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


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