In the Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9 to German business locations
Sheer economic size
Since the mid-1970s, the Mercedes S-Class has been advertising more confidently than ever to be the best car in the world. On a business tour through Germany in the legendary 450 SEL 6.9, we looked to see whether the luxury sedan would meet this requirement.
Mercedes recently presented its new S-Class and immediately followed up with the sinfully expensive Maybach version with V12 and almost 5.5 meters in length, which will play a major role in China in particular. Once again, the S-Class does not want to be less than the best car in the world. But even if it sets new records when it comes to high-tech, it is no longer the undisputed number one in the global luxury sedan segment. In the meantime, the current seven-series BMW and then the innovative Audi A8 had set new records. By the time BMW will present a new generation of its seven – for the first time also as an electric version – in 2022, the Mercedes S-Class of the W 223 generation will again be the undisputed number one. The most innovative S-Class of all time will have competition from within the company from next year. Unlike BMW with its seven, the Swabian will not have an electric motor. Instead, the subsequent Mercedes EQS is likely to be the new top model with the star on the hood in some markets. At least in terms of competition and image, Daimler has canceled the coupé and convertible offshoots of the S-Class and instead relies on the new edition of the Mercedes SL from autumn 2021 – with a fabric roof for the first time since the R 129 generation – there is a sporty coupé then solely from AMG, who also played a leading role in developing the new SL.
Even if the E-Class flushes more money into the Daimler coffers due to its volume and the GLC is currently the best-selling model of the Swabians worldwide, the S-Class remains a source of income and image. The official history of the Mercedes S-Class began in the early 1970s; Even if there were countless luxury models before – starting with the Mercedes Simplex Touring sedan with its 60 hp or the Nürburg model, the flagship of the Stuttgart brand, German automotive engineering and the global luxury segment is called the S-Class. No car is more associated with Germany as a business location than the top Mercedes and its predecessor models. While the VW Beetle or an Opel Kadett ensured the mobility of the masses, the German business elite mostly drove in the back of an S-Class. Reason enough to look for clues in some of the most important business locations at the wheel of the prestigious first model W 116, which became a legend from 1975 with the top model Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9. At that time, the finest of all W 116s was twice as expensive as the anything but cheaper 350 SE at just under 70,000 Deutschmarks. But there was an engine like no other in Europe. Eight cylinders, 6.9 liter displacement, 210 kW / 286 PS and 530 Nm, which were only slightly slowed down by the anything but dynamic three-speed automatic converter. At more than 225 km / h, the 450 SEL 6.9 was faster than the global competition and the perfect long-distance sedan.
It was moved by the richest of the rich, the most beautiful of the beautiful and the absolute elite. Business bosses, like actors and kings, were only too happy to be chauffeured around in a 6.9 or took the wheel themselves. Herbert von Karajan, Udo Jürgens, Hanns-Martin Schleyer, sheikhs, kings – the list is endless and more elitist than ever. Only with the politicians did the undisputed top model not come into the driveway, because the dangerous times required armored versions and that was the small 350 and the actual top model 450 SEL. But the board members in the banking metropolis of Frankfurt were only too happy to travel in a Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9 between the city center and Bad Homburg, the Odenwald or in the direction of Königstein. It wasn’t until the end of the 1970s that it became more dangerous for some that some people switched to a 450 tank version.
The luxury was not at the level of American competitors, but in addition to the huge eight-cylinder with 6.9 liters displacement, a hydropneumatic suspension and torque converter, as well as a dry sump, the finest of all W 116s offered equipment that drivers of a Ford Granada or Renault 30 can only guess at could. Anyone who opted for the extra with the number SA 261 in the lavish equipment list was particularly annoying to motorway companions, because then the top model was removed from the rear of the top model since the motorization and hardly anyone had a clue of the enormous powerhouse under the bonnet. From a standing start, it went to 100 km / h in barely more than seven seconds and only a few super athletes from the time could keep up with the rest of the performance data – but none of them could transport up to five people at the same time.
The Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9 feels even more comfortable on the Rhine than in Frankfurt or its native Stuttgart / Sindelfingen region. Countless times he has climbed the steep and winding ascent to the Petersberg, leaned into curves, shifted down and accelerated out of it brawny. From there it is just 25 minutes to Bad Godesberg and Bonn to Villa Hammerschmidt, the seat of the Federal President. In addition to the legendary Mercedes 600, the W 116 and its successor, the W 126, are inextricably linked with the Bonn republic. Small, bourgeois and, compared to the other international capitals, squeaky compared to the big stage with the international representatives of the world powers. In the accompanying program of armored columns of politicians and state guests, there was usually one vehicle to be seen over and over again in the evening news: the Mercedes S-Class. At the time it was often green, yellow, blue or gray and almost never just black. In the four and a half years of production of the Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9, just 7,380 vehicles rolled off the assembly line; most of the models went to the USA, some to Asia and South America. The standard velor could be rolled up to form a leather system on request. Since the 6.9 was divided into two classes – self-propelled and chauffeur-driven vehicles, it was even possible to order electric seats, heated seats and, for the first time, a standard anti-lock braking system for the rear. The fact that quite a few of the luxury cars are equipped with a radio telephone costing 18,000 marks shows which customer groups preferred to sit in the rear of the luxury car.
Especially the escort vehicles of the security columns were not all armored and some were on the road with the particularly dynamic 6.9. The security staff did not travel on soft leather, but on non-slip flocked velor. Air conditioning or the electric sunroof helped against the heat in summer, and seat and auxiliary heating, which is controlled by a prehistoric-looking round clock in the glove compartment, helped in winter. There was trunked radio and two telephones for communication at the time and for the tough everyday work. Sufficient space at the front and rear was just as important to the passengers in the Bonn republic as it was about an hour’s drive to the northeast in the Ruhr area. Even if the money was administered in Frankfurt and represented in cities like Munich or Hamburg: the big business players often sat in the Ruhr area and here preferably in the south of Essen and around Villa Hügel – until the Second World War, the German Rockefellers zu Bohlen and Halbach. Between the Baldeneysee and the Bredeney district, there were whole droves of Mercedes S-Classes at home. Here you drove 600s, as a weekend companion the coupés and convertibles like the W 111 or the S-Class – preferably the W 116 and the even more perfect successor W 126, which after its facelift in 1985 gave birth to a new top model as the 560 SEL – which, unlike its predecessor, was offered armored or unarmoured and even as a short version of the 560 SE with outputs of up to 300 hp.