Mercedes 300 SEL – Classified of the Week


By Dale Vinten

Have you ever dreamt of being a high-level dignitary? Or perhaps an important diplomat with classified security clearance? All the while being chauffeured to top secret meetings in a limousine with flags on the bonnet? We know we have, and now you can scratch that itch because today our featured Classified of the Week is this beautiful 1971 Mercedes 300 SEL. And it’s black. What more could you ask for? Complete the package with some fully-tinted windows along with a briefcase handcuffed to your wrist and you’re all set.

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This particular Mercedes goes by many names: W109, SEL, S-Class, but whatever you call it you can’t deny it’s influence, but first let’s break down that nomenclature. The W109 is Mercedes’ internal designation for the project, with the 300 being the model name (a hangover from when it was equipped with the 3.0-litre, six-cylinder engine before the 3.5-litre V8 was added in 1969) and the SEL part indicates a sedan (S) that is fuel injected (Einspritzung in German, hence the E) with a long wheel base (L). The S-Class name, although not officially used until the W116 a generation later, has since been attributed to the W109 and is the official term for Mercedes’ top of the line cars. So with that cleared up and our parentheses quota fulfilled we can talk about what a true classic the W109 is and why it transcends mere naming conventions and model designations to remain such a wonderfully endearing car today.

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Appearing on the scene in 1965 at the Frankfurt Motor Show alongside its sister car the W108, the W109 was a follow up to the W112 and continued that car’s legacy of being Mercedes’ flagship model. Penned by legendary French car designer Paul Bracq the car’s style had evolved from earlier Mercedes lines, losing the fin tail aesthetic of its predecessor and becoming lower and more streamlined in the process with a cavernous interior and acres of glass. Loaded with options, powerful and refined the W108 and W109s were offered with a large choice of engines ranging from a 2.5-litre straight-six to the bonkers 6.3-litre V8. The W109 specifically featured self-levelling air suspension which gave the car a plush, silky smooth ride with the anchors taking the form of fully power-assisted discs brakes all round.

The line-up for this generation is rather labyrinthine to say the least with myriad models, engines and options essentially spanning two cars but this particular later series W109 300 is equipped with the 3.5-litre V8 and while the muscular 6.3 was the undisputed king of the range and retains (quite rightly) its legendary status, the 3.5 was by no means lacking and it was still an impressive and hugely capable engine. Arguably the most useable of the bunch it bridged the gap nicely between the 2.8 and the 6.3. Producing approximately 200bhp the big German could get to 60mph in around 9 seconds and on to 130mph but it’s not really about speed with these sizeable, luxury Mercs – it’s about opulence and comfort and the prime example featured here is also fitted with a four-speed automatic gearbox which only adds to that more laid-back, wafty feel. The interior is suitably sumptuous too, featuring full leather, a walnut dash, electric windows, air conditioning and power steering – it’s a rather lovely place to be.

This right-hand-drive, low-owner car has covered a mere 48,000 miles which is a drop in the ocean for these big Mercs – as long as a decent service schedule has been adhered to – which is thankfully the case here. Apparently the car was also treated to a £40,000 restoration in the late ’80s by its original owner and although a lot can happen over the course of thirty-odd years, judging by the photos the car appears to have stood the test of time and still presents incredibly well. It has been in the hands of collectors for a long time and so has likely led an incredibly charmed life.

One of the greatest saloon cars ever made the Mercedes W109 300 SEL is a fine wine, a good cheese, in that it just keeps getting better with age. At the top of the luxury sedan pile it’s elegant, powerful and refined with just enough edge to keep it in that all-important cool category of classic cars. Seriously, just look at it. And while you may not be on the receiving end of any official salutes as you waft by you’ll most certainly get attention and what with the car being tax, MOT and ULEZ exempt you can at least pretend you have some diplomatic immunity.

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