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Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage – The Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9

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Welcome to the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage, a regular feature which aims to expand the notion of what a muscle car is, and to shoot bullet-holes in conventional thinking while we’re at it. This particular featured car should stir up a lot of debate, not only because of its debut in 1975, but also because it was built in Germany. Without further delay, I present the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9.

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The 1975-1980 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 was a continuation of the big-engine S-class sedan, now built on the W116 platform introduced for 1973. Considerably changed from its predecessor, it featured somewhat lower and sleeker lines that were still distinctly Mercedes. 1975 was a lousy time for performance cars when Mercedes introduced its flagship model, powered by a monster 6.9-liter V-8 (roughly 420 cubic inches). The engine pumped out 280 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque. This Mercedes could launch from 0-60 in around 7 seconds and could run 140 mph all day long, while maintaining a refined and quiet passenger compartment. Topping out at 150 mph or higher was never out of the question.

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The engine is related to the original 600 limousine unit, though there were numerous modifications such as Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection, breakerless electronic ignition, dry-sump lubrication, and hydraulic valve gear actuation. The suspension was shared with lesser-powered S-class models (lower A-arms, upper transverse links, and anti-roll bar in front; semi-trailing arms and anti-roll bar at the rear), but springing was now provided by hydropneumatic oil/nitrogen struts instead of standard steel units used in other S-class models. Rear-end self-leveling was incorporated to compensate for a heavy load of luggage or passengers. The revised chassis gave unbelievable handling and roadholding for such a large and powerful car, plus the advantages of a softer ride.

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It came only with a three-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. Fast but thirsty, the 6.9 was launched a good three years after the rest of the W116 range because of Mercedes’ sense of propriety in the wake of the 1973-1974 Arab oil embargo. When fuel prices “destabilized” again in 1979, U.S. fuel economy standards were in force, which made the 6.9 something of a liability here in the US. The model was dropped after 1980. Still, this was the fastest version of what was widely considered “the best sedan in the world,” which sounds appropriate for a Muscle Car, don’t you think?

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Not impressed? Consider that the 450SEL debuted more than 33 years ago, and in a completely different automotive climate than either the late 60′s, when horsepower was king, or today’s environment, in which you can get the same horsepower in a V6 Honda Accord. High performance is almost commonplace today, but it was very nearly dead in the mid-1970s. Even the cars that pretended to be fast (of which there were many in 1975), were often sporty two-door coupes with tacky detailing. Sedans were strictly dishwater-dull, meant only for families or for showing off at the local marina. This was decades before Mercedes brought AMG in-house to create super sedans, before Audi introduced its hot-rod S and RS series, and BMW M-Sport began cranking out legendary vehicles.

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In this climate, Mercedes married Corvette- and Trans-Am-humbling performance with Mercedes-Benz civility in a refined package that is still legendary today. Combine the 6.9′s power with its under-the-radar appearance, and you get the king of all sleepers. And that is a true Obscure Muscle Car.

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So, there you have it. Is the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 an Obscure Muscle Car that belongs in the Garage, or should it just go back into that well-manicured stable where thoroughbreds belong? Debate away, and let me know what you think… or should I just check into the insane asylum?

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Do you think the Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 is defined as an Obscure Muscle Car and worthy of Inclusion into the Garage?

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Please Note: All Images are screen grabs from around the web. If you want credit for any image, please let me know in the comments section. Thank You!

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  • ConstantReader

    I remember when these debuted and were featured in R&T back in the day. A definite sleeper and a cult collectible. Best when you can find one with the Euro bumpers and if you do; buy it! Rust can be problematic, but most were cared for by Benz fanatics. Rare and possibly collectible and a movie star in Ronin. Instant credibility with those in the know at car shows.

  • Sjalabais

    I still don't think that luxury cars, grand tourers etc qualify as muscle cars. Imagine telling any owner of this Benz: "What a nice muscle car you have there, dude". Can't say "Blitzkrieg" fast enough.

  • buzzboy7

    Mercedes to me is one of the ultimate Muscle Car builders of all time. Their cars embody the essence of Muscle: big engine, mid-full size car that is pretty quick and handling that is… okay. Combine this with good looks and you have a legend.

    I love my W116. It's no 6.9 but the old 300SD is a great driving car, although it lacks the muscle.

  • GTXcellent

    For my own classification, a muscle car MUST be a coupe (or 2 door convertible or 2 door fastback). 4 doors is instant disqualification – I don't care how fast, how powerful, how many racing stripes or how many speed holes.

    • Surely antipodean muscle sedans count?
      C'mon, the Ford XY Falcon GTHO Phase 3 is like the Chuck Norris of automobiles!

      <img src="http://www.performancegarage.com.au/sites/default/files/Erics%20PH%20III%2090.jpg&quot; width="500">

    • BTDT

      2 door hardtop works, too, and certain pickups (El Camino, for example). It absolutely must be from an American company, though. Sorry German/Japanese/Italian/Swede/etc. fans, while you may have a desirable car, it is not a muscle car.

      • 79_conquista

        dude its ok we are all wrong sometimes. this time you are.

  • PotbellyJoe ❤❤❤❤♡

    We should start another "Obscure" list.

    Obscure Executive Express Garage.

    We can throw this in there along with V12 powered Toyota Centuries among other things.

  • JayP2112

    Dad had a Tomato Red W116 with the straight 6 2.8. It was a tank. He took it to Rudy, a German mechanic who came over with VW in the 1960's. Rudy had a monster engine on a stand and threatened to put it in dad's car every time I brought it in for service. Later I figured it was the big 6.9 engine.

    I should have let him do it.

  • 420 cubes. Yes, muscle.

  • scroggzilla

    Jean Reno and Bobby D both vote 'yes'.

