Retrospect: 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL

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Luxury saloons come…and luxury saloons go. Some leave an indelible impression. The iconic and unforgettable Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL is one such automobile. This elegant machine is highly versatile. Some are still in service and used throughout Europe as limousines. These high performance saloons are also at home on the Autobahn or on a nice leafy run in the countryside. Mercedes-Benz is a pioneer with monocoque construction, automobile aerodynamics, active and passive safety features, as well as ergonomic cabin design.

Form and function combined with notorious reliability is how the Mercedes-Benz brand retains world-class status.  Their engineering prowess keeps the automotive industry at the drawing board. The Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL remains at the top of the list for popularity. It was built as W116 450 SE and 450 SEL from 1973 until 1980. The formidable S-Class is simply one of the world’s finest crafted creations…it is part limousine and part performance saloon. They’re the perfect marriage of luxury and logic. From the iconic pentastar that adorns the classic radiator grille to the sleek aerodynamic silhouette, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is one of the most technically advanced saloons on the planet.  Mercedes-Benz presence in the industry has always been central, never peripheral.

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The Mercedes-Benz dynasty began with the collaboration of two master minds. In 1886 Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz presented an idea that changed the way transportation was destined. The automobile…or “horseless carriage” was born. Gottlieb Daimler’s credo was “The best or nothing.” This premise remains as a most enduring legend. Decade after decade the Mercedes-Benz motorcar has achieved success through innovation and advanced engineering prowess. It’s a standard of excellence that serves as a measure by which all automobiles are measured.

From supercharger to fuel injection through bi-turbocharging…no automaker in history has accomplished or contributed more. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class saloons are the flagships of the brand…they are considered a supreme achievement in motoring. The incomparable 450 SEL is the pioneer that laid the foundation for today’s version. The long wheelbase S-Class introduced an entirely new concept of aerodynamically efficient luxury saloons. The idea of precision automobiles first introduced by Mercedes-Benz is now an industry standard. Abundant power, ample cabin space, and myriad creature comforts makes the 450 SEL a favorite among collectors of fine automobiles.

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The world was introduced to a new premium luxury saloon September of 1972 as the next generation of high-end precision vehicles. Project W116 S-Class began in 1966 and was finalized in 1969. “S” denotes Sonderklasse, this translates to ‘special class’ which all senior Mercedes-Benz flagship models are tagged.  It began a prolific existence as the W116 280 series offered in two versions equipped with an M110 straight-six engine; the 280S uses a Solex carburetor and series 280 SE is equipped with a Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection system. “E” denotes fuel injection. W116 is also available as series 350 SE equipped with an M116 3.5 litre V8 engine. 

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The big news for the 1973 model year was the introduction of the 450 series. It includes the 450 SE and the 450 SEL. “L” denotes long wheelbase. These posh saloons are powered by the venerable M117 V8 engine. The epochal W116 S-Class escalated the brand to limousine status, refined, yet elegant. The sleek architecture is ahead of its time. While other luxury cars were bulking it up at the time, Mercedes-Benz was working on weight reduction and aerodynamics.

The W116 S-Class embodied the best in advanced German engineering for the genre. Its architecture is designed to battle crosswinds and overall wind turbulence. W116 S-Class has a mere 0.4 drag coefficient. The exact rake of the windscreen is part of the aerodynamics. Mercedes-Benz discretely incorporated aerodynamics into the body shell’s silhouette to manage airflow around the vehicle. Even the head and taillamps are built into the architecture to be exposed to a constant stream of air to keep them free from slush and debris while driving in inclement weather. Rain water is aerodynamically routed away from side windows. No other make had even considered such advanced thinking at the time.

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The 450 SEL is the epitome of European grandeur with architecture designed to slip through the airstream like a fuselage. This car moves in a manner the oversized dinosaurs we drove here in the USA… dared not try to replicate. The car is designed to ferry its passengers in a most luxurious style…but if you’re like me, slip it off the main roads to the back roads for a long leafy run – you may then use it as a sporting machine.

The 450 SEL is versatile and is equally at home on any road. You will discover, it floats over the worst boulevard pavement taking it all in stride. The flagship Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL saloon is a workhorse. At the time, it was the most aerodynamic luxury saloon sold in America. But we didn’t really care about such…we were driving our Cadillac Fleetwood Series Sixty-Special Brougham, Lincoln Continental with the TownCar option, and lest we forget…our Imperial LeBaron – all of which were a city block long and half a city block wide!!!

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While other auto manufacturers concentrated on aesthetics, bells, and whistles…Mercedes-Benz designed not only safety into cabin specifications, but ergonomics as well. Padding anyplace that comes in contact with the body is integrated. This includes the dash, door impact cushioning, head restraints, and seat backs. Deformable switches and controls further occupant protection.

The heavily padded steering wheel absorbs severe impact with a collapsible steering column to protect the driver. The seats are designed in an upright fashion that is contoured to the body for comfort and safety. Americans at the time considered this configuration “stiff’ and uncomfortable because we were spoiled by our Fleetwood Broughams, Lincoln Continentals, and Imperial LeBarons which rode like big ‘ole rollin Barco loungers. The notorious 450 SEL is more than “just a car”…it’s a Mercedes-Benz.

