CLASSIC Q-CAR LIMO:
The prodigious power image of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class was permanently cemented 45 years ago – long before the AMG era – with the launch of the 450 SEL 6.9, referred to as the “6.9”, which was equipped with the largest V8 of any non-American production car post World War 2.
Yet it nearly did not happen… See, the evolution of the SEL started when legendary Mercedes-Benz engineer Eric Waxenberger decided to shoehorn the manufacturer’s big and powerful 6.3-litre V8 into a W109-series 300SEL body. The normally conservative management of Mercedes-Benz liked it so much it was put into production and at the time it was the world’s fastest four-door sedan.
The success of the 300 SEL 6.3 paved the way for the W116 450 SEL, and the long-wheelbase 6.9-litre version – with a cast-iron M100 V8 with aluminium cylinder head and single overhead camshafts – was to be introduced as the flagship of the range.
When the Oil Crisis rocked the world in late 1973, the price of petrol and diesel soared and the demand for big, powerful vehicles declined. During this critical phase, the Daimler-Benz top management had to decide whether to continue with the introduction of the S-Class flagship, or not. They bravely decided to go ahead… even though the introduction was postponed to early 1975.
With increased cylinder bore, the eight-cylinder engine (from the legendary Mercedes-Benz 600) with Bosch K-Jetronic electro-mechanical injection and dry sump lubrication, pushed out 210 kW and maximum torque of 550 Nm. These figures may pale against that of the current Mercedes-AMG S63L but nearly five decades ago it was one of only a few production cars that could cruise along sedately at over 200 km/h and rush from 0-100 km/h in under eight seconds.
Interestingly, like the AMG V8 units of today, each engine was hand-built and bench-tested for 265 minutes, 40 minutes of which were under full load. Yet, besides the discreet (and optional) 6.9 insignia on the boot lid and marginally bigger wheels, one could not tell it apart from any other W116 S-Class. In this sense it was the ultimate Q-car, a lavish limousine with supercar performance.
This cocktail of high-level luxury, refinement and sports car performance, combined with very low production numbers (only 7,380 were built) has made the 450 SEL 6.9 a brand icon and a soughtafter classic.