The Mercedes-Benz 450SLC: Luxury coupe, armoured tank, or rally car?

February 6, 2018
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The Mercedes-Benz 450SLC is set to become a motoring classic. However, the 450SLC is much more than just an iconic luxury coupe. We’ve collected together some little known facts about the 450SLC, including its rally car heritage and the hidden qualities that make it truly unique.

True Blue Rally Heritage

Rally car racing hit fever pitch in the 1960s and 1970s, with marathon intercontinental rallies becoming popular. Rally competitions pit drivers and production-based cars against the most unforgiving environments on Earth, with strict rules around stoppages and servicing. Even today rallies are known as some of the toughest motorsport challenges in the world.

The World Rally Championship officially began in 1973 and quickly became the epitome of international rally car racing. In the 1978 rally season Mercedes-Benz decided to dip their proverbial toe in the water.

An Act of Folly

When Mercedes-Benz decided to get involved in the world of marathon rallies, competitions were dominated by small sedans – think the Fiat Abarth and Ford Escort. Mercedes-Benz didn’t have a small sedan. What they did have was a big, luxurious, 8 cylinder, automatic coupe known as the 450SLC.

In what must have seemed a ludicrous act of folly at the time, Mercedes-Benz simply added some skid plates, lights, and a roll cage to a production 450SLC and entered it in the Vuelta a la America del Sud – a gruelling five-week, 30,000km lap around South America that formed part of the 1978 World Rally Championship season.

A Surprising Victory

Perhaps to everyone’s surprise, after five weeks of slogging through South America, the Mercedes-Benz 450SLC came out on top.

The winning 450SLC was driven by Andrew Cowan (who would go on to start the Mitsubishi Ralliart team) with Timo Makinen (future Ferrari F1 director) as co-driver. Cowan reportedly said of the 450SLC, “It’s very comfortable and most enjoyable. I think the Mercedes has a major disadvantage because of its weight, but it’s very, very strong – it’s unbelievable how you can go over rough roads.”

A Car of Firsts

The following year four 450SLCs entered the Bandama Rally. They led the race from beginning to end, taking out the top four spots. The fourth placed 450SLC finished a whopping two hours ahead of the next car (a Toyota).

The Mercedes-Benz 450SLC became the first 8 cylinder car as well as the first car with an automatic transmission to win an international rally event. The 450SLC automatic transmission didn’t break once during any rally event – an extraordinary feat for technology never tested under such conditions before.

The Best or Nothing

As a luxury production vehicle, the Mercedes-Benz 450SLC was a car well ahead of its time. It came with air-conditioning, power steering, power windows, leather trim, and a sunroof as standard features.

With advanced crumple zone technology, it was also one of the safest cars on the market. Mercedes-Benz were pioneers of this technology in the 1960s when they designed their body shells to collapse in a progressive controlled manner in the event of a collision. In an era where airbags were unheard of, if you had to have a car crash, the Mercedes-Benz 450SCL was the car you wanted to be in.

In this sense, the 450SLC truly embodied the Mercedes-Benz slogan of “the best or nothing.”

Der Panzerwagen

Belying its luxurious good looks, the Mercedes-Benz 450SLC came to earn the nickname der Panzerwagen. Roughly translated, this means “the armoured car” or “the tank.”

A True Sports Car

All Mercedes-Benz cars come from a particular series, designated by a letter and number combination. The 450SLC, for example, comes from the C107 series. The series designation is unexpectedly significant in this instance, because this is the first time that a Mercedes-Benz coupe was built on a sports car (or roadster) platform as opposed to the more common passenger car platform.

Those of you who know a little something about Mercedes-Benz probably recognise vehicles from the “W” series as some of the most common Benz cars (e.g. W203 represents a C-Class Mercedes-Benz produced from 2000 to 2006). But did you know that the “W” stands for “wagen” or car? In contrast, “C” stands for “coupe” and “R” stands for roadster.

The convertible R107 vehicles were designed first and when it came time to develop a coupe (or hard top) version, Mercedes used the roadster platform as opposed to the conventional “wagen” platform. The C107 and the R107 vehicles are essentially the same car, except the C107 has a lightly longer wheelbase to accommodate the extra seats in the rear. Thus, C107 vehicles are the first true Benz sports coupes.

The Mercedes-Benz 450SCL has all the makings of a true motoring classic. Technologically ahead of its time, built like a tank, iconic luxury sports car status but with the soul of a rough and tumble rally car. What more could you ask for – except maybe to own one?

Luckily we have one of these super rare icons in stock now – check it out!

14 Comments

  • I have just purchased an Australian Delivery 450SLC, and I am about to restore it.
    There is nothing NOT to love about these cars.
    Absolutely one of Mercedes’ most glamorous cars.

    • We agree! Good luck with the restoration – would love to see some pictures as you go!

  • I am looking for a left hand drive,pre 1975 450SLC.I believe there is a German company building rally SLC cars.
    Does anyone have any information?
    Theo

  • Hi
    Is this wheels fit for mercedes 450SEL 6.9 model 1980 ?

    How much the set ?
    Size ?

  • Ahmad, they machine the offset to suit your car.

  • Ahmad, they come in 18×9 and 18×8 $1400 including machining

  • I recently bought an original 1974 450SLC & I absolutely love it.
    It needs a little attention aesthetically & mechanically but I could use it as my daily drive in its current condition.
    A tribute to forward thinking German technology.

  • I am looking for a good 450SLC right end drive phh50@me.com

  • Where are you located Pierre ?

  • I am going to look at a 1973 450SLC this Saturday. She looks in very good condition – and is in gold-coloured paint! I’ve seen photos and have had some chats with the seller. If I buy her, she will be on club plates and will be my weekend drive around town. Expectation is high!

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