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    Best of the Best - #Mercedes-Benz-450SEL-6.9 W116 Driven / - #Mercedes-Benz-W116 / #Mercedes-Benz / #Mercedes-Benz-450SEL-6.9-W116

    What it's like to drive a luxobarge with more torque than a Ferrari of similar years. This is the car that really paved the way for the super-saloons that are preferred by the super-rich today.


    Today, the richest 1% of the population glides through city streets in monstrously powerful symbols of opulence like it’s nothing. The over-engined #Mercedes-Benz-S-class is power, a new-money V-sign to petty concerns like fuel prices, austerity and public opinion. And the more things change, the more they stay the same. In fact in May #1975 , when the 450 SEL 6.9 went on sale, more than a year after its official unveiling at the Geneva Motor Show, this fuel-guzzling statement car was even more dramatic, as the oil crisis of the early 1970s sent petrol prices through the roof.


    Mercedes-Benz delayed the launch when the pumps ran dry, but eventually had to let the best saloon in the world free. Running a car that returned just 10.1mpg in Sport mode was still the equivalent of lighting a fat cigar off a £50 note and James Hunt’s own 6.9 ended up on bricks in his drive.

    It was the wrong time for a car of this ilk but, at the time of its inception, Mercedes-Benz was determined to overthrow the #Jaguar-XJ12 . It also wanted a successor to the world’s first real Q car, the 6.3-litre W109 300SEL 6.3, created by M-B engineer #Erich-Waxenberger , which was once the fastest fourdoor saloon in the world. This one continued the ethos: the only things to mark it apart from the lesser 450 were the 6.9 badge and wider tyres.

    Mercedes-Benz stripped the 6.9-litre M100 V8 from the 600, together with the trick hydropneumatic suspension system. Aluminium cylinder heads, hardened valve seats and sodium-filled valves, together with #Bosch-K-Jetronic fuel injection and dry-sump lubrication were all revised for the handbuilt 6.9. After all, this was an engine designed to make an impact on the world.

    Today anything less than 500bhp is barely breaking a sweat, but back then this 286bhp titan with its 420lb ft of torque was Top Trumps stuff. The #1976 #F1 World Champion #James-Hunt declared: ‘It looks like a taxi, goes like a Ferrari.’ That was slightly optimistic, but it’s a glowing testimony nonetheless.


    Others were equally keen. The great American journalist David E Davis said this was, ‘the ultimate manifestation of the basic Daimler-Benz idea of how automobiles are supposed to be designed and built. It is the best Mercedes-Benz automobile ever sold.’

    Like Davis, who claimed the big Benz handled like a Mini, CAR magazine was entranced with the road manners of this hefty hunk of car, which tips the scales at 1935kg. That’s 200kg more than the standard 450, thanks almost entirely to the big V8 up front. ‘A car of such speed and weight must have demonstrably good roadholding and handling, and this one is no disappointment in anything from a hairpin to a three-figure bend,’ the magazine said. Swiss automotive newspaper Automobil Revue, which is hardly known for going too far, called it: ‘The best car in the world.’

    So it’s good, then

    The 450SEL 6.9 cost DM69,930 (£12,880) at launch, but inflation took this to £24,950 by 1978, which was less than £2000 cheaper than a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II and almost twice as much as a #Jaguar-XJ5.3. For a car with cloth seats and not so many creature comforts inside. It was ludicrously expensive, but this was by far the fastest, most capable and brilliant saloon car in the world. It was a technical tour de force that came together in the face of environmental pressures making today’s Green movement look passive, and it a car that set the benchmark fo engined saloons everywhere.

    JFK Junior, Frank Sinatra Telly Savalas and the Shah of Iran all drove a 6.9, as did heavy metal star David Lee Roth, who painted his black and put a skull and crossbones on the bonnet. It was, then, a fashion icon and the public took to it. Despite its staggering price and fuel consumption, 7380 were sold between 1975 and 1981. That means they’re readily available today at a reasonable price – but that is surely set to change in the years ahead as the much-revered 6.9 becomes harder to source.

    As impressive as ever on the road

    It’s amazing how much perspective 40 years provides, as the eulogies bestowed upon the 6.9 simply don’t hold true today. US motoring scribe David E Davis suggested the big #Mercedes-Benz could be thrown around like a Mini, but after picking up the car here from Mercedes-Benz HQ in Milton Keynes we glide right over the first mini roundabout. The steering simply isn’t quite as pin-sharp as I was led to believe.

    The hydropneumatic suspension that was a development of Citroën’s system handles the weight well for a car of its era, but I still have to set up for the bend to avoid understeering into oncoming traffic. It’s well-damped in high-speed corners, holding the line effortlessly. The big Benz also tramples the mini-roundabout with barely a bump and squashes bumps and potholes without transmitting them to the cabin. It’s every bit as well damped as a modern car, more so even.

