Top 10 greatest-ever Mercedes

Top 10 greatest-ever Mercedes

The company which can rightly claim to have invented the motorcar has not been having a good time of it of late, losing its reputation for building seemingly indestructible cars and gaining one for poor customer service.

However Mercedes seems to be clawing its way out of the doldrums, even if their stated aim of increasing reliability to Toyota levels was a rather sad admission on their part. Seemingly keen on filling every possible niche they can find, Mercedes is at least doing so with some decent models now. Here we take a look at some great Mercedes models from the company’s 120 year history.
The beginnings

1886 Benz Patent Motor Car - - you wait for centuries for a petrol powered conveyance and two turn up at once. Incredibly, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz, both working in south-western Germany, produced automobiles within months of each other. Benz, working in Mannheim, just pipped Daimler and his partner Wilhelm Maybach to the post, registering the three-wheeled, internal combustion engine driven Benz Patent Motorwagon with the patent office in January 1886. Daimler and Maybach took their prototype gas engine and fitted it to a stagecoach in March 1886. The pair followed this with the world’s first four-wheeled, four-stroke powered horseless carriage in 1889. It was two years later before Benz added a fourth wheel to his design.

1886 Daimler Motor CarriageSSK (1928)

Mercedes SSK in the Ralph Lauren CollectionRegarded by many as the finest pre-war sportscar ever built, the SSK was actually designed by Ferdinand Porsche and was the ultimate evolution of the 'S' model line launched two years earlier. The S was itself a lower chassis version of the ‘K’ series cars and used a supercharged 6.8-litre engine. In order to go Grand Prix racing Mercedes needed a smaller, lighter car so they chopped 19 inches out of the chassis to create the “Super Sport Kurz”, the last word being the German for short. Much lighter than its 2.5 ton predecessors the SSK was used to devastating effect by greats such as Rudolf Caracciola, winning numerous competition events including the 1930 Grand Prix, thanks to a 7.1-litre supercharged engine producing 225bhp. The final model actually produced 300bhp and had holes drilled in its chassis to lighten the car in an attempt to keep it competitive.

300SL 'Gullwing' (1954)

Loosely based on the successful 1952 competition car of the same name, the 300SL was available as a convertible or a coupe with those now legendary 'gullwing' doors. These were necessary because of the car’s tubular chassis which ran through where the lower half of the door would be on a standard car, making it exceptionally stiff for its day but making entry and exit a feat in gymnastics. It was also the first production car fitted with fuel injection. The mechanical system from Bosch more than doubled the power of the three-litre straight six from 115bhp to 240bhp, making it more powerful than the original racer. Around 1400 were made, with the similar looking 190SL roadster outselling it by nearly eight to one until both were replaced in 1963 by the 230SL.

300SLR (1955)

Stirling Moss and 'Jenks' in the 300SLR on the Mille MigliaDespite the name this bore no relation to either Gullwing or the earlier racecar. It was essentially the 1954 Mercedes W196 Grand Prix car, its straight-eight engine enlarged from 2.5 to three litres and covered with a two-seater roadster body. It was in this form that a 300SLR won what is perhaps still the most famous race victory of all time. With a young British racing driver named Stirling Moss at the wheel, directed by co-driver Denis ‘Jenks’ Jenkinson, the 300SLR destroyed the opposition in the 1955 Mille Miglia, a non-stop 1000 mile race on public roads in Italy. Moss won the event at a scarcely credible average speed of 97.96mph. The 300SLR was withdrawn from competition when one crashed into spectators at Le Mans in 1955, killing 82 spectators. The shock of this horror stunned Mercedes, and it withdrew from racing, not to return until 1987.

230SL (1963)

Mercedes 230SL 'Pagoda'Sorry if this list seems rather 'heavy' on SLs (meaning 'Sehr Leicht' or 'Sport Light') they can almost all be justifiably regarded as classics. The 1963 model was the first to sell in really significant numbers, shifting nearly 20,000 units between 1963 and 1971, many of them in the American market. With a 2.3-litre straight-six engine producing 170bhp the 230SL was good for 125mph and by using aluminium panels for the boot, bonnet and doors lived up to the 'light' bit of its name, at least in part. The car was available with a distinctively styled hardtop which gave rise to its nickname of 'Pagoda' SL. The engine was enlarged in 1967 to 2.5-litres to create the 250SL, which also gained rear disc brakes, and then again a year later for the 280SL, the biggest selling of all three variants.

