The large coupés from Mercedes-Benz: Dream cars and technical trendsetters

Sep 7, 2010
  • Long history of manufacturing top-flight two-door cars
  • Exclusive pacemaker in automotive development
The large coupés from Mercedes-Benz combine utmost exclusivity and ambitious design with trailblazing high-end technology. Building prestigious automobiles with a sporty note to meet the most exacting requirements was a carefully and intensely cultivated tradition at Mercedes-Benz long before the Second World War. For example, very rare coupé versions of the supercharged cars with the star on the bonnet were produced in the 1920s and 1930s. They are real eye-catchers even today and coveted witnesses to the culture of their period whose value and significance needn't fear comparison with precious paintings.
The luxury coupés never were mere variants of the saloons, but a clearly individual line within the model ranges. They also presented pioneering innovations in automotive technology. The 1961 220 SEb Coupé, for instance, was the first Mercedes production model to feature disc brakes. The Electronic Stability Program ESP® had its world premiere in the S 600 Coupé in 1995; the Active Body Control suspension system, in 1999 in the CL. In 2006 the PRE-SAFE® Brake, another technical innovation, debuted in a large Mercedes coupé. But aside from all such technical refinements, the coupés with the star primarily awaken emotions. Their appearance comes close to being an offensive of the senses. In short, Mercedes coupés have always been dream cars of the special kind – every one of them a classic.
1952: back in the elite class with the 300 S Coupé
Mercedes-Benz took up the tradition of the pre-war coupés again in October 1951, presenting the 300 S Coupé, the luxury-class coupé of the W 188 series, at the Paris Motor Show. General enthusiasm prevailed and the trade press was exuberant, speaking of a "world-class car". But the international public also was surprised since no one expected that a German motor manufacturer, virtually starting from nothing, could manage the transition from the post-war economy of shortages to the smooth production of exclusive luxury vehicles.
The 300 S Coupé that went into production in 1952 captivated viewers with the curves of its wings and its long bonnet. These stylistic elements represented "traditional and in this case especially finely shaped lines," as one contemporary commented. The refined coupé with its six-cylinder in-line engine developed 100 kW (150 hp), enabling a top speed of 175 km/h. "Able to cover longest distances in the shortest time with the least possible strain on body and nerves" was the message sent out to the coupé clientele, which included the American film stars Gary Cooper and Errol Flynn.
In 1955 Mercedes-Benz already presented the redesigned 300 Sc Coupé. Direct petrol injection instead of a carburettor made engine output climb to 129 kW (175 hp). In addition, from the 300 Saloon the new coupé adopted the single-joint swing axle, which further enhanced ride comfort. The fortunate combination of peak performance and handling safety with absolute elegance and quality was regarded by experts in those days as the "measure of what it is possible to achieve in automotive engineering". This judgement holds good to this day.
Between 1951 and 1958 only 314 units of the coupés of the ultra-exclusive W 188 model series were built. The small volume can be traced to the still relatively small market at that time. But the few post-war coupés still preserved today are some of the most sought-after collector's items and trade in the highest categories at auctions.
1956: the Ponton Coupé debuts
Ambitious design, trailblazing engineering and pleasurable motoring also merged to form a unified whole in the 220 S Coupé of the W 180 model series introduced in 1956. Like the 220 S Cabriolet this two-door car was based on the 220 S Saloon. All three body variants feature the characteristic pontoon-like integrated-design body with smooth flanks and no mounted wings or running boards. Quickly they got the catchy name "Ponton-Mercedes", a standing expression in the history of the automobile even today. Chrome-plated bumpers and foglamps lent the face of this coupé its character. For the first time a Mercedes-Benz coupé had a self-supporting body solidly welded to the frame-floor unit.
The 220 S Coupé originally came with a 74 kW (100 hp) in-line six-cylinder engine. A short time later the Mercedes engineers increased the engine output to 78 kW (106 hp). An improved front suspension made for increased ride comfort, as did the single-joint swing axle with low pivot point. As an optional extra for a price of 450 marks, from 1957 the customer could get a hydraulic-automatic clutch called "Hydrak".
The interior appointments were very up-market. The coupé came, for example, with polished fine wood trim for the instruments and leather upholstery as well as a stationary fan for the heating and ventilating unit. Contemporary press people described the coupé as a unity of "modern engineering and functional elegance". To boost performance, from September 1958 Mercedes-Benz offered the 220 SE of the W 128 model series with direct petrol injection for 1900 marks; it raised output to 85 kW (115 hp). The last variants built had 88 kW (120 hp) to offer.
