Driven

CLAS­SIC Q-CAR LIMO:

- Cars · Consumer Goods · Mercedes-Benz · Daimler · Daimler-Benz · Robert Bosch · Mercedes-Benz W222 · Aufrecht Melcher Grossaspach · Mercedes-Benz 600

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.

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