The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has earned a reputation as the gold standard for technology and luxury in automobiles. Consumers and automakers alike look to the S-Class to get a glimpse of the technology that will trickle down into ordinary cars in the coming decades. Airbags, ABS Brakes, advanced traction and stability systems, brake by wire, lane detection and driver fatigue warnings are just some of the technological features that first appeared on versions S-Class. The name stands for Sonderklasse, German for “Special Class” and it continues to set the standard for the luxury market.
The S-Class’ first official appearance was with the W116 of 1972. The W116 sedan replaced the outgoing W108 and W109, and with the new car, styling was conservative and measured. Every surface of the body was carefully contoured with an eye toward occupant and pedestrian safety. Not flamboyant or showy, the styling conveyed a certain elegance and Teutonic confidence. It is said that the designers were obsessive in their quest to design the safest vehicle on the road and every detail was considered – the windscreen surround had deep channels to help guide rain water up and over the car at speed, the ribbed taillights stayed cleaner and thereby more visible in dirty conditions, sharp edges were contoured to soften the blow should a W116 encounter a pedestrian. Four wheel independent suspension and disc brakes were fitted as well as impact bumpers and a padded steering wheel. Mercedes-Benz had been on an obsessive quest for safety and technology with a variety of experimental cars in the 1960s and early 70s, and the W116 was the first road car to fully benefit from that experience.
Quite typical for Mercedes, a variety of engines ranging from a 2.8 liter inline six to a 4.5 liter V8 across both standard “SE” and long-wheelbase “SEL” chassis allowed customers to specify their car to suit their exact needs and wants. Soon, however, Mercedes took a brief reprieve from its conservative, safety-minded approach and introduced the positively bonkers 450 SEL 6.9 for 1975. The 6.9 was a follow up to the 300SEL 6.3 which few thought would get a successor. As the name would suggest, Mercedes took the long wheelbase W116 and shoved a massive 6.9 liter version of the M100 all-alloy V8 into the engine bay. With 286 horsepower on tap, the engine could push the 5,300 pound sedan to sixty in just over 7 seconds and on to a top speed of 140 mph. This was performance that could give a contemporary Porsche or Ferrari owner a serious scare. In addition to the massive engine, Mercedes engineers adopted a variation of Citroen’s hydro-pneumatic suspension, which allowed for a superb ride in conjunction with automatic self-leveling and cabin adjustable ride height. Less troublesome than previous air-suspension systems, it had been proven by Citroen since the 1950s and delivered superior ride and control. The resulting performance was deeply impressive, as renowned journalist David E. Davis once quipped, the massive Merc could be “tossed around like a Mini”. Between 1975 and 1981, just 7,380 were built, with a mere 1,816 being official US imports.
This 1977 450SEL is a very fine and highly original example that has covered a genuine 55,232 miles from new. It is unrestored save for a high quality respray in the original silver and presents in excellent condition inside and out. The body is straight and tidy, with original trim, original federal spec bumpers and excellent factory-precise panel gaps. Original brightwork is in very good order with and the car remains factory correct down to the US-spec headlights and rectangular Bosch fog lamps. It rides on Bundt alloys wrapped in high quality Michelin X radial tires capable of handling the weight and grunt of the big 450SEL.
The blue interior appears to be original and unrestored. Some light wear is apparent on the driver’s side outer bolster, but the upholstery is otherwise excellent. Dash, door panels and blue carpets are similarly in fine order. The rear seat upholstery is in good order as well, though the base cushion appears to have deteriorated slightly from beneath the cover causing some wrinkles. The dash is in good condition, featuring excellent burl wood trim and a period correct Becker Mexico AM/FM cassette deck. Of course, air conditioning and a sunroof are fitted to keep occupants comfortable in all conditions. The boot is equally tidy with the original rubber mat covering the spare wheel with factory original Michelin MXV spare tire. Even the original first aid kit is still in place, having never been used.
The massive 6.9 liter M100 V8 engine is well-presented in the engine bay, with signs of regular and careful maintenance. It is extremely clean and tidy, particularly for what is essentially an unrestored original car. Correct hose clamps, nicely finished air cleaner and the original gold-cadmium plated hardware are all still showing in good condition. Performance is outstanding, with no smoke or untoward issues, and the car feels solid and planted, as though it were hewn from a solid block. This is an excellent, cherished example of Mercedes’ understated Autobahn-burner; a legendary car that paved the way for AMG’s supersaloons of today.