Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
The nineteen-eighties were a boom-time for pricey, flashy motors – the clichés of city boys in red braces and 930 Turbos rang true, although they didn’t all fancy widowmaker sports cars; those who wanted the proles to spy their Omega Seamasters as they cruised past had a posh new range of Mercedes Sonderklasse models to choose from. The W126 built on the luxurious reputation of its W116 predecessor, bulked itself up as if it had been photocopied at 120%, and set about showing the world exactly how money talked.
An interesting point to consider is the involvement of AMG in these swanky luxo-barges. The development and launch of the W126 all occurred some time before Mercedes-Benz (or rather, DaimlerChrysler) took a controlling interest in AMG in 1990; before that, AMG Motorenbau und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH had operated as its own independent entity – an engineering firm specialising in tuning Mercedes-Benz products, although they did dabble in other brands too (AMG Mitsubishi Galant, anyone?). The first commercially available, official AMG Mercedes was the C36 in 1993. So unlike today, when it’s possible to walk into a Mercedes-Benz showroom and choose from a variety of official AMG models, it was more the case that an AMG W126 was a bespoke affair, looked on kindly by M-B but by no means officially sanctioned. They were hugely popular though, with AMG offering tuning options and body kits for all W126s – saloons, coupés, even limousines – as well as an ostentatious wide-body kit for the coupé. And of course, there was their celebrated 6.0-litre DOHC V8 to whet the appetites of the high net worth speedfreaks.
So, what do those crazy badges mean? Well, that’s a sort of in-joke for Mercedes-Benz aficionados. In period, companies such as Trasco, Chameleon and Robert Jankel Design would modify W126s for discerning customers, basing the nomenclature on the principle that ‘a 1000SEL is twice as good as a 500SEL’. There are no hard-and-fast rules regarding what a 1000 or 1001 is because it’s an ethereal concept; if it’s modified and opulent, you can call it a 1000 if you so wish… and if you want to go further beyond that, why not spec yourself a 5000SEL, or even a 10000? The width of the bootlid is the limit, really.
This particular example, luxuriating in the concours arena of the Retro Show at Santa Pod, is displaying many of the swanky trappings of the era; things that today we'd pigeonhole as 'VIP-style': split-rims with gold bolts, gold-plated badges, full-width interior curtains - this is a car for oil barons and despots. Aviator shades, linen suits and Cuban cigars are all essential. This car doesn't just own the road, it has little interest in anything else on it. It's a scary, scary thing.
More photos from the 2015 Retro Show here.