This Mercedes superlative was born at a time when other supercars were being buried. The Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 succeeded 40 years ago, which most of its V8 and V12 competitors were denied: The fastest luxury sedan in Stuttgart to date had a powerful engine and technical delicacies, was prestigious, but ostentatious and achieved amazingly high sales figures , A cleverly knitted optical camouflage dress made a decisive contribution to the V23, which consumes 210 kW / 286 PS in tests of 8 liters of super. Important to avoid public provocations so soon after the first oil crisis. That is why the brand with the star hid its motorized crown jewels under the mass production garb of the conventional and less than half as expensive long S-Class version.
Anyone who deselected the type lettering 450 SEL 6.9 on the trunk lid like quite a few buyers could travel virtually incognito. Also a guarantee of success in Europe in the 1970 years. Back then there was a socio-political and societal change that made it hardly possible in many countries to show luxury products publicly. A trend that quickly fatalized luxury limousines such as Iso Fidia, Maserati Quattroporte II, Monica 560, or Monteverdi High Speed 375 / 4. Only Aston Martin Lagonda and De Tomaso Deauville were able to survive, but only reached dwarfish eight percent of the Stuttgart Star Cruiser's production figures, since the Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9 sold proud 7.380 units in four years. What seemed tiny compared to the total circulation of the S-Class W 473.000 units, made the 116 a superstar in its competitive environment.
A star that even surpassed the ambitious goals of the Stuttgart. In order to meet demand, Mercedes had to double the initially planned annual production of 1.000 vehicles shortly after the market launch. At the end of his career, the 450 SEL 6.9 even outperformed its predecessor, the 1972 SEL 6.500, which had been sold 300 times until 6.3. In fact, Mercedes had already announced its new 6,9-liter S-Class flagship - the representation sedan 600 remained in the program - in September 1972. But as Daimler-Benz boss Hans Scherenberg explained three years later at the market launch of 6.9, fuel shortages such as new diesels and the 230.4 petrol engine were of greater importance. A clever move, the political discussion about fast and strong cars had calmed down a bit, at least in Germany until 1975. And in the fast lanes of German motorways, there was actually no four-door vehicle in everyday traffic that could compete with the 450 SEL 6.9.
Not even the fastest sedan to date, the Jaguar XJ12 L, was able to pull past the fast Mercedes according to the press at up to 235 km / h. In terms of sales alone, the English twelve-cylinder had the edge, but played in a much lower prestige and price league. With the acceleration time of 7,4 seconds advertised by Mercedes for the sprint from zero to speed 100, the colossus, over five meters long and weighing up to 2,4 tons, was even superior to the Porsche 911 Targa. Only the Monteverdi 375 / 4 promised slightly better four-door performance, at least in the brochure. In the 450 SEL 6.9, the dry sump lubrication of the V8, which was only delivered from 1977 in the USA, reminded of a racing car. Again Mercedes waited until the first smileys brightened up the anti-car mood despite the strict 55 miles limits. The right decision, because the Americans loved the German Autobahnjet so much that they even accepted delivery times.
But Mercedes was not really concerned with the best possible driving performance, these were rather a by-product in the search for maximum comfort. Thanks to an impressively strong torque maximum of 549 Nm at only 3.000 rpm, not only was there a lot of pulling power, but also a very direct rear axle ratio of 2,65: 1 was possible. This allowed low engine speeds and thus a barely perceptible engine noise while relaxed sliding - to which the three-speed automatic and the low-vibration V8 animated anyway. The standard hydropneumatic suspension with level control on the front and rear axles also brought the very best in comfort.
A significant step forward compared to the air suspension used in the predecessor 300 SEL 6.3 and the result of research work that according to Daimler-Benz boss Scherenberg had already started in the 1950 years. A decade in which Citroen already used this principle in the 15-Six-H and DS types as standard. After all, the ground clearance in the Mercedes 6.9 could now be adjusted by four centimeters using the pull switch on the dashboard. Good for steep and edgy underground parking lot descents in Monte Carlo or New York and for the bumpy walk to the country estate.
Visually, the six-nine from its more mundane S-Class siblings could only be differentiated by the wide tires of the dimension 215 / 70 VR 14, because the headlight cleaning system, which was still unusual at the time, was optionally available for all other types. In general, extras were also a chapter in their own right when it came to the six-nine. In the opinion of Mercedes Communication, the standard equipment left nothing to be desired, as the basic price already included air conditioning, central locking and electric windows. This was initially just under 70.000 Mark and four years later over 81.000 Mark. As much as two V8 of the type 350 SE, more than two Opel Diplomat V8 and almost as much as an Aston Martin V8. Only Bentley and Rolls-Royce, which Mercedes continued to encounter with the 600 representative model, were significantly more expensive.
In Britain, on the other hand, the English prestige sedans were priced in at the level of the six-nine. Which was particularly popular here, as in the USA and Arabia. When ordering all optional equipment, the entry-level price of the 450 SEL 6.9 could be increased slightly by half - and this without the customization that is common in the ultra-luxury class. The options already included things that were taken for granted today, such as a right wing mirror and aluminum wheels, but also a car phone system that was up to 20.000 Mark expensive at the time.
The ABS braking system, which was revolutionary at the end of the 1970 years, was also available during the production period of the top S-Class model, in which the digital revolution had otherwise not played a role. In contrast, the CAD-designed successor S-Class W 126, which was presented to 1979 and in May 1980 also retired the 450 SEL 6.9. The exceptional automobile among the high-performance sedans, which, according to many of its drivers and testers, had no equal in the world.
Author: Wolfram Nickel / SP-X