DRIVEN AUTOMOTIVE LEGENDS WORDS: DANIEL BEVIS / CITY SLICKER
We sent out our super tester to find a German saloon… and he came back with a big ol’ coupe! It still fits though - read on to find out why.
Go out and drive a classic saloon,” said Midge. So what we’ve got here is… er, a pillarless coupé. Oops. But I’d argue that it still fits in with the ethos of this saloon-themed issue - it may be a two-door GT rather than a sensible family four-door, but its roots lie in the ineffably imposing W114/5 saloon series of Mercedes-Benz, retaining a distinct three-box profile and a proper boot. Only a pedant would correct you.”
Monday morning, London, rush hour. Arguably the stupidest time and place to be thinking of conducting a road test. But bear with me, this will all make sense.
A few cups of strong black coffee at the Hoxton headquarters of the Classic Car Club were a necessary eye-opener at the bleary dawn of the week, as their cavernous lair requires a certain amount of alertness in order to take it all in. Every corner hides another shimmering retro treat, and this is a hidden garage with a lot of corners… although I’m not here to pore over the ’1977 Porsche 911 Carrera or the race-rep Dolomite Sprint. (Not to say that these won’t be in my crosshairs in the future!) No, I have a very specific target in mind today: the 1970 Mercedes-Benz 250CE.
It is in many respects the ideal choice for modern urban motoring. While it’s hard at first to narrow down your choices when presented with a vast garage of desirable classics, a seventies Merc just ticks all of the boxes – these cars are very much in the ascendant these days, both in value and desirability. They’re so hot right now. The combination of crisp, timeless lines and proven sturdy mechanicals (as underpinning every other taxi in developing countries across the globe) makes it a supremely logical commuter choice.
But can any car really make rush hour London bearable? All cities naturally evolve around their transport systems, and in the case of the urban layout of the USA, for example, they were able to plan the cities around wide, ordered roads; in Europe, the rapidly swelling cities grew on top of the increasingly inadequate existing road network, narrow and meandering and evermore unsuitable. Ergo, London in a car is a pain in the backside. Too many cars. Angry bus drivers. Cyclists playing by their own rules. Malfunctioning traffic lights. Unexpected roadworks. Noise. Stress. And just for funsies, let’s throw in some lowthirties heat. Everyone is angry.
Everyone, that is, except me. You see, it’s impossible to be stressed in a W114/5- generation Mercedes-Benz. While all about you lose their heads, you just feel like James Dean, wafting through your own personal urban wonderland. There are few machines as inherently feelgood as this.
Our 250CE is left-hand drive, but this requires very little mental recalibration in the metropolis as the glasshouse is so large, particularly in comparison to modern cars’ swollen pillars; you swim through the city like a fish, all around you in perfect clarity. The smooth, lazy automatic gearbox can’t really be described as sporty (or even particularly attentive), but it’s spot-on for city driving, as you’re just lazily, languorously rippling through the streets, an elbow out of the pillarless window at all times, steering roguishly with your right palm. The car shrinks around you, its massive white steering wheel an absurd caricature in the cosy cabin.
Pedestrians turn to proffer admiring glances as I trundle down Old Street – a couple outside an Italian café even raise their coffee cups in salute. A cab driver waves me out as I head toward Cheapside (when does that ever happen?) and on into the spiritual heart of the London/Mercedes axis, the City: here, the men still wear red braces and the women broad pinstripes, and each one probably has an investment-grade Benz in the garage at the country pad. They all offer knowing nods.
Heading down past the vast waterfront properties of Victoria Embankment, tourist territory approaches as I close in on Parliament Square, the hordes of camera-toting visitors momentarily distracted from Big Ben by the sight of this splendid bottle-green coupé. Continuing along the north side of the Thames, I cross the river at Chelsea Bridge and swing the Merc’s imposing nose into the verdant lusciousness of Battersea Park. I’ve travelled a grand total of seven miles so far, and it’s taken the best part of two hours. And you know what? That doesn’t matter a jot. I feel supremely relaxed.
