On the outskirts of my hometown, Rochester, New York, there’s an old depot that belongs to a paving company; if it’s still in business, it must keep weird hours because I haven’t seen the lights on in years. But on its lot, nestled between the remains of old Kodak factories and the highway lies a 1986 Mercedes 560 SEC AMG, white over deep red, sitting in some very tall grass. When I still lived up there, I fantasized about going down to the county office, finding out who owns the property, and calling them with an offer of a few hundred dollars to haul it off their property. After all, it did have a sun-faded “For Sale” sign in the window, and it looked to be surprisingly intact, but the number written was from before they changed over the area code, and that was back in 2001. Besides, I was moving to New York, and I don’t think my parents would’ve wanted a German lawn ornament, even if it did cost more than their first house when it was new.
I moved away, but still thought about the AMG. It’s not far from my girlfriend’s childhood home, and whenever we visited, I’d slow down and crane my neck to try and spot its peeling roof over the growing thicket. Then over Thanksgiving weekend last year, I pulled in to check on my derelict dream car. In the three years since my last visit, someone had scavenged the car for all its valuable bits. The bodykit, grille, and five-spoke alloys were all gone. The driver’s window had been smashed, and inside the AMG-exclusive shift knob, steering wheel, instrument cluster, and floor mats were gone too, leaving the car flat on the ground, exposed to the elements and left to rot, likely for good.
I cursed my bad timing and inability to save the big Merc when I had the chance. And now the days of picking up one for cheap may be coming to an end too, because RM Sotheby’s served up a pristine 1989 “Wide Body” model without reserve at its Phoenix, Arizona auction, and a strong showing for the AMG could mean that these cars could become the next big thing in collector circles. It sold for over $150,000.
Frankly, it’s surprising that the W126 S-Class coupe hasn’t had its moment yet. Its clean Bruno Sacco-penned lines and stark, luxurious cabin look as good now as they did 35 years ago. And while mid-’80s Porsche 911 and BMW E30 M3 prices are beginning to creep into the stratosphere, the 560 SEC has remained largely ignored — even though Ayerton Senna, Martin Brundle, Keke Rosberg, Alain Prost, and Nigel Mansell all drove them, giving it a reputation as the off-duty driver’s ride of choice during a golden era of Formula 1.
When it left the Mercedes factory, the SEC’s 5.6-liter V8 put out an impressive 300 horsepower, took the car from zero to 60 in around seven seconds, and had a top speed of 155 miles per hour. But if that wasn’t enough, owners could always take their cars to AMG for more power. While AMG is now comfortably the in-house tuning arm of Mercedes, making a go-fast version of virtually every model in its lineup, back in the ’80s, it was still an independent tuning company largely unknown outside of Europe and the Middle East.
It burst onto the international scene in 1986 by coaxing 355 horsepower out of the Mercedes 5.6 and cramming it into the staid E-Class sedan. The resulting car, known as The Hammer, could roast a Porsche 911 Turbo, Ferrari Testarossa, and Lamborghini Countach in virtually every measurable way. It’s gone down as one of the wildest performance cars of the decade.
And Sotheby’s 560 SEC AMG has the same V8 as The Hammer — albeit enlarged to 6.0 liters, and with 385 horsepower. Torque is doubled over a stock 560 too. Its “arrest-me” box flare fenders scream ’80s cool, and inside, its executive-style black leather and walnut-accented interior almost cast doubt on the notion that a car like this could really be so fast. Any way you look at it, it seems to justify its original $200,000 asking price.
The bidding on this W126 wasn’t able to match its window sticker nearly 27 years later. In the years before its merger with Mercedes in 1990, AMG had always built its cars in very limited numbers. But the Sotheby’s car is the 28th of fewer than 50 top-dog SECs it built. It was sold new to a Japanese collector, and has covered just over 56,000 miles over its 26-year life. My neglected dream car was nowhere near as rare as this one, but if it had moved for a hefty sum, I couldn’t help but think that it could trigger the rise of pre-merger AMGs becoming the next hot new-timer collectible — and that means the days of stumbling across basket case go-fast Mercs in fields or on Craigslist for cheap would soon be over. If you want a spectacularly built ’80s-era German coupe, grab a 560 SEC while you still can for a sensible sum of money.
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