It’s 50 years since the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3 arrived with the 6.3 litre V8 from the 600 and started an unstoppable rush to deliver saloon cars with sports car performance.
We take it for granted today that Mercedes makes saloon cars which can be specced to have the performance of a sports car, but it wasn’t always so.
The 1960s S-Class (W108/9) was a luxury car in the Mercedes mould; well-built, able, refined and expensive. But no one could accuse it of having sports car pretensions with its six-pot engines and adequate performance. One man, however had other ideas.
Mercedes test engineer Erich Waxenberger decided that what the S-Class really needed was the 6.3 litre V8 from the Mercedes 600, so he set about shoehorning the 600’s V8 in to the S-Class in a ‘private’ venture – and without company approval.
He was caught out when Rudolf Uhlenhaut, then head of MB’s Road Car Development, heard Waxenberger’s 300 SEL rumble by and demanded to know what was going on. When Waxenberger confessed he’d used the 6.3 litre V8 from the 600 in the 300 SEL Uhlenhaut did what any petrolhead would – hesigned it off for production.
So was born the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3 – which debuted at the Geneva Motor Show almost 50 years ago this week – delivering the first of what is now a long line of big Mercedes saloons quick enough to frighten the pants of a Porsche 911 on the Autobahn.
The 600’s V8 gave the 6.3 enough oomph to hit 62mph in 6.6 seconds, could cruise all day at 125mph five-up, had air suspension, fuel injection, all-round disc brakes, power steering and Air Con. In 1968.
The 300 SEL 6.3 stayed in production until 1972 when it was replaced by the 450 SEL 6.9, and so started the Mercedes ‘Supercar’ saloon lineage, which follows right through to today’s AMG S 63 and S 65.
Remarkably, a good condition 300 SEL 6.3 will probably cost you just half the price of a new AMG S 65. And it’ll only go up in price, which is something you can’t say for the S 63 and S65.