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Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage – The Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3

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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 see if there’s room in the muscle car universe for a German sedan. This is the second Mercedes Benz über-sedan that I have profiled in this series, and I think it was the better of the two. So, let’s take a look at what happens when you take a standard, everyday German Sedan, stuff a huge engine under the hood from what is essentially a large limousine, and bring it to a performance-hungry market. Introducing the Mercedes Benz 300SEL 6.3

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The 300SEL 6.3 model was introduced in the United States in June 1968, quite appropriately at the Laguna Seca race course, with famed 300 SL designer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut in attendance. He pointed out that the car had better road-holding ability, braking potential, suspension stability, and maneuverability than any comparable automobile in the world. It had first been shown in Europe in March 1968.

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With the 6.3 Liter fuel-injected 300-horsepower V8 engine installed in the slightly modified but outwardly regular sedan body of the New Generation type, the car weighed 3,835 pounds and had a power-to-weight ratio of 12.8 pounds per horsepower. Performance was truly fantastic, especially when Herr Uhlenhaut demonstrated the car’s abilities.

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The sedan had the air suspension of the 600 series and many extra features were included as standard items, such as air conditioning, radio, leather upholstery, power steering, and power windows. Except for the “6.3″ badging on the trunk lid, the car was not distinguishable from the regular 300SEL model.

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After exhaustively testing the car, Road & Track magazine called it “the greatest sedan in the world,” stating that the 6.3 was “truly the executive road racer … does more different things well than any other single car.”

Reports of performance varied tremendously, depending on the car’s age and how it was broken in. Mercedes cars of this vintage were largely hand assembled, which also added to the varibility. Regardless of the real numbers, the car was clearly unique in its day, and had no rival

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It’s possible to get even more performance out of these cars. There are simple bolt-ons available from experienced Mercedes shops that will get you up to 350 SAE net HP and improve the driveability and acceleration times.

It takes enormous amounts of horsepower to get the car over about 150 miles per hour because of its antique, boxy shape, so most current owners are making improvements for the sake of reliability and maintenance, not more horses.

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The car magazines loved the big engined Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3, and they couldn’t wait to test its speed. Motor Trend in June 1968, Road & Track in June and November 1968 and August 1971, Car and Driver in October 1969, and Road Test in 1971 all tested the Mercedes hot rod. Remember that its test numbers were established on skinny 195-70-14 inch tires that went up in smoke when you applied the 437 ft/lbs of torque. It’s all too easy to lay rubber the the first 2 gears of the 4 speed automatic. Remember the typical American Muscle car had 3.73 rear in gears, the 6.3 would be close to 5 seconds flat 0-60 mph with 2.85 gearing. So you’re asking, what kind of performance was wrung out of the 1968 300SEL 6.3? How about 1/4 Mile times of 14.4, at a speed of a little under 98 MPH. Top speed? That would be 141 MPH, and that’s with a curb weight of 4,000 pounds.

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There were over 6,500 300SEL 6.3′s produced between 1968 and 1972, which was the last year for the W109 Body Style. US Sales were almost 1,840 for the same time period, or a little over 28% of the total. So, we have this rather rare, very fast, 4-door sedan with a huge 6.3L V8 under the hood. Is this an Obscure Muscle Car, and should it be on the Garage, or is it just a well-behaved carriage that should be pampered and kept in a collection?

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Do you think the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3 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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  • Maybe we should start an "Executive Express Garage". Fast and capable luxury cars.

    • Sjalabais

      +1. I'm torn on this one and see both extremes – muscle car and luxury executive sedan. Tend to the latter one.

      • I predict a Porsche-Mercedes 500E featured soon.

    • PotbellyJoe ❤❤❤❤♡

      I've suggested this a few times. Especially when it comes to European and Japanese Luxury Expresses.

    • topdeadcentre

      +1 I'm strongly in favor of this.

      I dunno if it'll help the clicks'n'eyeballs count, but to me, Executive Express is the category where cars like the above Benz belong.

  • Elliott

    I admit it, I have an "old school" bias that makes me consider four doors as too many for the image of a muscle car. Having said that, UI can appreciate the accelerative qualities of these Benz's and their long legged top speed/handling qualities. I think of these more as "Q" ships to be sprung upon the unwary, rather than the classic milieu that defined a "muscle car". I also must admit that I was blown away by the 6.9 in "Ronin"! 😉

  • SO, would you take this over a 450SEL 6.9? For me personally, the 6.3's earlier W109 body looks a bazillion times more WANT.

    • tonyola

      The 6.3 would be my choice, though the 6.9 is probably more comfortable and day-to-day driveable. Somehow, the older car seems to be more special.

