Mercedes S-Class (W220) | Shed of the Week

An '05 S320 is hardly a bank vault for your money. But we'd accept a sturdy Shed…

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, June 11, 2021 / Loading comments

Elbows are useful things. Set at the right angle, they could be used in an offensive fashion to help you get to the bar through a crowd in the days when we had crowded bars. When your drinking buddy was looking at you in the foolhardy expectation of you buying the next round, your elbows allowed you to lift your hands up to your ears or to fold your arms and adopt the sort of determined look that suggested in no uncertain terms that you had no intention of reaching into your pocket for your wallet.

In cars, elbows are the parts we like to rest on whatever soft parts of the cabin furniture might be in reach, such as the padded lid of a central cubby, the door armrest or the window ledge, or ideally all three if you are double-jointed.

Historically, one of the best cars for this sort of slouching is the Mercedes S-Class. Built by Germans to accommodate the larger members not just of their own society and also that of the United States, the S-Class has been offering an optimised lounging experience for the best part of half a century. In fact, if we take the W116 as the first generation S-Class – and we will take that for the purposes of this story – 2022 will be the S’s fiftieth anniversary year. If you buy our fourth-gen W220 shed you could without any shame enter it into any celebratory parade M-B UK might see fit to put on. Just a few swipes with the touch-up pen and nobody would ever know that you’d paid just £1,490 for it.

Now, if you believe the forum that will follow this story, you may get the impression that you’d be mad to pay £149 for it, let alone £1,490, because in the minds of many W220 S-Classes are practically synonymous with ‘borkage’, or regular breakdowns. The W220 weighed literally tons less than its W140 predecessor because lightening was all the rage at M-B back then. The consequences of that policy provoked a different sort of rage among serial Benz buyers who left the marque en masse as a result of the shocking rust problem to which cars from any part of the Merc range suddenly began to succumb. On the W220 corrosion could affect many areas, some of them visible like the wings, wheel arches and bootlid, others less so like the suspension subframe mountings and turrets, or the inside of just about any panel.

That wasn’t the only potential area of nastiness on a gen-four S-Class. Blocked plenum chamber drains could soak the footwells and more than likely any electronics (of which there were a lot) that were lurking beneath the carpets. Electronics generally could be a right pain. Mechanically, cars with Active Body Control fitted often had their pumps fail, along with crank position sensors and important parts of the heating system. Suspendically (?), the Airmatic setup could turn into an ‘access all areas’ pass to impressive repair bills.

All sounds a bit depressing but then you look at the MOT history on this particular car and find that the only thing to pop up on there since January 2019 has been a misaligned front washer jet. Almost everything prior to that has been consumables related. It’s breezed through the last three tests with not one advisory.

The last W220 we had on here was a 500 V8 petrol. This is a 320 diesel, which is a few rungs down the ladder in terms of its suitability for such a splendid vehicle, but even so could this be the anti-lemon, one of the few W220s that had all the money thrown at it from the start of its life to keep it purring along the outside lane looking for all the world like a proper limo? Not all Airmatics fail, and a new pump can be picked up for £100 or so anyway, plus it’s easy to fit. And it does say ‘full Mercedes dealer’ in the sparse ad copy. If the missing words there are ‘service history’ then we could be laughing. If they are ‘prison record’ then we might not be so happy. For £1,500 however Shed would happily put up with the odd parking scrape in exchange for the amount of lateral space he’d get in the front of the cabin.

The Sheds owned a Land Rover Defender for a short time. That was the opposite of an S-Class in just about every way, but especially in the important category of elbow room. Once Mrs Shed was ensconced in the Landie’s passenger seat there was no space left for Shed to get behind the wheel. He had to fit a set of extended hand controls and a running board to allow him to drive the thing from the outside. With Mrs Shed on the other side he would look down to see the entire offside of the car floating lightly in the air, making the steering even less feelsome than it was with all four tyres on the ground. Onlookers thought he was practicing to become one of those stunt folk who drive cars on two wheels.

As a final note, the buyer of that previous 500 turned out to be PHer Uncle Dicky, a brave man who bought an earlier Shed of the Week (this £500 Sherpa van). He was most excited by the Merc’s ability to cool the zone of the car getting the most sunlight by detecting the angle and position of the sun and automatically adjusting the specific climate zone. That’s the sort of tech we surely need more of. Is Uncle Dicky still around to pull the trigger on this one? Stay tuned.

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