EUROPEAN Editor Harold Dvoretsky slipped down to Spain for a few weeks holiday and cracked first drive in the sparkling new 4.5 litre V8 Merc - and found suggestions of a 6.9 litre version still to come.
The "S" stands for safety in the new range of S-series Mercedes Benz sedans just released in Europe.
They're the most radical Mercedes ever - conceived more than six years ago, their early release date was frustrated by the doodling of the legislative bureaucrats.
Eventually, Mercedes beat the problem by going further than the legislators were capable of thinking.
These are the top news-points in the new range:
- New suspension including progressive anti-dive geometry.
- New automatic gearboxes.
- Longer wheelbase - by 5 in.
- Only marginally longer body.
- Two new V8 capacities - 4.5 and 6.9 litres.
- Longer wheelbase Grosser.
From the brand new front suspension with its built-in progressive anti-dive geometry, mixed with the semi-trailing arm rear suspension introduced last year, right through to the bigger safety bodies and new automatics, these S series Mercs are really new.
Next year, the new three-car range with a choice of Twin Cam six-cylinders and a V8 engine will be augmented by a giant 6.9 litre V8-powered sedan and longer wheelbase Grosser, plus a 4.5 litre V8.
Australian deliveries should start in April. By a stoke of good fortune, I was the first of the British journalists to try out the new range.
It happened when I was down on my Spanish retreat trying to escape the Editor's requests. I'd planned the trip months ago.
Then Dirk Strassi ("Dirk The Merc" as we call him), the Daimler Benx PRO sent out the invite to visit the Costa Brava and the most fabulous hotel on that coastline - the Cap Sa Sal.
It was here Dirk, a linguist of some repute who majored in Spanish at the Barcelona university and knows the Brave Coast as well as his home country, decided two years ago to release the 10 still secret S-class cars.
And he didn't mess around. With typical Teutonic thoroughness, he came to deal with the Governor of Gerona to resurface 15 kilometres of road from Agua Blava through Palfrugell and back again in time for the release.
The Cap Sa Sal hotel with its 230 bedrooms, its two swimming pools (one fresh, one salt) an elevator which goes down through the cliffs from the centre of the hotel several hundred feet to the sea, seven restaurants, bars, cinema, was to be the focal point.
For me, he couldn't have chosen better - though I admit I am worried that a lot more people now know of my quiet Spanish retreat.
Cap Sa Sal is about 85 miles from Barcelona, 45 miles from the French border on the loveliest of bays in the Costa Brava. My hideout, in Calella De Palafrugell is 11 miles by road away - and that's how I got to drive the cars first and almost in my own time on the specially closed road circuit.
Mercs had taken 25 cars down - a mixture of 280S and 280SE, six-cylinder powered sedans and the 350SE.
But also in the group were a few special 4.5 litre V8 powered cars with tighter suspensions.
The idea at first was not to let others than a chosen few drive these cars. But Mercs relented and in the end there could only have been a few who didn't sample what was supposed to have been a secret car.
The circuit comprised some sweeping esses and fast corners, through the tight little cork town of Palafruggel and its market place then down a four mile fast straight away then back up through some esses to Agua Blava take off point. The Guardia (Police) kept out the local donkey carts though stray dogs occasionally beat them.
Dirk knows his cars, he knows a good circuit. And while most of us would probably prefer to go wandering off on a 250 mile drive and "live" with a new car to find its virtues and failings, a 10-mile road circuit is better than a three-mile race circuit.
The design for the new S-class was frozen three years ago. The new cars are marginally bigger than the older ones - 2 in. longer, 2 in. wider and an inch lower. But the main impact comes in the wheelbase - they are 5 in. longer, or an inch longer than the old 300SEL. Internally the cars are again only marginally bigger - the extra length and width having gone into the safety designing.
The new car took a lot of its body safety ideas from the Merc ESV and suspension ideas from the C111 sports car. Because of the extra strengthening the new Mercs are heavier than those they replace by about 200 lbs. But despite a slightly lower capacity for the DOHC sixes (from 2778cc to 2746cc), the new engine churns out more horses 160bhp instead of the old 140bhp while the revs go up only 300rpm to 5500rpm.
So while the power/weight ratio is affected, the performances have hardly been touched.
The 280S with a higher final drive ratio (to 3.69 from 3.92) manages a top speed of 118mph with the tacho hovering in the 6000rpm mark (the engine's saf limit is given as 6500rpm).
