A superb blend of German engineering and European luxury, the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 was all you’d expect from a massive Teutonic land-barge; all for half the price of the range-topping S-Class or even the bombastic 600 Pullman.
What can you say about the Mercedes saloon car?
It’s been a staple of European automotive engineering since the end of World War II and has come to deliver the perfect mix of performance and luxury. While BMW and Audi aim for providing the customer with incredible speed and handling, Mercedes-Benz have focused instead on giving the performance, but also upping the luxury; essentially making a Rolls-Royce on steroids.
The 450SEL is no exception. Though its production life compared to other Mercedes saloons of the time was a comparatively short 6 years, the car I feel is the perfect mixture of reliability, practicality and luxury.
It would be easy to put the likes of the top-range S-Class and the exclusive 600 Pullman on this list as they deliver the absolute crown jewels of luxury and reliability, the kind that nearly saw the extinction of Jaguar and Rolls-Royce during the 1980’s. However, these cars, while incredible, are just way too complex and difficult to keep running, the Pullman especially. With many of their internal systems operated by hydraulics, even a minor fault could lead to a massive problem as each of the vehicle’s functions grind terrifyingly to a halt. Of course, no issue with these cars is bigger than actually buying one for less than your entire life’s savings!
So, why not the lower end models like the W123?
The W123 is again a great car, and quite possibly a contender for one of the best cars of the 1970’s, especially in estate form. However, the car lacks many of the luxury goodies you’d expect to find in a Mercedes-Benz and many are undervalued; which means that minor issues can result in the car being written off due to the comparative expense of fixing it.
If you want the true Mercedes-Benz experience, you want something that delivers the luxury one would hope to find in these cars while not being so complicated and expensive it becomes impractical; which is where the 450SEL 6.9 comes in.
The 450SEL is truly the best of both worlds, the size and luxury of an S-Class but with the performance and reliability of the W123. Everything about this car is truly Mercedes, from its incredible interior space to its immaculate build quality and fantastic performance. With the legendary M100 V8 engine delivering nearly 300hp purring nicely under the bonnet, the car is by no means a slowpoke considering its size and weight. 0-60 comes in just 7 seconds and will happily go on to a top speed of 140mph; making it absolutely perfect as a motorway cruiser. The 450SEL will literally eat up the miles, making a journey of 1,000 miles feel more like 100; all while giving the discerning owner the comfort and features these cars are renowned for.
Furthermore, the car simply will not rust thanks to the high quality steel used in its construction. Unlike the products of Italy, France and the UK, where cheap steel was used that would rust in 10 minutes and ripple with the wind, Mercedes used only the finest steel money could buy in order to deliver on their promise of a car that would never falter in the face of whatever mother nature had to throw at it.
Truly, the 450SEL is the poor-man’s Bentley Turbo R, only a touch more reliable and with a load more performance.
However, miles aren’t the only thing this car will eat, the other commodity it likes to gorge itself on is your money!
The 450SEL, while cheap to buy, isn’t very cheap to run. With the thirst of a herd of Elephants in a drought, the car is the very definition of a gas guzzler, consuming a gallon of petrol every 12 miles; a horrendously poor efficiency level!
Such consumption truly was the downfall of the 450SEL in the end as following the Energy Crises of the 1970’s, this machine was nothing more than an absolute dinosaur when compared to the fuel efficient and economical models which appeared during the early 1980’s. Small wonder then that Mercedes dropped the car after only 6 years with no direct replacement.
The other major issue is the expense of maintenance. A common complaint on Merc’s of all shapes and sizes is the cost of repair. While the build quality and reliability of a Mercedes-Benz has gone down in history as almost unimpeachable, things can and will go wrong; with costs quickly rocketing upward when it comes to fixing them. The mechanics of the 450SEL, you could say, are comprised of a series of highly expensive ticking timebombs; they sit silently and perform their duty without a hitch for years, possibly even decades, but can suddenly explode into trouble at a moment’s notice. Anything from £3,000 water pump repairs to fixing the hydraulics, detailing the wood and recladding the leather seats can leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many, but all of these failures and more are incredibly rare.
Perhaps the biggest problem when it comes to buying a 450SEL are determining the kind of people who previously owned it. Like many luxury cars, when the upkeep becomes too much for the owner or they outgrow their machine, most will be left stationary for long periods in varying conditions. Regardless of whether the car has been kept nice and cosy warm inside a garage or left to languish under the elements in either a barn or an outdoor parking space, the car needs to be properly and comprehensively recommissioned; with all the mechanics being checked thoroughly for wear and corrosion while the internal systems such as the hydraulics and oil must prove themselves to be fluid.
Though I mentioned that these cars are legendary for their lack of rusting, even a classic Mercedes-Benz, if left outside for years without regular care or attention, can start to show signs of corrosion; which usually accumulates on the leading edges of the sills, inner wings and door bottoms.
Overall though, the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 is a truly capable car which will gladly keep you on the move for years and years in comfort and luxury while not being equally as unreliable or expensive to maintain. Mercedes built its reputation on build quality that is second-to-none and this car is no exception, with major breakdowns being rare and usually caused by neglect.
While most 450SEL’s will go for around £20,000, which isn’t cheap for a mass-production classic car, the timeless look and feel of this mighty machine makes it well worth the price. It’s a car that was designed to look brilliant throughout the ages and last forever in terms of its mechanics. It was cars like this, the Pullman and the S-Class that truly put Mercedes on the map and made it the must have luxury brand of the 1980’s. Whether you were the military despot of a post-colonial third-world nation or an up-and-coming Wall Street stock broker; nothing short of a Mercedes-Benz would do; and the 450SEL 6.9 could be considered part of the brand’s rise to glory during the decade of decadence.
- Comfort – 10/10 – True Mercedes comfort, what more is there to say?
- Practicality – 7/10 – Interior space is fine, but fuel costs are what drag this car down and killed off the model in the first place
- Reliability – 8/10 – A strong and sturdy machine, but make sure all the systems have been maintained, there are far too many neglected examples still around
- Speed – 4/10 – Not exactly a speed machine
- Handling – 5/10 – Power steering helps, but can wallow in the turns
- Looks – 10/10 – A classic design endemic of Mercs of that period
- Equipment – 6/10 – Certainly well-equipped, but by late 1970’s standards so we’ve come a long way since then
- Price – 4/10 – Not the cheapest of classics, but certainly within most people’s budgets
- Value – 5/10 – Being a Merc, it should mature like fine wine, but the fuel costs will likely stunt any major resale value
- Total – 59/90 – A strong and sublime Mercedes machine, but woeful fuel efficiency keeps it down.