Curbside Classic: 1979 Mercedes-Benz 450 SE (W116) – Bowing To The Queen Of The Autobahn

It’s been a minute since we’ve had a W116 on CC, Though we’ve had a number of posts about them. I figured it would be just a perfect fit to illustrate the ‘70s in my little Teutonic Viertüriger Woche – albeit a tight fit, because it’s quite the barge, for a European car. There’s just no better Benz to fill this role.

I wrote up a W116 a few years back – a 280 S gliding in Bangkok traffic, which I managed to catch while riding on a motorbike taxi. There’s no substitute for finding a car standing still, though. This one was stashed away in a curious little parking lot used solely by one of Tokyo’s Mercedes-Benz dealerships that also caters to the classic crowd. For all I know, that car was sold there originally 45 years ago.

Japanese-market Mercedes-Benzes, in those days, were a curious blend of Euro and US specs. Japan mirrored American emissions control regulations (albeit a bit less stringently) and switched to catalytic converters and unleaded fuel by 1978, so the 4520cc OHC V8 hiding behind this august grille was only good for 190hp, whereas the same engine was rated at 225PS in its native land.

On the other hand, the Japanese version has the “normal” W116 face – none of those horrid 5mph rubber underbites or tacked-on sealed beams on this big beautiful Benz. Was there a ‘70s luxury saloon more ungraciously defaced by federal busybodyism than this one?

While we’re on looks, let’s ponder about the W116’s paternity. The name most cited as this car’s creator is Friedrich Geiger, long-time head of Daimler-Benz design and credited with the Fintail, the 300 SL and even, according to some, the Pagoda. The W116 was the last big Benz saloon Geiger oversaw (he retired in 1973), so naturally his successor Bruno Sacco was very involved in the design, but more names are often mentioned when discussing this car. Paul Bracq left Stuttgart in 1967, during the W116’s gestation, but left his imprint on the its overall shape. Another Frenchman, Gérard Cardiet, was one of the new hires who did the actual drafting and modelling after Bracq left. And we might add Barényi to the list, too. Success has many fathers.

I’ve been trying to identify the colour sported by this beautiful Benz, going through colour charts are Google Image searches. It could be Cypress Green, or maybe it’s an Olive Green, but clearly not Forest Green. The amount of available hues on the W116 is pretty uncanny, compared to the S-Classes of the present century.

Again, we see an odd mix of US with a dash of local weirdness. The fancy-shmancy climate control, as far as I know, was not seen in EU-spec W116s. I’m not sure if the cloth and MB-tex (in resplendently period-perfect khaki) was used often on the 450 SE anyplace – leather would have been pretty high on the options list for most clients, except in Japan.

And for the dash of local colour, we have the inevitable seat doilies. An extra 10cm of legroom was available (for a hefty premium) on the SEL, but the “small” wheelbase seen here doesn’t seem to shortchange its rear occupants.

When Daimler-Benz finally halted W116 production in the summer of 1980, the singular S-Class saloon (it never had an official 2-door, limo or wagon variant, unlike most Mercedes products) had managed to tally up over 470k sales in eight model years. The majority of those were 6-cyl.-powered 280s, as one might expect. The 450 SE convinced 41,000 people, but more (just under 60k) opted for the SEL instead.

It’s interesting how Mercedes divvied up the global market with the W116 versions. America got a 5-cyl. Diesel that neither Europe nor the Asia-Pacific region ever heard of, and I’m sure it was plenty loud. Europe, for its part, had access to the 350 SE/SEL, featuring the V8 used in the W111/W109, that did not cross the Pond. Everywhere, though, the outrageously expensive 6.9 litre version was the real top of the range for commoners (potentates and rock stars could get a 600 limo). But the swankiest S-Class you would actually see in the street, and reigning supreme on the Autobahn, was the 450 SE/SEL. Let us bow in respect.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: 1973 Mercedes 450 SE – Hello Darlin’; It’s Nice To See You, by Jason Shafer

Curbside Classic: 1977 Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9 – Plenty Of Power But None For The Seats, by PN

Junkyard Classic: 1979 Mercedes 280SE – Across An Ocean, Up A Mile, And Forty Years Of Stories, by Jim Klein

In-Motion Classic: 1974 Mercedes-Benz 280 S (W116) – Drive-By CC Effect, by T87

CC Capsule: 1978 Mercedes-Benz 300 SD Turbodiesel – A Curbside Classic for the Thrifty, by Jim Grey

Vintage Review: 1975 Mercedes 280S – “Strictly An Energy Crisis Car”, by PN

Vintage R&T New Car Intro: Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 – The World’s Best Sedan Is Now The Fastest, by PN

COAL: 1978 Mercedes Benz 450SEL – Grey Market Special, by Importamation

eBay Find: 1973 Mercedes 450SE Custom Estate – A “What If” Come To Life, by Perry Shoar

Design History: Broughamtastic Benzes, by Don Andreina

CC Outtake: 500000km M-B W116 6.9 – This Is How You Do It, by Don Andreina