The 250CE is, by pretty much any measurable value, the perfect city car. It’s not especially quick, but it really doesn’t need to be, it just gets on with the job of wafting you along like a swan on a millpond. The turning circle is tight, the front end easily placed thanks to the prominent top corners of the wings… and it looks ace in the reflections of shop windows as you ooze past. A flawless urban cruiser.
DRIVEN AUTOMOTIVE LEGENDS BACKGROUND
The W114 & W115 generation of Mercedes has a well-deserved reputation for being built like tanks. Launched in 1968, the W114 cars were powered by four-cylinder engines, while the W115s had straightsixes. The revered Paul Bracq took care of the styling, and the model is often noted for its uncanny ability to span a wide range of socioeconomic points and means of utility – from taxis to limousines and everything in between – while all looking fundamentally similar.
This was Mercedes’ first post-war model to feature a cleansheet chassis rather than borrowing from previous models, and its innovative setup of semi-trailing rear arms and ball-joint front end would endure until the 1980s. While the saloons enjoyed a wide range of engine options (most notably the diesels, which seem to go on forever), the coupé variant was offered with just the 2.5- and 2.8-litre petrol motors; they were cheaper than the SL range - sure, they were hard-tops rather than convertibles, but the pillarless windows meant you could pretend. Interestingly, however, these rakish urban gadabouts never really captured the public imagination in period – while 1,852,008 saloons were built, there were only 67,048 coupés, 42,379 of which were 250s. This car, then, is a rare beast, and much sought-after today.
Pub Ammo – #Mercedes-Benz-250CE
The 250CE was the first production #Mercedes
-Benz ever to use #Bosch-D-Jetronic
fully electronic fuel injection.
The W114/W115 was the first Merc to feature a centre console, and the first to feature the now-iconic ribbed tail-lights (from #1974
Mercedes-Benz Argentina manufactured a pickup truck based on the W115.
The list of engine options for the W114 (4-cyl)/W115 (6-cyl) range included 2.0, 2.2, 2.3 (both 4- and 6-cylinder), 2.5, 2.7 and 2.8-litre petrol, and 2.0, 2.2, 2.4 and 3.0 diesel - the 3.0-litre actually being a 5-cylinder.
In 2004, a Greek taxi driver donated his ’1976 240D to the Mercedes-Benz Museum Collection, having clocked up 4,600,000km.
IN POPULAR CULTURE…
Roger Moore drove a W115 saloon in The Man with the Golden Gun – artfully colour-matched to his shirt. There’s a burnt-out coupé in the background two hours into The Matrix. Inevitably you’ll also spot them sprinkled liberally throughout American TV series of the 1970s and ’80s - Dallas, Dynasty, The A-Team, Falcon Crest, you name it - and they appear as taxis in basically any fi lm set in Germany, Eastern Europe, Russia, North Africa… well, anywhere really. That’s the thing about W114/5s, they’re everywhere. A lot were built, and they were strong enough to just keep going and going. But for massive cheater points, we’re going to cite our favourite movie appearance as the 450SEL 6.9 (which, obviously, was an entirely different model; the W116 was a bigger car) that tore up the scenery in Ronin – just because it’s a very cool fi lm, and a great chase. Suspend your disbelief for a moment, pretend it’s a 250CE…
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: 2.5-LITRE STRAIGHT-SIX SOHC, BOSCH D-JETRONIC FUEL INJECTION, 148BHP,
CHASSIS: 5.5X14-INCH STEELS, INDEPENDENT COIL-SPRUNG SUSPENSION ALL ROUND, DISC BRAKES FRONT & REAR
EXTERIOR: TWO-DOOR PILLARLESS COUPÉ
BASED ON W114 SALOON PLATFORM
INTERIOR: WOOD-EFFECT DASH, MASSIVE WHITE STEERING WHEEL, COSY BUT INEXPLICABLE WOOLLY SEAT COVERS
PRICE NOW: £7,500+
POWER: 148BHP (250CE)