, and one who is proud of the meager mise en scene that a parking lot in Gardena has to offer. This ad has the strangest attempts at artsy photos that I think I’ve ever seen. I mean, isn’t it customary to actually photograph the car you’re trying to sell?

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It’s too bad, too, because it’s a handsome car. Granted, W116s (and most ’70s European cars) look a lot better without the gigantic 5 mph bumpers, but if they really bother you, European-style bumpers can be found. The rest of the exterior looks really damn nice, actually, especially for the price. And I don’t know why I’m stuck on unusual reds this week, but this is another great one. See? You can choose a bold color for a luxury car and have it still look classy.

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The interior is said to be in “not good” condition, but it’s hard to assess with the seat covers on the front and blankets and towels over the back seat. The dash and door panels sure look fine. But honestly, even if the seats are trashed under those covers, who cares? If this thing runs half as nice as it looks, it could be a steal.

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Of course, it’s still a vintage high-end Mercedes, so maintenance is not going to be cheap, especially if you can’t do it yourself. But if you don’t mind tinkering, then you only have to worry about the exorbitant cost of parts.

1995 BMW 750iL – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.4 liter V12, 5 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Bonney Lake, WA

Odometer reading: 195,000 miles

Runs/drives? Not so much

I have to be honest: I assumed our first twelve-cylinder car on here would be a Jaguar. But a photo of a flagship BMW with a 2×4 for a hood prop is like catnip to someone who writes about crappy broken cars. I just couldn’t resist.

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And this thing is a hot mess. The ignition switch is broken, the DME (BMW-speak for engine control module) is toast, and there are markings on the windows that look suspiciously like impound lot scribbles. I get the feeling that this car was stolen, impounded, and then auctioned, which would account for the rebuilt title. Clearly there’s some work to be done before you go living out any James Bond fantasies, but it sounds like most of what you need to get it running is included.

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It’s also, for some reason, missing the exhaust system past the headers. Maybe whoever stole it absconded with the catalytic converters before they ditched it. I have no desire to own this car, but I sure would love to be around when whoever buys it fires it up for the first time. I’m curious to hear what a BMW V12 with open headers sounds like.

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The biggest problem with it that I can see is that one mid-’90s BMW sedan looks pretty much like any other, especially in scruffy beat-up shape like this. You might know it has a twelve-cylinder engine, and you might impress a few people at Cars & Coffee, but otherwise it’s just an expensive, thirsty pain in the ass.

So there they are, two grand old German luxury sedans well past their prime. Which one is more worthy of a spot in your theoretical driveway?

Quiz maker

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88 Responses

  1. I work on BMW for a living, so if not given a third option that lets me nope the hell out on ancient German garbage…

    The BMW. At least I know I can get parts for it and have whatever special tools it needs at my fingertips.

  2. Having owned both BMWs and MBs, I would normally choose the BMW every time (I find them much easier to work on.) However, in this case the MB is a easy choice, sometimes you have to go with condition, and the BMW is best suited for a junkyard so it can give it’s remaining good parts to another.

  3. That BMW V12 is a POS, and so is that era of 7 series. I have a friend, very talented OCD perfectionist type, who runs an imported/exotic car dealership; it is literally HIS dealership. He told me he was getting a 7 series with a V12 and I said bad idea, he didn’t listen. He had it 1.5 years, and sold it because even with FREE LABOR FROM SKILLED MECHANICS, it was difficult to keep on the road. Those cars are terrible.

  4. I would pick W116 450 SEL over E38 750iL due to the ease of repair/service and wide availability of the parts on the cheap. We owned a 1977 450 SEL for a few decades and enjoyed driving it as well as servicing and repairing the car (German equivalent of Haynes repair manual helped enormously for the “shade tree repairs”).

    I am not even one bit surprised about the “astoundingly” low price for 750iL. I would probably buy 750iL as a part car and parting it out until there’s nothing but bones left.

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