600 Pullman (1963)

Mercedes 600 PullmanThe 600 series was introduced in 1963 and intended by Mercedes to represent the pinnacle of automotive engineering. It actually took two years to put the massive car into production, the first ones being delivered in 1965. It was available as a conventional four-door saloon, a four or six-door limousine or even a landaulet with a folding roof over the passenger compartment. The car rode on air suspension to cushion its occupants and an enormously complex hydraulic system powered everything from self-closing doors to adjustable seats and air vents. The car was moved at surprisingly rapid pace by a 6.3-litre V8. It was in production until 1981 and famous owner include Chairman Mao, John Lennon, Leonid Brezhnev, Aristotle Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Hugh Hefner and even Elvis.

300SEL 6.3 (1968)

Mercedes 300SEL 6.3This was the original Q car, developed by gifted Mercedes engineer Rudolf Uhlenhaut in his spare time and without him revealing his plans to Mercedes bosses who doubtless would not have approved. Uhlenhaut took the mammoth 6.3-litre V8 from the Pullman limousine and stuffed it under the bonnet of the 300 series, the latter day equivalent of the S-Class. Matched to the air suspension, also from the 600, the result was a hot rod in a business suit, apparently able to humble contemporary Porsches, cracking 60 in under eight seconds. They also handled well enough for a number of racing versions to be built by tuning firm AMG, one of which, fitted with a 6.9-littre lump would hit 60 in 4.2 seconds. It was succeeded in 1975 by the 450SEL 6.9, one of the first cars ever to be fitted with anti-lock brakes.
C111 (1969)

Mercedes C111 record breakerThe C111 was a rare example of Mercedes letting its hair down and testing out some wild ideas. The original 1969 model used a mid-mounted three rotor Wankel rotary engine in an incredibly streamlined fibreglass body that produced a drag co-efficient of just 0.191. Of course being a Mercedes it featured a leather trimmed, air-conditioned cabin and gullwing doors made a welcome return. The following year it reappeared with a four-rotor, 350bhp Wankel engine and was reportedly capable of 180mph. Mercedes decided against rotary technology and the third iteration of the C111 used a 230bhp straight-five turbodiesel. With it Mercedes beat numerous diesel records, achieving 200mph at the Nardo high-speed bowl in Italy in 1978. Mercedes revived the name in 1991 for a road going supercar, the C112 but after taking 700 orders decided to kill the project.

S-Class (1981)

No round up of great Mercedes models would be complete without mention of the S-Class, a series that has its roots in the 1956 W180 range and is now in its tenth iteration. Mention S-Class to people however and it is the 1981 W126 range that many will picture, as driven by number one rat JR Ewing. The car replaced the previous generation W116 but kept the 6.9-litre model’s hydro-pneumatic suspension on top of the range models. The car came with a range of diesel and straight-six petrol engines but the pick of the bunch were the powerful V8 models. The car came in long and short wheelbase models and a two-door SEC coup? was also made. The car introduced the world to the airbag in 1983 and sold over 800,000 units in its ten year life, most of which are still around thanks to Mercedes’ then legendary build quality.

190E 2.3-16 (1983)

Mercedes 190E 2.3-16The W201 series was introduced in 1982 to sit below the E-Class range and was quickly dubbed the 'Baby Benz'. By Mercedes own admission the car was 'massively over-engineered', the company spent ?600 million on its development. That hewn from solid quality did mean the car wasn’t a fireball however. To remedy this Mercedes called in the wizards from Cosworth to breathe on the basic 2.3-litre four cylinder engine. Thanks to double overhead camshafts and a light alloy, 16-valve cylinder head the engine produced 185bhp, 72 horses more than the stock motor. The car set three speed records at Nardo in August 1983, averaging 154mph over 50,000km


Top 10 greatest-ever Ferraris!

Top 10 greatest-ever Ferraris!
As such we’ve not included Ferrari’s racing cars; that’s an entirely different list which would obviously include some of the latest F1 cars as well as beautiful prototype and endurance racers like the F333 SP, Dino 268 SP and the 330 P4. Instead, we’ve concentrated on the accepted greats and cars that have been important to the company technologically, or in sales. We hope you agree with our selection which is in no particular order - but understand that it’s unlikely. We've also supplied links to Auto Trader so you can find out how much these cars are second-hand (clue: usually quite a lot!).


F40 - please click photos to enlarge themUnveiled personally by Enzo Ferrari himself on 12 March 1987 the F40 was built to celebrate 40 years of Ferrari. With a quoted top speed of 199mph its twin turbocharged, twin intercooled, 2.8-litre V8 engine was a development of the 288 GTO’s. In the F40 it produced 478bhp, giving this road racer savage performance. 62mph was reached in just 4.6 seconds - it doubling that to 124mph in 11 seconds dead. Constructed using a mix of composite materials and steel alloy tubes the F40 weighed in at just 1254kg. Its raw, stripped interior helped keep the weight down - making no concessions to comfort.
Photo from our Top 10 car legends of the 20th century
Indeed, the F40 represented a polar opposite to the contemporary Porsche 959’s incredible technical sophistication and comfort, yet its fierce performance and aggressive styling saw it go on to become a tremendous sales success where the Porsche floundered. A total of 1311 were built between 1987 and 1992, making it one of Ferrari’s most successful specials in both sales and profitability.
Click here to list used F40s from around ?170,000