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The long wheelbase in the 450 SEL adds extra legroom for rear seat passengers. Take note of the ergonomic design of the seats and head restraints. There are no dangerous protuberances in the cabin, everything is designed with occupant safety in mind. In the event of a serious collision, the entire cabin is designed to wrap around the occupants to shield them from injury without air cushion restraint systems…Mercedes-Benz leads the industry with safety innovation.

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Safety is paramount in a Mercedes-Benz, it is built-in and never added on and includes both active and passive systems. The brand adopted monocoque construction in 1951 because of its inherent rigidity and structural integrity. The fact that it isn’t held together by nuts and bolts means there are no squeaks and rattles. The collapsible crumple zone safety principal was pioneered by Mercedes-Benz. In addition to the steel safety cage constructed to surround the passenger cell, unique energy absorbing front and rear sections are designed to accordion at a controlled rate upon impact. This feature cancels negative energy before it reaches the passenger compartment.

The passenger cell is several thousand welding points strong. All doors are designed to neither burst-open nor jam-shut in an accident. Its skeleton of pillars, crossmembers, and panels is not only stronger, but far more resistant to torsional stresses than conventional body on frame construction. The steel passenger cell has a stiffened roof structure with high-strength roof and door pillars to further enhance occupant protection. Mercedes-Benz factory deployed robotic welding machines ensure each welding point is precise. Other auto makers were doing the process by hand. All body tolerances are routinely audited for quality control. Perfection is a driving force for Mercedes-Benz engineers.

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Under the hood resides the Daimler-Benz SOHC 4.5 litre, naturally aspirated 275.8 CID 16-valve V8 engine. It’s equipped with Bosch Jetronic indirect fuel injection. The 3,990+ pound behemoth moves with aplomb. This highly spirited luxury saloon cranks 180 hp @ 4,750 rpm with 248 Nm of peak torque @ 3,000 rpm.

Longitudinal acceleration is rated as 0-60 mph in 11.3 seconds, 0-100 mph in 34.8 seconds with a top speed in the 122 mph range. This is mighty-fast for a vehicle this heavy. It can do the ¼ mile @ 79 mph in just 18.2 seconds. The 450 SEL sports a front traditionally mounted engine with rear-wheel drive for excellent weight distribution to further refine its excellent handling and stability attributes.

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A high degree of suspension engineering is the basis for these stately saloons. Mercedes-Benz set benchmarks in the auto industry. The eminent W116 models come standard with 4-wheel independent suspension systems. Double wishbones with a stabilizing bar is fitted to the front. A diagonal swing axle, trailing arms and stabilizer bar is fitted to the rear. Coil springs are fitted at all four wheels. Power assisted rack and pinion steering is coordinated to suspension dynamics.

Mercedes-Benz and safety are synonymous. The W116 saloons are the first in the auto industry to offer electronic multi-channel anti-lock braking systems as an option for the 1978 model year. Four wheel power disc brakes teamed with ABS enhances stability and steering control during panic braking to provide shortened braking distances.

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The beauty of a Mercedes-Benz is the fact there is never a dramatic styling change overnight. According to the brand, “there has never been a violent change.” The overall appearance changes through gradual evolution. This is why every Mercedes-Benz S-Class looks as good today as it did when it drove off the assembly line, it is designed to challenge the years gracefully. “Evolution instead of revolution.”

The 450 SEL has dimensions close to those of contemporary luxury saloons. It’s 209.4” in length, 43.6” wide and 56.3” high. It rides upon a 116.5” wheelbase. As far as its appearance…it resembles today’s cars minus the chrome and if it were a tad bit boxier. The 450 SEL blends right in with what’s on the road now. The sophisticated styling will always remain prominent. The only issue with the 450 SEL…is the 4.5 litre V8 engine and its gas-thirsty attributes…but then no pain, no gain – right? Besides…spend it all while you are “above ground.” How many U-Haul trailers do you see attached to hearses?

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The completely new generation of Mercedes-Benz automobiles was developed as W116 luxury saloons and debuted in the fall of 1972. This is the birth of the S-Class series which became the flagship models for the brand. The S-Class represents a milestone in workmanship, handling characteristics, safety, and engineering that no other automobile manufacturer could match for the day. The formidable 450 SEL offers a level of performance, comfort, spaciousness, reliability, and perfection that satisfies the most discerning clientele. It is one of the first cars in the world to provide monocoque construction and a body structure designed to absorb and deflect impact from collisions.

Outstanding active and passive safety features combined with 4-wheel independent suspension and 4-wheel disc brakes catapulted the brand to world-class status. The Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL is part limousine and part performance saloon; an intriguing combination which enticed the auto industry to follow. This elite example of automotive technology earned its place in automotive history as the prelude of innovations the entire industry would replicate – NotoriousLuxury salutes the formidable Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL. Special thanks to Rodd Sala at Park Ward Motors Museum…he is one of the hardest working caretakers of fine automobiles in the entire industry! God Bless you Rodd!!

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Welcome to Greg’s World…

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Greg’s World is NotoriousLuxury…

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The contemporary Mercedes Maybach

One Response to “Retrospect: 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL”

  1. Yves Souvenir Says:

    Beautiful car, well preserved

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