13 July 2020

More than an old car #149: Mercedes W108/W109

Mercedes has often been associated with elegance and wealth, and this reputation has been well-entrenched back in the 1930s. It is therefore of no surprise that this 1966 W108 300 SEb and the 1972 W109 300 SEL 3.5 are stalwarts of this proud tradition!

The W108/W109 first debuted at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1965, featuring three W108s (250 S, 250 SE, and 300 SEb) and a sole W109 (300 SEL). Made only in sedan form, it succeeded the preceding W111/W112 as a result of changing fashion trends: while the styling cues was still by famed designer Paul Bracq, the W108/W109 lost the distinctive fintails although the windscreen was noticeably widened.

Initially, the W108 was designated for the standard wheelbase while the W109 had a longer one, and the smaller inline-6 engines were assigned to the W108 only, with the exception of the 300 SEb. Other than that, they looked alike externally. Both models eventually featured the larger V8 engines in 1967 (for W109) and 1970 (W108). The W109 had more luxurious items than the W108, such as burled walnut dashboards, automatic transmission, and power windows along with optional air conditioning system. Furthermore, the W108 had steel coil springs while the W109 featured self-leveling air suspension.

The W108 300 SEb was powered by a 2996 cc M189 i6 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 195 km/h with an acceleration of 12 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 4900 mm long and weighed 1575 kg, with a fuel consumption of 18 litres/100 km. On the other hand, the W109 300 SE 3.5 had a 3499 cc M116 V8 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 210 km/h with an acceleration of 9 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 5000 mm long and weighed in at 1670 kg, with a fuel consumption of 13.2 litres/100 km.

Production of the W108/W109 ended in 1972, where it was replaced by the W116 series. Out of the 383,361 built, only 2,737 were the 300 SEb and 9,483 were the 300 SEL 3.5. The more common 250 and 280 S were sold by Cycle and Carriage, where they were assembled locally at a factory in Hillview. The 300 SELs, however, were specially imported.

Both units happen to be very rare in the world, making them pleasantly surprising spots. I understand that the red W108 (most likely an import) has recently changed colour to white. While you have a higher chance of spotting a W108 in Singapore, the W109s are more desired and thus less common to pick out. However, it exudes class no matter which angle you look at it, and it is no surprise that W108/W109s were often associated with the rich and famous. I hope that you will be able to see these beauties some day!

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