Mercedes-Benz manufactured a total of 2081 units of the "Ponton" coupés 220 S and 220 SE. They too are much sought-after collectors' items today.
1961: styling and safety milestone
At the ceremonial opening of the museum at the Untertürkheim plant on 24 February 1961, Mercedes-Benz presented the 220 SEb Coupé. Its design and styling took their cue from the 220 SEb "Tailfin Saloon", so it was also assigned to the 111 series. On the full-length version of the 111 series frame-floor unit a fully fledged four-seater was created. Engine, suspension and the safety body principle were borrowed from the Saloon. The only major difference was at the same time a special technical feature: the 220 SEb Coupé was the first Mercedes-Benz production car to have disc brakes on the front wheels. It also had a padded steering wheel, 3-point seat belts and a new type of wedge-pin door lock that prevented the doors from bursting open in a collision. A little later the 300 SE Coupé with 118 kW (160 hp), a member of the 112 series, debuted at the Geneva Motor Show. Its standard equipment included a four-speed automatic transmission, air suspension and power-assisted steering.
An 88 kW (120 hp) six-cylinder served as drive for the 220 SEb Coupé. When production of the tailfin Saloon came to an end in 1965, the Coupé remained in the sales range along with the Cabriolet. However, the 2.2-litre engine was replaced by a 2.5-litre unit with 110 kW (150 hp) and the model designation became 250 SE Coupé. In January 1968 the 280 SE Coupé with a newly developed six-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2.8 litres and 118 kW (160 hp) replaced the 250 SE Coupé. At the same time the 3.0-litre variant was taken out of the line-up. In September 1969 a V8 engine with 147 kW (200 hp) debuted in the 280 SE 3.5 Coupé as harbinger of a new engine generation.
The Mercedes-Benz coupés proved ideal for the growing clientele of professional high-mileage drivers. The consequence: more than ten times as many coupés from the W 111 and W 112 model series were produced as from the previous "Ponton" series – exactly 28,918 units.
1971: safety is the agenda
In October 1971 Mercedes-Benz presented the 350 SLC of the next coupé generation at the Paris Motor Show. Unlike its predecessors, this model was not based on a luxury-class saloon, but shared the technical platform of the 350 SL Roadster. Apart from the fixed roof of the SLC, both 107 series variants were identical up to the rear edge of the door. The differences showed in the rear half of the car. A 36 millimetre longer wheelbase permitted designing the SLC as a fully fledged four-seater. Powered by a 147 kW (200 hp) V8, the Coupé also shared a number of safety-related design details with the Roadster. For example, the fuel tank was fitted above the rear axle for collision protection. In the interior the heavily padded dashboard, deformable or recessed switches and levers and the new four-spoke safety steering wheel with impact absorber and wide passed boss made for greatest possible impact protection. The large tail lights were insensitive to soiling because of their ribbed surface.
From April 1973, a second V8 engine with a displacement of 4.5 litres and 165 kW (225 hp) became available in the 450 SLC. A version of this engine with a lower-compression ratio and 143 kW (195 hp), adapted to the US emission control laws, had been in service since July 1972 in the North American version of the 350 SLC. In July 1974 the six-cylinder 280 SLC with 136 kW (185 hp) was added to the C 107 model range.
In September 1977, at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz presented the 450 SLC 5.0 as new top model. Outstanding innovation: the 5.0-litre light-alloy engine with 177 kW (240 hp), which later would enjoy a career in the S-Class and the SEC Coupé models. In 1980, in the wake of general model refinement measures the 450 SLC 5.0 became the 500 SLC. The 350 SLC was supplanted by the 380 SLC. Its 3.8-litre aluminium V8 developed 160 kW (218 hp). In the ten years in which they were built a total of 62,888 coupés of
the C 107 series were produced.
1981: concentrated power and agility on the S-Class platform
At the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1981 the Coupé variants 380 SEC and 500 SEC of the C 126 series were presented. They were again based on the S-Class Saloon now, and not the SL, which between 1971 and 1981 also had been offered as SLC Coupé. The floor assembly was 85 millimetres shorter than in the Saloon. Nevertheless, the SEC Coupés were fully fledged four-seaters. Their design too, with its elegant, harmonious lines, took its cue from the four-door cars, but gave a sense of even more concentrated power and agility.
Of course, the Coupé also complied with the high safety standard of the S-Class Saloon. An interesting piece of equipment was an electrically operated belt feeder that was part of the standard appointments and had the job of bringing the seat belt into the field of view of the driver and front passenger and into a position where they could easily reach it. As optional extras an airbag for the driver and a belt tensioner for the front passenger were available.
V8 engines, thoroughly revised under the "Mercedes-Benz Energy Concept" to reduce fuel consumption and pollutant emissions, ensured dynamic traction. The 380 SEC Coupé developed 150 kW (204 hp), the 500 SEC Coupé 170 kW (231 hp). In 1985 a comprehensive package of refinement measures including a discreet facelift brought mainly a restructured engine range. New was the V8 engine with 4.2 litres displacement. The 5.0-litre engine was also modified; it now had an electronic ignition and an electronically-mechanically controlled injection system. The most spectacular new development was the 5.6-litre V8 that delivered 200 kW (272 hp) and even 221 kW (300 hp) in a version with a higher compression ratio (but without catalytic converter).
The fascination that the big new coupé exuded can be clearly seen especially in the figures: 74,060 units of the C 126 model series were built. These coupés, for some fans the "epitome of the touring car", rank among the sought-after
Mercedes-Benz "young classics" today.
1992: a first twelve-cylinder
In January 1992 the North American International Auto Show in Detroit provided the stage for the premiere of the new SEC Coupé models of the C 140 series. Initially, Mercedes-Benz offered two variants: the 500 SEC with 235 kW (320 hp) V8 engine and the 600 SEC with a V12 delivering 290 kW (394 hp). They were based on the S-Class Saloon introduced in 1991. A distinctive design and clear, composed forms with discreet lines of force which exuded dynamism and unpretentious sportiness distinguished the new coupés.
As with its other car models, in June 1993 Mercedes-Benz introduced new model designations for the coupés of the S-Class. The 600 SEC, for instance, became the S 600 Coupé. To meet the high demand, in March 1994 the coupé family was beefed up with the 205 kW (279 hp) S 420 Coupé.
The S 600 Coupé featured two fundamental innovations when it appeared: in May 1995 a completely new 5-speed automatic transmission with slip-controlled torque converter lockup clutch was introduced whose sophisticated electronic controls cut fuel consumption. An innovation of even more fundamental significance in historical terms was the Electronic Stability Program ESP®, which supports the driver in critical situations by counteracting an instability-creating force through selective sensor-controlled braking intervention, thus improving handling safety. Since then, ESP® is regarded as proof of future-minded safety engineering in vehicle manufacture and has gained acceptance throughout the industry.
In 1996 the model designations for the coupés were changed once more. Now the model series was dubbed CL, which was supposed to indicate that the big coupés have taken over the pacemaker function for a whole coupé family. 26,022 units of the C 140 were built.
1999: into the new millennium with pioneering high-end technology
From autumn 1999 the new CL Coupé of the C 215 series went on display in dealer showrooms. Initially there was only the CL 500 with V8 engine and
225 kW (306 hp), to which the 270 kW (367 hp) CL 600 with twelve-cylinder engine was added in early 2000. Design, engines and appointments of the CL provided excellent proof of the innovative prowess of the Stuttgart automaker. The long, flat bonnet, the dynamic tension created by the roof line, the distinctive rear end and the expressive twin headlamps characterised a design that radiated both elegance and sportiness. Dispensing with B-pillars made the basic body appear light.
The standard equipment included a comprehensive safety package with various airbags. A standard feature, unique in the world up until then, was the novel suspension system Active Body Control (ABC); it almost completely compensates for rolling and pitching motions during cornering, on moving off, and during braking. As standard the twelve-cylinder of the CL 600 had an automatic cylinder cut-out function that was also available as an optional extra for the eight-cylinder in the CL 500; it reduces fuel consumption in the partial load range. From autumn 2000 the CL 55 AMG "F1 Limited Edition" of 55 units was available. It was the first car in the world licensed for road use that had a brake system with ceramic brake discs. In 2001 the CL 63 AMG with 326 kW (444 hp) followed.
In 2002 a facelift resulted in a discreetly changed front end and rear end. A major innovation was the V12 engine with twin turbochargers in the CL 600, which developed 368 kW (500 hp) and delivered maximum torque of 800 Newton metres. From autumn 2002 a supercharged V8 engine with a displacement of 5.5 litres and 265 kW (360 hp) powered the CL 55 AMG, and in autumn 2003 the 450 kW (612 hp) CL 65 AMG was added; it delivered torque of 1000 Newton metres.
With the C 215 model series Mercedes-Benz continued its coupé tradition with undiminished success: through May 2006 48,000 units were built.
2006: new masterwork among the luxury coupés
Highest exclusivity, sophisticated design and trailblazing high-end technology also distinguished the CL-Class of the C 216 series which drove into the public limelight in autumn 2006. Typical of the visual appeal of the new masterwork of the Stuttgart automaker is the interplay of clear-cut, taut lines with large tranquil surfaces. Familiar Mercedes features present themselves in a contemporary interpretation, reconciling tradition and modernity. Examples of this are the Mercedes-typical radiator grille with the wide chrome louvres, the fully retractable side windows without B-pillars, and the C-pillar which tapers towards the bottom (first seen in the 220 SEb Coupé in 1961).
Elegance in the interior too: through the large side window the gaze wandered over a beautifully designed dashboard, high-quality wood trim and soft leather upholstery. It became immediately clear that in the CL everything serves comfort and relaxation. Automatic climate control, COMAND with radio and CD/DVD player as well as a sliding glass sunroof were standard appointments that conduce to a fantastic driving experience.
As an optional extra, dynamic multicontour seats were available. In the CL 600 they were standard equipment. The list of technical innovations included the standard-fit Intelligent Light System with five different lighting functions that switch themselves on depending on the driving situation and the weather.
The anticipatory occupant protection system PRE-SAFE® installed at the factory was complemented by Mercedes-Benz for the first time with the PRE-SAFE® Brake, which initiates automatic, partial braking action in the acute risk of an accident. It works together with the Brake Assist PLUS (BAS PLUS), which warns the driver visually and audibly of an imminent head-to-tail crash and automatically calculates the braking pressure necessary to avert the crash. Both systems, as well as the Parking Guidance system newly developed for the CL, are based on radar technology. One year after the debut of the C 216, as further innovation the radar-based Blind Spot Assist arrived.
For the C 216 model series Mercedes-Benz again offered the most powerful engines in the entire range: the eight-cylinder in the CL 500 now delivered 285 kW (388 hp). Under the bonnet of the prestigious CL 600 the twelve-cylinder biturbo engine, uprated to 380 kW (517 hp), developed its impressive power. Still more power was offered beginning in 2007 by the CL 63 AMG with 386 kW (525 hp) and the CL 65 AMG with 450 kW (612 hp).
2010: new yardstick for efficiency among the luxury coupés
From autumn 2010 the new generation of the C 216 takes on a role as trailblazer in the area of drive systems. Under the bonnet of the CL 500 BlueEFFICIENCY and the CL 500 4MATIC BlueEFFICIENCY a new V8 biturbo engine with BlueDIRECT technology unleashes its power. With its 4663 cubic centimetres displacement, the eight-cylinder engine produces 320 kW (435 hp) so that despite 0.8 litres less displacement, it is still around 12 percent more powerful than its predecessor. At the same time, torque was raised from 530 Newton metres to 700 Newton metres – an increase of 32 percent. Combined NEDC consumption, on the other hand, drops by around 22 percent to 9.5 litres of premium petrol per 100 kilometres for the rear-wheel drive version.
The BlueDIRECT technology package of the V8 biturbo engine comprises a number of new developments which are unique in their combination. They include third-generation spray-guided direct injection featuring piezo injectors and multi-spark ignition with up to four ignition sparks within a millisecond. Together both enable an innovative combustion process called "homogenous split". The luxury coupé's technology package also includes the ECO start/stop function.
The 380 kW (517 hp) twelve-cylinder biturbo remains the flagship model. From Mercedes-AMG come the high-performance coupés CL 63 AMG with 400 kW (544 hp) V8 biturbo engine (5.5 litres displacement) and CL 65 AMG with 463 kW (630 hp) twelve-cylinder (6 litres displacement). As option, for the CL 63 AMG the AMG Performance package, which involves an increase in power to 420 kW (571 hp), can be ordered.
In addition, with the Active Lane Keeping Assist and Active Blind Spot Assist two new driver assistance systems have their premiere in the CL (at the same time as in the S-Class). They are able to respond actively and act autonomously in the event an accident threatens, in order to avoid accidents or mitigate their consequences.