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Mercs I Would Consider:
The W126 560 SEC

October 15, 2012 by Matt

Mercedes Benz W126 560SEC Coupe Beige Brown

The 1981-1991 Mercedes SEC is a bruiser. It’s an ostentatious statement of taste and worth, and it would be unbearably vulgar if it weren’t actually such a great car.

Built on the legendary W126 S-Class platform, the SEC encompasses the 380, 500 and 560 SEC, fitted with V8s of 3.8l, 5.0l and 5.6l displacement, respectively. The W126 has the distinction of being one of the last Merc model ranges built with a “money no object” mindset, with paint and interior material quality to outlast a nuclear winter and overengineering everywhere. Simply closing a W126’s door is one of the great simple pleasures of the automotive world; the bank vault *thunk* is almost worth the price of admission alone.

Mercedes Benz W126 560SEC Coupe Beige Brown Side Profile Windows

Take all the W126’s estimable attributes, including its torquey, insistent engine and absolutely unflappable ride and drape the excellent chassis in sheetmetal dripping with grace and taste, and you have the SEC. Let’s not kid ourselves: It really is all about the styling; there’s absolutely no reason to opt for the coupe over the W126 sedan except for that teardrop profile, thrusting grille and those pillarless side windows. It’s not gaudy, but it has presence in spades, and it certainly makes a statement wherever its driver chooses to pull up. If I had a nit to pick stylistically, it’s with the door handle surrounds—not that I think they’re ugly, just that I’m puzzled by their size. It’s a quirk unique the SEC; the sedan’s handle surrounds are conventional. Perhaps the designers felt the long flanks needed additional detailing to keep from being too boring? Who knows.

Mercedes Benz W126 560SEC Coupe Beige Brown Rear Back Taillights

The SEC is no nimble corner-carver, and makes no pretenses of being one. Amazingly, in spite of the fact that it appears to have roughly the same mass as a medium-size asteroid, the SEC is actually fairly light compared with a modern “huge coupe” equivalent, tipping the scales at around 3,550 lbs. Fitted with the later 272-hp, 317 lb·ft 5.6l V8, the 560 SEC hustles from 0-60 mph in the low 7-second range; not quick, but perfectly adequate for its target market.

Mercedes Benz W126 560SEC Coupe Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

It doesn’t win me over with its speed or road manners, as unremarkably solid as those are; no, it exudes the classic W126 quality coupled with the fact that there’s arguably no post-1980 Mercedes that makes driving or arriving such an event. The SEC is big, stately and dated, but it’s special, and that combination of attributes exerts a strong pull.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting Mercedes models worthy of enthusiast consideration. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Mercedes, Mercs I Would Consider


  1. Joel S. says:

    My folks had a ’90 or so 560 SEL when I was in high school. Drove it to school a couple times and chauffered my buds to Burger King in it. We knew it was over the top when we discovered the rear bench seat had an adjustable seat track.

  2. Joe Chip says:

    Both the 560 coupe and sedans have something that few cars, even modern day Mercedes, possess and that is “presence”. Uncluttered, timeless styling and the best pre-gadget era interior ever made. These cars are under appreciated today but excellent original examples will be highly sought after as the pinnacle of automotive engineering during their day in years to come. I have owned 3 1991 sedans and currently a 1991 coupe. Brings a smile to my face every time I look at it.


    • Matt says:

      Thanks for the comment, Joe! I’m jealous of your automotive history, haha. Completely agreed about “presence” and the interior quality. Wish I had one!

    • Gary Haynes says:

      I agree Joe. I had a 1986 420SEL and just loved the way it rode. Felt like you owned the road. I currently have a 1991 560 SEC with only 47k miles. I’m the second owner and this car is just like new. What a pleasure to drive… when you arrive anywhere in this car, you have ARRIVED!

  3. Nick Nguyen says:

    My dad had one of these and it was everything you said it was. One small thing- the US model was 238hp in federalized trim, though with the ample torque it was more than adequate.

    • Matt says:

      Jealous! Good to know about the HP figure too—I couldn’t pin down a definite number in the course of my research, so I just picked one, even though it seemed a tad high for a US-spec engine.

  4. Jose says:

    I have a 1991 560 SEC with only 24K miles in it and everytime I drive it out it attracts buyers and I just keep on refusing and leave their mouths watering. What a beautiful German creation. I’ll keep it forever.

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