Dino. Dino to a Ferrari enthusiast and it’s highly likely that this is the car they’ll think of. That’s despite the fact that the Dino name has been used on several occasions throughout Ferrari’s history. Yet the Dino never, ever wore the prancing horse badge of Ferrari when it left the factory, enthusiasts putting them on afterwards. First shown in concept 206 GT Speciale form at the 1965 Paris Salon, the first production cars followed in 1967. Power for the early Dino 206 GT models was from a mid-mounted 2.0-litre V6 engine producing just 180bhp. Only 152 206 models were built before the engine was enlarged to 2.4-litres, raising power to 195bhp. The Dino’s model number changed to 246 to represent the larger engine, with other changes including a wider track and increased wheelbase. The open GTS model joined the range in 1972, it particularly popular in the USA. It may never have been badged Ferrari, but there’s no mistaking the bloodline of this achingly beautiful and highly sought after car.
Click here to list used 246 Dinos from around ?50,000


308/328. Photo by Perry SternThis is perhaps the archetypal Ferrari, the shape that people immediately associate with the marque. Made famous through its role in "Magnum" television series the 308/328 cars are still today commonly referred to as the ‘Magnum’ cars. And it is a beautiful shape, sharing visual cues with the Dino before it. Its mechanicals came from the edgy, unloved 308 GT4 and early cars featured glassfibre bodies – to the horror of many Ferrari customers. They’re now the more sought after cars, as the metal bodies from 1977 are susceptible to rust. Power for the 308 came from a transversely mounted 3.0-litre V8, hence the 308 model designation - the 328 from 1985 featuring a 3.2-litre engine. Power varied from 255bhp in the early cars to 214bhp in later models - due to the introduction of K-Jetronic fuel injection in 1980 over the previous Weber carburettors. Ferrari solved this with a 32-valve head in 1982 boosting power back to 240bhp. Later 328s produced as much as 270bhp, the 308/328 series cars proving hugely successful over their 1975-1989 production run. In total Ferrari sold over 21,000 examples in both GTB Berlinetta coupe form and also GTS with its removable roof panel.
Click here to list used 308s from around ?35,000

288 GTO

288 GTO. Photo by Michael MeredithIt may look similar to the 308/328 cars, but the 288 GTO was a completely different proposition. Introduced in 1984 the 288 GTO was limited to just 273 examples, it remaining a highly coveted car among Ferrari collectors today. The 400bhp from its longitudinally mounted 2.8-litre, four cam, four valve per cylinder, V8 engine is achieved by the adoption of two turbochargers and intercoolers these allowing the 288 GTO to sprint to 62mph in 4.8 seconds and onto a maximum speed of 188mph. Its backbone construction was of tubular steel, but fibreglass and Kevlar were also used to keep weight as low as possible. Its beautiful, muscular looks belie its vicious performance, as does its interior, which, unlike its F40 descendant features proper door pulls, handles and carpets. In every way the 288 GTO lives up the famous GTO badge that has always represented Ferrari’s most extreme sporting cars, though such is the pace of progress a current F430 will outperform it in every area.
Click here to list used 288 GTOs from around ?180,000

250 GTO

250 GTOThe most revered letter and number combination in Ferrari’s history the 250 GTO was Enzo Ferrari’s retort to a change in sports car racing rules introducing a new Grand Turismo category. That’s the G and T of GTO taken care of, the ‘O’ representing omologata or homologated. This allowed Ferrari to take the GTO racing, where it dominated. Power for this legendary car came from a 3.0-litre V12 similar that of all the 250 series cars but featuring higher profile cams and larger valves, with it all fed by no less than six Weber carburettors. As impressive as its engine is it’s the 250 GTO’s beautiful lines that make it so legendary. The hand sculpted aluminium panels clothing its tubular structure might have been formed to cleave the air efficiently, but the shape they produce is sensational. Built in tiny numbers the GTO might have been a road racer, but it also fulfilled its Grand Turismo role perfectly. Effectively replaced by the mid-engined 250 LM in 1963 the 250 GTO remains the holy grail among Ferrari collectors. And they’re prepared to pay ?millions for them.


