Effortlessness

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Just before retiring as Mercedes-Benz (UK) Ltd’s public relations manager, Erik Johnson suggested I should acquaint myself with Stuttgart’s 560SEL saloon. It was a welcome experience for one who has long regarded cars with the three-pointed badge as the best-engineered in the world.

This four-door 5.6-litre V8-cylinder Mercedes lived up to its great reputation, but there is little need for me to describe all its amenities in detail, since AH has already fully road-tested the 560SEC coupe version of the latest S-class models (MOTOR SPORT, January 1987), and I can only agree with all he said about this largest of the current range of Mercedes-Benz private cars.

Everything about the 5605EL is logically arranged, and functions to perfection. The instruments are so clear you think at first they must be illuminated in conjunction with the side-lamps. The leather-upholstered seats are supremely comfortable, if you like slippery surfaces, and their electric adjustment with inbuilt “memory” is immaculate — my wife’s muscular pains disappeared while she was a Mercedes passenger.

All the minor controls are likewise logically contrived and placed. In some cars one would look askance at the return of an “umbrella-handle’ handbrake on the fascia, but as used by Mercedes it is simplification itself! External door handles simply pull out to open the big doors; these do need a slam to shut them, but their “keeps” are fully effective. The electric sun-roof functions quietly, and the central-locking has a slight but reassuring delay action.

The automatic transmission possesses that excellent gate, and works so smoothly it changes gear almost unnoticed. There is an economy setting for the gear-holds, but I doubt whether a 560SEL owner is troubled too much about fuel consumption which, in any case, will be better than 20 mpg if the Mercedes is driven normally.

This is a very large car, but is easy to park thanks to the very good steering-lock. Its power-steering has no trace of that over-lightness found on some luxury cars. One (right-hand) stalk control suffices for multiple wiper operations, turn-indicators, and lamp-dipping, but I was surprised to find Daimler-Benz has copied the Japanese in having audible warning of open doors with lamps alight. The beams, full or dipped, give excellent night vision.

Mercedes’ convenience-features include air-conditioning, divided heat/fresh air supplies from easy-to-operate thumb-wheels, quiet electric window-lifts, laminated glass all round, locking which is specially planned to be thief-proof beyond the usual call of car locks, the fuel filler-flap and boot lid incorporated in the central action; the master key double-locks the very spacious boot and glove compartment, a secondary key, doors and ignition only. I could continue to list such items, but suffice it to say that, added to quite effortless high-performance, they explain why the S-series Mercedes-Benz is being produced at the rate of more than 100,000 per year, with discerning Formula One drivers among the satisfied customers.

There is little point in discussing performance under present restrictive speed limit conditions, except to say that the light-alloy 5547 cc engine, with CIS-EIII fuel injection, EZL electronic microprocessor-controlled ignition, hydraulic tappets and a chain-driven overhead camshaft above each cross-flow cylinder head develops 300 bhp at 5000 rpm and provides speed and acceleration which can be termed “more than adequate”!

In fact, this fine power-unit runs to 6000 rpm and gives the big saloon a top pace of around 145 mph and 0-60 mph pick-up in just over seven seconds — though Daimler-Benz makes practically no play on this very exciting performance in its sales literature. Yet withal, this big engine with 10:1 cr and 335 lb ft torque at 3750 rpm, idles inaudibly; and at speed the loudest sound within the car was subdued road noise from the tubeless Pirelli P6 215/65 VR15 tyres on the test car. The curb weight is 3991 lb and the fuel tank holds 19.8 gallons. ABS braking is reassuring with such power and pace.

Despite occasional bump-thump from the rear suspension, overall this is luxury motoring personified. I agree with AH that the steering wheel is too large: the arm which in the coupé with its long doors offers you the seatbelt is not of course fitted to this four-door, but there are no concessions, apart from the aforementioned Japanese one, to change for the sake of change.

The price of £52,750 for the basic concept is affordable for many people, otherwise Stuttgart would not be building so many of these superbly engineered and beautifully contrived cars— and others who crave them find the outlay somehow. I drove to the VSCC Weston-super-Mare speed trials in the 560SEL, and as Roger Collings was leaving his 1903 60 hp Mercedes in Bristol and wanted a lift home, we ran in convoy: two Mercedes, each a top car of its era. WB