1979 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 Saloon
Mercedes-Benz was the undisputed king when it came to building the finest luxury sedan of the 1970s, a decade when the S-class all but owned that segment of the market. Launched in 1972 following six years of intensive development, the W116 range was the safest Mercedes-Benz yet, with a massive strong bodyshell designed to meet tough new Federal Safety Regulations. Boasting more aerodynamic styling, disc brakes all round (ventilated at the front), sophisticated independent suspension at both ends and power-assisted steering, the new S-class was offered with a range of six-cylinder and V8 engines. The initial model line-up of 280SE and 350SE expanded to include the longer wheelbase SEL derivatives in November 1973, followed by more powerful 450SE/SEL models. Launched to critical acclaim, the W116 won the coveted Car of The Year award for 1973 and sold in unprecedented numbers for such an expensive luxury car, with almost 500,000 made over seven years of production. Daimler-Benz’s engineers proved they had a sense of humour by launching the epic 6.9 flagship in the face of the Oil Crisis in 1975, at a time when performance was a dirty word and muscle cars like the Falcon GTs were rapidly disappearing from the showroom. Boasting impressive output figures of 286 bhp and 405 lb/ft of torque from its 7-litre V8 engine, the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 – to give the car its full title – was unquestionably the greatest family car of the era and remains a massively competent machine today. Installing a bored-out version of the M100 V8 engine in the standard 450SEL simply added supercar-crushing performance to the W116s long list of attributes. With self-levelling hydro-pneumatic suspension, dry-sump lubrication and Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, the 6.9 was not only fast but handled and rode superbly – ask anyone familiar with the chase scene involving Robert De Niro in the cult movie Ronin. Of course, the Mercedes-Benz came with every conceivable luxury item available, featuring a classy mix of leather and high quality timbers. Costing twice the price of a standard 450, the 6.9 was built in tiny numbers – just 7380 were made – and found favour with Formula One drivers like James Hunt, in addition to the usual business tycoons and Heads of State.