If you’re called “The Godfather” of your car club, you need a car that matches that title. Kevin Falk’s VIP Style 1990 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL LWB hits that mark.
Low, long, and powerful – those are the marks of a true VIP car. Kevin Falk and his 1990 Mercedes-Benz 420SEL Long Wheel Base (LWB) is a picture-perfect example of them. “I saw a W126 LWB at Southern Worthersee coverage on the East Coast and always had a picture of it saved,” Kevin explained to us, “I just loved how that long, big body looked when it was on the ground with some nice wheels and thought ‘I’m gonna get one of those’ and about two years later I got this one.”
What you’ll probably find amazing is that, as clean as this car is, it’s not been restored. “The paint is actually far from perfect,” Kevin admitted, “but for a 29-year-old car, it sure does shine.” W126s also came with contrasting plastic lower body trim and mirrors, so many owners will paint match them. This is why Kevin’s car looks just slightly different from a stock 420SEL. “Apart from that,” he adds, “the paint is original. The glass isn't tinted, which is rare, and the interior is almost spotless.”
Some would say the most important feature of a true VIP are the wheels. In this case, these are a set of nearly original MAE Crown Jewel three-piece wheels that were first assembled in 1996 by OZ Italy that were sourced by a friend and the other original founding member of Liberty VIP here in the West Coast besides himself.*
Of all places to find a legit set, they were found on Offer Up, a private buying and selling app for your phone. We say nearly original only because Kevin needed to replace the barrels after it was discovered one was cracked and welded back. Even so, they still retain the 18x9.5 front and 18x10.5 rear measurements with the hub-centric fitment for the W126.
These MAE Crown Jewel wheels are the wheels most people probably think of when someone says ‘I have a VIP car,’ thanks to their nearly solid face design except for the six acorn-shaped cutouts. The wheel discs were also custom powder coated with a set of VR Wheels gold hardware putting them back together. VR was also his source for the barrels he replaced, but they had to custom machine them to fit the wheel discs as they were larger.
“I remember the day I installed my Nardi 390mm steering wheel,” he recalled. “Nothing feels like it, and it’s the right size for this huge car. I feel like a king cruising down the road with that steering wheel in my hand.” The drink holder is an import from Junction Produce, straight from Japan. It replaces the original airbag in the dash and is bolted directly to where it used to be secured.
Kevin wasn’t a bagged car guy originally. His low rides would run static with coilovers adjusted to the height he wanted, and they would stay there. This time, however, he couldn’t justify going with a single stance and wanted to go bags on this 420SEL. There was a problem, though, “So, there was no kit available for this car,” he explained, “and Iceboxx Customs’ Lorenzo stepped up to the plate and handled the custom work, including fitting this Viair PSI gauge in the center console with switches.
The interior is all factory original, and Kevin hasn’t touched it except for the installation of the Junction Produce cup holders. Even the very rare, factory footrests in the spacious rear cabin are original upholstery. Riders can stretch out and peruse old issues of VIPcar Magazine from Japan in comfort while being driven around.
The engine inside the 420SEL is the original Mercedes M116.965, a 4.2-liter V8 that took the place of the 3.8-liter V8 in the W126 sedan, coupes, and SL-class cars.
For us here in North America, the 228-horsepower engine was only found in the 420SEL. It had a bore of 92mm and a stroke of 78.9mm to create its 4,196cc displacement. Sitting behind it is the Mercedes-Benz 4G-Tronic transmission, and both would propel this big-bodied car to 60 MPH in just under 8.1-seconds with a top speed of 138 MPH.
The air cleaner may look like something from the 1970s because Kevin hand polished it to give it some shine, but it uses a Bosch KE-Jetronic system with a single throttle body underneath. Flanking each intake runner is an individual injector for each cylinder. The name of his car club, “Liberty VIP Car Club,” is etched into the polish.
The air ride system is coupled with a set of Koni Classic adjustable shocks and are tuned for the perfect ride.”
The only problem with the Koni Classics? “They are a pain to adjust because you have to take them off, adjust them, and put them back on again,” he laughed.
Of course, a VIP car isn’t going to have a regular exhaust on it. He deleted the mufflers on his system and put these custom, polished tips that are extra long to make up for the muffler removal. Kevin then had the ends cut at an angle so that they sit flush with the rear bumper.
As mentioned earlier, there was no pre-made air suspension kit made for the 420SEL, so this was all done by scratch. Kevin’s car was the base for the installation and design for all the W126s done by Iceboxx Customs. So, if you own a W126 and have it bagged by Iceboxx, you also have Kevin’s 420SEL to thank for getting it figured out from scratch. The air tank sits behind compressors mounted to a skateboard, which is custom leather-wrapped in a double diamond stitching pattern with a white thread, giving it a quilted look against the black covering.
Under the front wheels are a set of R1 Concepts slotted rotors. These are not custom made but are available to purchase directly. Keeping the wheels free of dust is also a concern, so Kevin uses a set of Akebono Euro brake pads. The pads are not only made to work with European cars but also reduce dust from brake use with a ceramic compound unique to their company.
“The car is actually pretty true to the original plan, and I just love to drive it,” Kevin smiled as we asked him what he has planned for it in the future.
“I wanted to get the Junction Produce kit for W126 because it would be the only one in USA and I still wouldn’t mind doing that,” he admits, “but I have also got a W126 chassis 500SEC, which is very ‘period-correct’ so that whole thing has really grown on me, so I may end up doing the AMG style body kit versus the very big Junction Produce kit.”
Even with some of the low points of the build – the time it took to get the suspension right, the time it took to get the wheels right, even finding the car itself – Kevin knew this was the car for him after the very first modification.
While the journey wasn’t without its bumps and trials, Kevin certainly feels like this Mercedes-Benz 420SEL is nearly perfect the way it is now. Maybe next time we see it, that AMG style body kit will get installed. Or maybe it won’t.
We can’t help but feel that it looks beautiful and aggressive the way it is now, and it doesn't need a thing.
Story by Justin Banner
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you like this 420SEL, you can find additional Mercedes-Benz content at mercedes.fcpeuro.com, as well as more build features like this one here. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS