Speedy Sedan: Euro 1978 Mercedes 450SEL 6.9

The Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 was a high-performance version of the W116 platform.

W116 were the legendary flagship sedan produced by Mercedes from 1972 to 1979, making it the luxury car of the '70s, owned and driven by anyone who was anybody back then, such as heads of state, oil tycoons, athletes and movie stars.

They were great cars, perhaps the first real modern Mercedes sedan. They looked really good and were built even better.

This is a 1978 Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 being offered for sale.

You've got to love the numbering code used by Mercedes and the ease with which it is deciphered. The "450" typically designates a 4.5-litre 8-cylinder engine. "SEL" tells us it's the extended wheelbase, which is essentially a slightly stretched chassis for extra rear passenger leg room.

So this is already an exemplary vehicle.

But the "6.9" is what pushes it into the realm of greatness. These were produced in limited numbers from 1975-1979, totaling 7380 worldwide, probably about a third of which survive today. They have an even bigger 6.9-litre 8-cylinder engine that is capable of speeds up to 150mph.

Typically, when you think of 1970s European cars, you think of a costly mechanical and electrical nightmare, especially 30+ years after the fact, when maintenance history isn't always complete. Not true with the W116 platform cars and the 6.9. It actually seems like Mercedes purposely designed the 6.9 to minimize maintenance as much as possible, thanks to a dry sump oil system, where oil is circulated from storage to the engine, as opposed to a typical pan and pump found in most vehicles. Therefore since the system automatically circulated the oil, the car didn't need to have the oil changed as often as other cars. This meant more time on the road, less time in the shop.

To add a icing on the cake, this is apparently a grey-market European-specification car, meaning it was specially imported into the United States sometime in the past.

This is key. One of great travesties in U.S. automotive history was the power given to the federal government to regulate the auto industry, probably largely thanks to Ralph Nader and a bunch of slick lawyers. It created inane guidelines that were counter-intuitive and detrimental to design. This was especially true for imported vehicles, which had to meet U.S. specification guidelines. From the '60s to the late '80s this resulted in a myriad of superior European designs being downgraded and de-tuned in order to be able to legally sell their vehicles here. The results were most noticeable on headlights and bumpers, especially for Mercedes and BMW sold here. Since U.S. DOT mandated that cars sold here must have bumpers that withstand a slow-speed 5mph crash, European automakers were forced to add on larger and unsightly bumpers to all U.S.-bound vehicles, at their own expense as well. Headlights had to be single-unit sealed beam lamps, which resulted in both another cosmetic and technological step backwards.

This car has none of that.

Instead, you get a much better looking car, the way the manufacturer originally intended it to look, along with various other upgrades outlawed by the DOT like more horsepower and hydro-pneumatic self-leveling suspension, which raises and lowers the height of the vehicle via a knob on the dashboard.

This example looks terrific in white with the square Euro lamps and small, short slim chrome bumpers that flaunt the clean, muscular lines and now-classic shape. The color, car and location all go together great, as white keeps a car cooler in the Florida sun and looks good against the lush tropical landscape of Miami. The 4-doors and powerful engine guarantee it will be a cozy hauler to the beach, country club or weekends to and from the Florida Keys.

The seller states it has less thank 89,900 original miles. They do not state if the odometer is in kilometers, which would be European metrics, but I assume if it was they've converted it for the listing. The car has had at least two owners, the last being a little old lady since 1991, which is good.

The seller mentions this 6.9 was in storage and will need a tune-up. Cosmetically, they say it's had at least one repaint, which if kept the original white is not much to worry about as flat colors are much easier to replicate then metallic paint. They say it does have some bubbling on the bottom of the front driver's side door. If that's all the paint flaws there are it's not an issue. Most older Mercedes have much worse, so I personally would overlook it.

The Euro headlights, handsome as they are, look a little tired. They either just need a cleaning or may need to be replaced entirely, which is costly.

I also note some chips front grille slats, very typical of the older Mercedes. I'm not sure what the solution to that is, but rest assured it's been solved by somebody.

On the inside they say the leather is good but the dashboard is cracking, typical of older German cars exposed long-term to heat and sun. I imagine it's a hard fix as it would probably just require a whole new dash unit, so I would put a dash cover over it to hide the flaws and protect it from getting worse.

Mechanically they say it runs and shifts smoothly, but the brakes may need replacement.

Find it here on ebay for sale in Miami FL with 2 days left, 2 bids at $205, and reserve not met. I also found the dealer website with more photos and information here. They say they are asking $9,999 but say it's negotiable. That's a lot of money for a '70s sedan, but this car has so much going for it: a solid platform to start with, the very rare 6.9 model, Euro-spec right here in the U.S. and in excellent shape and relatively low miles to top it off. If you're going to get a 6.9, something like this should be the one, especially because it's a Euro-spec car. The U.S. cars are really ugly and take away from the experience. The CPI Value Guide estimates a '78 450SEL 6.9 at $4,000 fair condition, $7,700 good and $16,150 excellent. I would rate this as good, so a target price should be from $6,500k-$9,000k, making you and most reasonable sellers happy.

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