Mercedes and the W126 coupe
The first Mercedes Benz coupe was the 220 in 1951 with the folding roof of the cabriolet replaced by a sheet metal top. From there a number of classic Mercedes models appeared over the years. 1952 saw the type 300S Coupe introduced which lead to the Gullwing 300SL in 1955.
In 1961 the 220SE coupe and cabriolet were introduced and over the next ten years over 33,000 coupes and cabriolets were produced.
The story of the Mercedes coupe the V8 engine and the S class begins in September 1969 when the 3.5 litre V8 engine became an option in the 280SE coupe. For some time the SLC led the way as a derivative of the SL model with a hard top until the all new SEC was launched in 1981.
Using years of research and wind tunnel development the Mercedes designers achieved a drag coefficient of 0.34. The new SEC body shape was 14% more efficient than the SLC and 6% better than the saloon models. The new 380 and 500SEC models used a shortened version of the S class saloon floor pan. The length of the car between the centre cross member and rear suspension attachment points was reduced by 3 inches. The lowering of the car by 1.2 inches completes the dramatic look of the SEC Coupe.
Larger doors made it easier to get in and out of the back seats and the rear quarter light had the unique feature of being a plain glass panel that dropped to the waistline leaving the side opening completely clear. To maintain strength the screen pillar was braced to the front bulkhead by a steel rod inserted into the pressings and welded at each end. Windows were electric with central locking covering the boot lid and fuel filler.
The bonnet, boot lid, and rear bulkhead were made from aluminium skins wrapped over steel frames to reduce weight. The S class body design elements that control water flow and spray in dirty weather were retained in the Coupe.
Neat design features included windscreen wipers concealed under the rear of the bonnet edge and plastic deflectors on door handles to keep them clean.
One issue that was ingeniously overcome was the mounting of the front seat belts. The top seat belt mounting is positioned some way behind the seat which made it difficult to turn around and reach. The solution was an electric ‘seat belt presenter’ that delivers the buckle to the seat occupant on as support arm. Front seats fold forward to allow rear access and secured by pneumatic locks.
Electronic temperature control for the interior runs from 16 degrees C to 32 degrees C.
The extremely powerful 3.8 litre and 5.0 litre engines produced the UK motorway speed limit of 70mph at 2,200 to 2,300rpm.
Coupe Production and competition
Coupe production was limited to between 7,000 and 10,000 examples per year making the W126 coupe a rear beast in any market. (the UK imported around 10% of this total production).
When the 380SEC was launched in the UK in 1982 list price was £26,000 with options taking the price to £29,000. The 500SEC was a further £3,000. The rivals were priced at £20,000 (Jaguar XJS), £23,000 (BMW 635i) and £25,000 (Porsche 928S) – clearly the Mercedes had to be an excellent package in order to sell. With the major magazine Autocar stating ‘Life with the SEC will be one of total delight for all who travel in the car’ Mercedes could afford to be confident.
By 1985 the flagship 560SEC Coupe model was launched. The Mercedes Benz S Class W126 560SEC – the finest sports Coupe in the world. It is that model that is the main focus of this website.