    Adjustable ride height seems like overkill for a saloon car, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless. The self-levelling front and rear and anti-squat technology to keep the car level under heavy acceleration and braking are more relevant. At the rear, the 6.9 inherited the standard S-class rear semi-trailing arm, along with a Watt’s linkage to help with enthusiastic cornering. That 200kg hanging over the front end still dictates a slow in and fast out style in slower corners. But, my Lord, it’s fast out, even in a modern context.

    The performance figures are impressive, with the big barge hitting 60mph in 7.4sec and a top speed of 140mph, but it’s the way it lets rip from 60-100mph that is shocking even today. The languid nature of the car simply does not match up to the way it acquires speed. It could absolutely shred your licence these days.

    That rumbling V8 is distant, insulated, like a distant storm. It makes its presence felt with every stab on the bounteous accelerator, though, as the scenery starts to rush past at a surreal rate and the fuel gauge seemingly drops before my eyes. There’s no getting away from the scary consumption – the Benz consumes a third of the 96-litre tank in 60 miles, but then you shouldn’t buy a 450 SEL 6.9 without knowing what you’re letting yourself in for.

    Thankfully for a car that builds speed so fast, it’s equipped with disc brakes all-round that seem stronger than the tyres’ ability to lay the braking power to the road. It will lock up, but that’s inevitable with this much weight going that fast, even though post- #1978 cars come with a rudimentary anti-lock system #ABS / #Bosch .

    Modern AMGs could learn a thing or two from the understated looks. Many owners deleted the 6.9 badge, making the big Mercedes-Benz look like a totally standard 450 on the outside, with just the 6.5J x 14in alloy wheels and wide tyres marking it apart. That aside the W116 is a comical blend of understated elegance and fussy detailing such as the double-deck bumpers, overly complex chrome window surrounds and louvred light lenses.

    Inside it’s typical 450 fare, with a few extra warning lights thrown in to accommodate the handbuilt engine that remained more or less maintenance-free for the first 50,000 miles. Those cloth seats seem out of place in a car that cost this much, but they’re supportive and suit the style of the car, allowing me to hang back with a single finger on the wheel. I can even mess with the #Blaupunkt stereo, with its digital display. It’s the one item on the car that isn’t period. The oversize handbrake is an item that never once fails to bring a smile to my face, even if starting out from an overnight stop at silly o’clock when nothing else is funny. The heavy wood veneer also takes me back to a bygone age. But the rest, including the cruise control, feels fresh.

    That’s the real surprise with the 450SEL 6.9. It might be an icon, but it’s a car that can hang with modern executive saloons. It’s a classic that simply doesn’t make any demands on the driver beyond a simple adjustment in driving style to cope with tight bends. In short, it’s a 40-year-old car you could drive every day that will still put a smile on your face when you flatten the throttle. There aren’t too many of those in this world.

    ALTERNATIVES

    Jaguar XJ12

    It’s fast enough to put a smile on your face, so if you can’t stand the thought of buying a Mercedes, the Jaguar will be more than enough fun. What’s more, you’ll be buying British.

    Bigger wheels are about the only giveaway that this is not a standard 450 SEL, especially if you remove the 6.9 badge.

    Target price £14k
    Target price £15k

    Above, man with smile on face, having just flattened the throttle.

    Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 vs. #Rolls-Royce-Silver-Shadow

    Much slower, more luxurious and with that quintessential English charm, the Rolls-Royce is a stylish alternative if you don’t give two hoots about performance.

    Yes, cloth upholstery. In a car chosen by plutocrats, heavyweight politicians, music superstars and Telly Savalas. David Lee Roth thought it looked better with a skull and crossbones. James Hunt said it looked like a taxi.

    Rolls-Royce and Bentley owners may sneer at the M-B approach to car interiors, but it’s comfortable and long-lasting.

    Select ‘S’ and you’ll appreciate that 420lb ft of torque. Three-dial convention, and a few more warning lights.

    The 6.9-litre engine is handbuilt, has aluminium cylinder heads and drinks petrol at the rate of 10mpg.

    SPECIFICATIONS

    ENGINE 6834cc/V8/SOHC #M100
    POWER 286bhp @ 4250rpm
    TORQUE 420lb ft @ 3000rpm
    MAXIMUM SPEED 140mph
    0-60MPH 7.4sec
    FUEL CONSUMPTION 10-15mpg
    TRANSMISSION RWD, three-speed auto


    OIL CAPACITY
    ENGINE 12.4 litres
    GEARBOX 8 litres
    AXLE 4.8 litres
    OIL GRADE
    ENGINE Castrol Classic XL20w/50
    GEARBOX Castrol Dexron 11
    AXLE Castrol Axle Z


    WHAT TO PAY

    CONCOURS £30,000
    NICE £20,000
    USABLE £12,500
    PROJECT £1000
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