Daytona. Photo by Perry SternAn established Ferrari classic the 365 GTB/4 Daytona was so named to celebrate Ferrari’s triple success in the American 24 hour race. Its 4.4-litre, V12 engine is mounted under its impossibly long bonnet in a time when competitors like the Lamborghini Muira were adopting a mid-engined layout. Even so, that V12 produces a more than ample 348bhp, allowing the Daytona to reach 170mph and sprint to 60mph in 6.1 seconds – bettering its then rivals. Impressive as that performance is the Daytona isn’t an easy car to drive quickly. The five-speed transmission is reluctant, and the steering leaden, but it was the undisputed speed king among its contemporaries. Around 1300 were built between 1968 and 1973, pre-‘71 cars featuring perspex enclosed light housings – later cars featuring pop-up units. A spider model was offered for a short time, their production numbering 124, meaning that they’re both sought after by collectors and that a number of GTB coupes have been converted latterly to drop-top specification.
Click here to list used Daytonas from around ?50,000

550 Maranello

550 MaranelloIntroduced in 1996 the 550 represented something of a change in Ferrari’s philosophy for its flagship sports coupes. Its predecessor, the Testarossa and its 512 TR and F512 M developments were mid-engined machines, the 550 Maranello going back to the front-engined layout of cars like the Daytona. Its 5.5-litre V12 engine is effectively mid-mounted though, being positioned as far back as possible under that long bonnet. It produces 479bhp, more than enough to propel the 550 Maranello to beyond 190mph and to 62mph in 4.6 seconds. Significantly, Ferrari’s decision to re-adopt the front engined layout was vindicated by the fact it could lap around Ferrari’s own Fiorano test track 3.5 seconds quicker than the mid-engined F512 M that it replaced.
The styling might not be Ferrari’s best, but the 550 is such an accomplished supercar it’s difficult to ignore - the fantastic chassis underlined Ferrari’s dominance in the supercar class. A historically significant and brilliant car, Ferrari thought enough of to name it after its Maranello home.
550 Maranellos from around ?50,000

250 California Spyder

250 California Spyder. Photo by Michael MeredithAmerica is an important market for Ferrari, so when the US concessionaires ask the factory for something they usually respond. That is exactly why this car exists. Based on the 250 GT SWB the California Spyder was built by Ferrari for its wealthy customers wanting an open-top car to enjoy California’s warm climate. It’s an indulgence in this list as historically it’s perhaps not that significant, but it’s unquestionably one of the most beautiful open-topped cars ever made. A short run of 108 were produced between 1957 and 1962, the specifications of each cars differing significantly depending on customer’s exacting needs. That means you’ll get aluminium-bodied examples and some with steel bodies with the odd lightweight panel. The standard V12 engine offered 280bhp but like the body the engines come in a variety of differing specifications – some California’s were even specified with race engines from the Testarossa. A sensational looking car, California owners are very lucky people indeed.

Enzo Ferrari

Enzo FerrariNo greatest Ferrari list would be complete without mentioning the latest limited run hypercar. Named after the man himself, the Enzo Ferrari represents the pinnacle of Ferrari’s road and race car knowledge. That means it features a carbon-fibre and aluminium monocoque, carbon-ceramic brakes, double wishbone suspension with push-rods operating the horizontally mounted springs and dampers and a paddle-shift six-speed transmission. Like F1 drivers each owner has the car fitted to them, the seat and pedals adjusted to suit your exact needs and accommodate factors like whether you prefer to use left foot braking or not. But as with any Ferrari it’s the engine that’s the most important feature. And the Enzo’s 6.0-litre V12 is a masterpiece.
It produces 660bhp, allowing the Enzo to reach 62mph in just 3.6 seconds and breach 220mph. It’s all controlled by highly complex electronic systems that control the damping, engine management, gearshift, traction and stability – though for those wanting to experience their Enzo properly the ASR traction control can be switched off. Exclusive, with only 400 being built, and offering quite staggering performance the Enzo is a highly fitting tribute to the man who started the company.
Click here to list used Enzos from around ?470,000


F430There will undoubtedly be a few of you who will question the inclusion of the F430 in the list of greatest Ferraris. But like its 360 and 355 predecessors it represents the ultimate expression of the current ‘small’ Ferrari and that alone means it’s worth including. With power to better all of the cars, barring the Enzo, listed above the F430 develops 483bhp. That allows this current entry-level Ferrari offer performance that’s equal to and in many respects better than the F40 of 12 years ago. That highlights quite staggering progress, the F430’s 4.3-litre, normally aspirated V8 developing a sensational specific output of 114hp per litre.
Click here for our review of the F430 Spider
Using Ferrari’s latest F1 know-how the F430 features both an electronic differential (E-Diff) and a manettino switch on the steering wheel that allows the driver to directly control the car’s dynamics. Its shape is a result of extensive development in the wind tunnel, too. Overall the F430 underlines Ferrari’s commitment to producing cars that keep pushing the performance boundaries. And that alone is enough to warrant it a mention among these established greats.


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