    [youtube -40a6SB9DSU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-40a6SB9DSU youtube]

    • dukeisduke

      Ronin – Yes!

  • A thousand times yes. I measure a muscle car by its ability to do a burnout impressive enough to be performed in front of a 7-11. The 6.9 is certainly capable of such burnouts.

    I'm having trouble embedding this youtube of a 6.9 burnout. Here's the link: http://youtu.be/7otPz_T_ONk

    • jeepjeff

      Youtube embed tips: you need the long form of the URL, and it needs to be the http:// version (if it starts with https://, just delete the 's').

      [youtube 7otPz_T_ONk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7otPz_T_ONk youtube]

      Also, he should replace his mufflers with cherry-bombs. It doesn't sound right when the tire squeal drowns out the exhaust note. Otherwise, good burnout.

    • skitter

      Hell yes.

  • steve

    Can't believe it wasn't mentioned that this was the car used in C'etait un Rendezvous. http://vimeo.com/88309465

  • david42

    NO.

    1. It's not obscure! Sure, the Consumer Reports crowd might not know it from a hippie 300D, but this is Hooniverse!
    2. It's not a muscle car. Too expensive, too capable, too uncompromised. You might as well call a Ferrari a muscle car. To me, a muscle car needs to have humble roots that lead to inherent (yet charming) weaknesses. This thing already starts as an S-class, and then MB threw money at it until it was perfect. It's a supercar, not a muscle car.

  • nanoop

    Iirc:
    The concept of putting a truck engine into a Mercedes stems from a certain company, AMG: they took a 300SEL, a clutch from the Benz utility vehicle division, and a 6.8L (I think), painted it red ("Rote Sau", red sow), and prayed that the tires will hold – 2nd place in the 24hrs of Spa in 1971. This was a dedicated racer.
    The car here, an endurance racing engine, endowed with full comforts, is not a Muscle Car ™, as it's too much a sleeper, too comfy, too complex. It's a savage, for sure, and I'd love one as family car instead of a, say, Ford Galaxy. Dream on, little nanoop…

    Edit:
    <img src="http://i.auto-bild.de/ir_img/6/4/4/1/3/7/Mercedes-300-SEL-6-8-AMG-S63-AMG-304×202-bafe2ba4a99781f9.jpg"&gt;
    Edit2: spelling.

  • CABEZAGRANDE

    I'm torn on this one, kind of confused as to where my own definition of muscle car ends. I consider certain huge cars muscle cars, for instance a late 60's 2 door Galaxie with a 427 is automatically a muscle car in my mind. But the 4 door thing muddies the waters, because when i first think about it, a 4 door Galaxie with a 427 is not a muscle car to my mind. But why not? It's the same car, just a tiny tiny bit heavier and a lot uglier, so why shouldn't it be one too? But oddly, to my mind something like a W126 560SEC is not a muscle car, even though it's largely the same theory as a big body American 2 door, which I do consider a muscle car. I think it does qualify as a muscle car, but my mind makes a distinction between "muscle car" and "super sedan", and I think this falls into the later category for me.

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    While I consider the 6.9 a legendary car and a Grand Routier, I had to vote "Nein" on it being a muscle car since it is a big engine in a big car. I think of muscle as a big engine in a mid-sized car which means the true Mercedes-Benz muscle car is the Porsche built 500E which jammed the large S-class V8 into the mid-sized W124.
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3e/Mercedes_W124_E-Class.jpg/280px-Mercedes_W124_E-Class.jpg"&gt;

  • Owl

    Definitely muscle car. My definition is an innocent regular car (yes even a Merc 450SEL) with an unfeasibly large/powerful engine shoehorned in and tyre shredding abilities that the non-hoons just cant comprehend.

    I so wanted a 450 6.9 when I was 15 back in '75. Sooo wanted. Now my shopping car has that sort of performance and a C63 with Performance Pack has 500PS and is almost indistinguishable from a C200 diesel.

  • A few years ago, there were 4 of these (plus a "regular" 450 SEL, a '61 Imperial LeBaron and a few others) sitting in an open lot in Columbus. Considering there were only about 1800 ever imported (and only 1000 LeBarons), I found that a surprising number. Never found out why or where they went to, they just disappeared one day. The Imperial popped up as for sale, but don't know what happened then.

    I wrote it up in my blog here

  • MrDPR

    I spent most of the 1980s stationed in West Germany. I owned both an '81 BMW 733i and an '80 528i. Wife & I swapped them back & forth. One auto, one stick. I've chased / pushed a number of Mercs down the Autobahn … out run a bunch of them too. It's quite the experience to be foot-to-the-floor, left lane, tach bumping the rev limiter, from one gas station to another. From Wiesbaden to Ingolstadt (home of Audi) was a tank of gas in the 7. .. .. Returned to the US in mid 1987. Left the BMWs right there in Germany … no sense trying to bring either one back, they'd been rode hard and wore out.

  • Rover1

    And don't forget the hydropneumatic suspension using actual Citroen parts. Though the height adjustment was disabled, ( though not very well, it's easy to re-establish ), for the US.

  • Kenwood

    Robert Loggia is a fan, and I wouldn't disagree with Robert Loggia if I were you…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojIALh6tvM0

  • mac350

    I love this car and would like to cruise main street in it but I can't call it a muscle car. It handles too good to be a muscle car. It stops too good to be a muscle to be a muscle car. It has too many doors to be a muscle car. It has too many cams to be a muscle car. Still, I want one real bad and I look on CL every day hoping to find one.

  • Hydraulic Valve

    Hi Jim Brennan,

    I want to thank you for this post. Its not easy to find such perfectly written information on this topic.

    Great Work indeed!

    Hydraulic Valve