  • tonyola

    This is a hard one. It's not a muscle car in the classic sense of being a hotted-up Detroit "standard" car, but it's definitely fast and muscular. Maybe "earthbound executive jet" applies. It's a five-star classic, no matter what you call it.

  • Holland

    So really, this was the first production "super saloon" beating the M5 by 20 years.

    • tonyola

      There are older American cars like the Olds "Rocket" 88, Dodge D500, Chrysler C-300 which could be argued as being "super saloons" before the 6.3. Opinions, anyone?

      • All the 300 letter series cars could be (2-door) super saloons. The 300B was the first American car to beat 1 HP per cubic inch.

      • John Young

        The 1962 Olds Starfire (394 CI, 345 HP) that I grew up in and inherited as my high-school ride fits in that category. The Chevelle and Camaro boys had respect for it, too. It might have been big, but it was definitely a MUSCULAR car.

        I think the Benz is comparable to an Olympic athlete. American muscle cars are more akin to WWF (WWE) performers.

  • Sjalabais

    "Except for the “6.3″ badging on the trunk lid, the car was not distinguishable from the regular 300SEL model."

    Oh…good old days. Today's big sales go for trim packages without any meat in them.

    Great choice of photos. The burnout image hurts my soul a bit though.

  • Krautwursten

    You seem to have skipped the ONE thing I'd expect to see in an article about the 300 SEL 6.3 – the bone shaking, bored to 6.8 liters, 420 hp Rote Sau ("red sow") touring car, famous not only for coming second at the 24 Hours of Spa in 1971 but also for rocket fueling AMG's success only four years after the company's founding.

    <img src="http://5komma6.mercedes-benz-passion.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/rote_sau.jpg&quot; width="600">

  • But isn't a part of the point behind a muscle car for it to LOOK muscle-y? The girl you were chatting up at the stoplight was supposed to know it's fast by looking at it. I wonder if "sleeper" and "muscle car" could be mutually exclusive. Okay, the '64 GTO could be purchased as a very plain stripper, but things quickly got more exhibitionistic from there.

    • Slow_Joe_Crow

      It's an interesting point, while late 60s muscle cars like the GTO Judge had all sorts of display plumage, early muscle cars tended to be based on strippers and you could always still order the monster engine and drivetrain with a bench seat and dog dish hubcaps into the early 70s. Even in the 80s you could opt for a Firebird Formula instead of a Trans Am for a lower key and sometimes more powerful package. (funny factoid, the early 80s F bodies with EFI had two intake manifolds, the low profile Trans Am part and the taller Camaro manifold which flowed better and was also used on the Formula because the power bulge in the hood added enough vertical clearance.)

      • True but early muscle cars were stripper versions of sporty (or at least flashy) bodystyles, such as the Pontiac LeMans and 2-door Galaxie fastback…

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    While the 300SEL 6.3 is a truly awesome car I have to vote is as not muscle for the same reasons I used for the later 450SEL 6.9. It is still a big engine in a big car and is ultimately more Grand Routier than hot rod. Sadly this era did not have a V8 engined small body Merc comparable to the 500E, although I have seen a W123 powered by a W126 5 liter V8 which I would consider a muscle car.
    I think there definitely needs to be a separate class for big fast cars like 6.3s, 6.9s, lotus Carltons and their grand daddy the hemi V8 powered Daimler Majestic Major

  • Owl

    Its the Daddy, so that's a yes from me…

    …and from it is born the whole generation of AMGs we have today

  • IGotNothin

    Not a fan of the brown, but this 71 will set you back $41K over on Ebay. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Mercedes-Benz-300-Series-

  • I want to call it a muscle car, in defiance of my usual, narrow definition. It lacks the cheap power for the masses quality that American Muscle had in the late '60s… but it is very much a sedan with an engine from a larger vehicle in it. I also can't help thinking that the kind of guy who bought this would have been a mullet haired stoner with a lead foot; except for the accident of birth that doomed them to being a wealthy European with a lead foot. It's vulgar, it's kind of wrong, it probably raised a few eyebrows in the polite circles.

    It's checked off enough boxes on my list to qualify as an obscure muscle car. Where can I buy one?

  • ptschett

    I really can't call this a muscle car – it's too far afield of the traditional accessibility to the masses to me. This was something like a $10,000 car when it came stateside, compared to the '68 Pontiac GTO that was the reining MT COTY and one of the defining cars of the genre which cost $3200 and change. It'd be like putting in a modern $100,000 S-class vs. the $30,000-something for V8 Mustang/Camaro/Challengers.