The 280SE (injected) with its extra 25bhp has the same gearing as the 280S and moves a bit faster both off-the-mark and up to top speed of around 127mph. Most of the cars provided for test came with the new torque-convertor and four speed Merc automatics - the four-speed for the lower powered six and the three-speed for the 200bhp V8. (Mercs old automatic used a fluid flywheel). It's a really good automatic and one of which Merc can be rightly proud.
While Mercs have always gone out to provide a safe car in a crash, they also believe in the philosophy of preventing the crash before it happens.
The new front suspension was developed from that used in the experimental Wankel-engined sports car C111. This is the first Merc front suspension which doesn't have a front axle carrier or subframe.
Mercs describe the suspension as being a "double wishbone" system, but to me it is really a single lower wishbone connected in such a way via lever arms to a stabiliser bar above and aft of the axle centre line to act as a double wishbone (sort of mirrored Ford MacPherson layout).
The lower triangular wishbones are fixed at the front-end directly to a crossmember welded between the chassis side members via a common cross member. The pivoting action between the upper and lower "wishbones" acts in such a way to increase anti-dive control with increased deceleration. Cleverly devised - and it works.
Directional stability is excellent and the only adverse effect of the combined front and rear suspension I noticed was a slight need for course correction when hit by a sudden crosswind during high speed running.
By enlarging the angle of lock, a smaller turning circle of 37.5ft has been achieved despite the increased wheelbase. Gas-filled shock absorbers are used and for the 280 and 350 cars these are the same. The 4.5 litre car to be released next year has heavier duty shocks and the whole spring rate is increased.
Despite direct mounting of the front suspension, and rubber bushes only being used at the rear, these new Mercs are quiet over most surfaces. Corrugated and bumpy gravel roads produced some shocks at low speed. But anything above 45mph smoothed both ride and noise out.
But I wouldn't say they are as quiet as the Jaguar XJ12 at speeds around 100mph. Perhaps a big car test one day jumping from one car to another might disprove this, though I don't think so.
The introduction of the nsw S-class has also meant that Mercs have now swung completely over to radial ply tyres for all models... the 280S goes on to 185X14in. and the 350SE has low profile 205/70X14. Steering is power assisted and delightfully accurate.
Mercs now sell something like 80 percent of all their big cars with automatic transmission. Frankly I think such a car deserves one. The gain, using a manual even by the most deft enthusiast is so small, as to be almost negligible both in top speed and acceleration.
There is naturally some loss through the torque convertor, but most Merc owners won't worry about the extra bit of consumption or the loss in acceleration. The manual stick shift I tried on a couple of cars wasn't anything to rave about - syncro was rather slow and stick movements a trifle long.
I worked my way up through the new range, and my first reaction was that the lower-powered cars handled better than the 350SE. Then I tried the four 4.5 litre car. Terrific. The extra stiffening (which apparently will be available in the 280S and the 350SE as an optional extra later) virtually wiped out roll, and the fast esses could be taken in a much neater fashion. Indicated top speed was around 137mph - speedo reading.
Some days later, I tried out a 350SE which was supposed to have a stiffer suspension, but frankly it felt just like the original cars I tried.
Mercs have provided an extra gear for the 280S automatic and it was evident during a run up the straight, that the smaller car could just out-accelerate the three speed autos fitted to the 350SE.
It wasn't possible to carry out acceleration tests on the course provided (stopping on the narrow straight with other cars following on behind would have been plain bloody dangerous) but I think Merc's figures of 0-62mph in 9.5secs for the V8 and 11.5secs for the 2.8 litre cars would be accurate.
The 4.5 litre car is obviously faster. This bigger engine will be installed in two different cars next year (though not stated, I would think one would be the new S-class body and the other the coupe introduced earlier this year).
Towards the end of next year, a 6.9 litre V8 (which will succeed the present 6.3 litre) will be installed in the 300SEL body. At the upper end of this range, one version of the body will be 100mm longer with more room in the rear compartment.
There were some lovely pieces of detail about these new cars. Extras include headlamp wipers and washers, an electric sliding sunshine roof which, if it failed, could be manually operated from the luggage compartment. The fuel tank capacity has been increased to 96 litre (21.5galls) from 81 litres (18galls), the boot is bigger, but the spare is under the luggage floor.
The inertia-reel safety belts which are concealed in the central pillar, are the best for comfort I have yet come across. There is space in the rear shelf for a handy sized first-aid kit - which I have a feeling is going to become mandatory before long.
© December 1972 Modern Motor, Australia.