Never before had such fast and fancy cars been so sorted and sensible. Daimler vs. Fiat, Benz and BMW: the GT car re invented for the 1970s. Coupe shootout BMW 3.0 CSi E9 meets Fiat 130 Coupe, Mercedes-Benz SLC C107 and Daimler Double-Six. Faced with his greatest dilemma, can Martin Buckley decide between his favourite BMW, Fiat, Mere and Daimler coupes? Photography Tony Baker.
BMW E9 CSi, 130, SLC C107 and XJ 5.3C: for a child of the '70s, the bootlid badges still resonate powerfully. To be honest, trying to choose between them is like trying to nominate a favourite child. To favour one over the other would be a betrayal because these are the cars that I swooned over in my formative years; a jet-set dream ream that blended the traditional Gran Turismo sensibilities of continent-crunching driver appeal with the latest in technical and aesthetic refinements plus good taste.
Good taste? Aesthetic refinement? Big words and bold statements, but for me car styling really did peak in the late '60s to early' '70s and these cars make the point admirably. The successors to this generation of coupes were unnecessarily bigger, usually uglier and sometimes slower cars that seemed to lack their predecessors' panache.
Here were four of the most exclusive coupe flagships available, imbued with special hand-finishing and refinements that lifted them way above the rabble, ever before had such fast and fancy cars been so sorted and relatively sensible. If the '60s had been the era of the specialist GT car - hammered out over a tree stump, powered by an American engine and produced in piffling numbers by a company forever on the brink of bankruptcy-these machines were the antidote.
These were accessible status symbols that must have made even the wealthiest buyers think carefully before they splashed out on an Aston, a Jensen or any four-seater Ferrari, Maserati or Lamborghini. You didn't need a riding mechanic, a fuel bowser or a diploma in auto electrics to run one of these vehicles. Wrought from saloon-car mechanicals and built on production lines by big firms that also sold much cheaper family or executive cars, the Fiat 130 Coupe, BMW 3.0 CSi E9, Mercedes-Benz 450SLC C107 and Daimler Double-Six Two-Door were not truly exotic. Yet they were rare enough, fast enough and sophisticated enough to be hugely desirable.
I admired these cars from afar in period, but only really caught up with them in the '80s when they became attainable objects I could aspire to owning (or persuade my dad that he needed to). The BMW and the Fiat gravitated into the Ken Buekley stable circa '1978 and '1981, and thus have an unfair emotional advantage; the experience of seeing them on our d1ive for the first time, sitting in them and smelling them was something akin to religious back then. Even now, the sight of either vehicle on the road gives me a frisson of excitement. Not that I would ever dismiss an SLC or a Double-Six out of hand; I could concoct a convincing reason to own and love any of this quartet. Yet, were I governed by price, I would have to conclude that the £25,000 BMW is relatively overvalued. Or are the £10-15k Fiat, Daimler and Mercedes just remarkable bargains?