Mercedes S600 Coupe (C140) | The Brave Pill

After the exotic heights of last week's Ferrari 360 Modena, Pill is returning to more familiar territory: an XL Mercedes with a hefty V12 stuffed in its (very) blunt end. Our last example from this courageous genre was a twin-turbocharged W221 S-Class which threatened to knock zeros off its next owner's net worth. This week's Pill is older, squarer and probably slightly less likely to leave financial scars.

While clay is traditionally used to model future cars, this S-Class has always looked as if it was knocked up by a monumental stonemason out of a huge lump of granite. The W140 saloon was available with two wheelbases, but our Pill is the much rarer C140 Coupe in range-topping S600 spec.

This was the Merc for those who wanted to demonstrate they were considerably richer than yow. Back in 1994 it carried a list price of Β£99,300 - Β£1000 more than the SL600 - and sat at the very top of the Mercedes price list. Yes, there were AMG versions, but they were technically aftermarket conversions.

Not that this brutish S-Class really got on with the era it was launched into, in either two- or four-door guise. Mercedes started work on the design as long ago as 1981, the car being originally scheduled for launch in 1989, and the brief matched the spirit of excess - as big and imposing as possible. Beyond the lack of rear doors the coupe's obvious visual difference was smaller headlights, giving a look that could be likened to a big gut hanging over a tight pair of jeans.

But the delay until 1991 meant the S missed the 'eighties party and arrived just in time for the banging hangover of the early 'nineties global recession. There was also a strange new hippyish notion that was being described as "environmental awareness." Against which, a 2.2-tonne luxo-barge with the proportions of a concrete gun emplacement and a V12 engine that struggled to better its cylinder count in mpg wasn't really in keeping with the spirit of the (new) age.

Of course, in some parts of the world the full-spec S-Class got a far keener welcome. As the Iron Curtain fell off its railings the former Communist Block was quick to embrace the concepts of both capitalism and organised crime, and the biggest, baddest Merc of them all became a great way of demonstrating both wealth and the ability to leave horses' heads in enemies' beds. One murdered Russian mobster loved his car so much he was buried under a vast tombstone carved to look like a W140.

The saloon never sold in the volumes the previous W126 had managed, but the coupe managed tiny numbers. Throughout eight years Merc made more than 400,000 saloons but only 26,000 coupes, of which just 8500 were 600s. There were various rebrandings - it launched as an SEC before becoming a straight S and then a CL - but across all versions fewer than 300 V12s reached the UK.

Yet behind the staid design the S600 was seriously quick, at least for as long as its driver wanted to go in straight lines. The almighty 'M120' V12 made 402hp without forced induction, or indeed apparent effort, delivering urge as smoothly as a freshly buttered turbine. The official 6.6-second 0-62mph time proved slightly pessimistic under testing, and German owners soon worked out that it was possible to bypass the still-novel 155mph electronic speed limiter. Do that and find enough stretch of straight Autobahn and a fully lit S-Class could reportedly hit 179mph. Small wonder this engine went onto power the Pagani Zonda.

The C140's handling was less impressive, but also less relevant. One contemporary road test likened trying to make faster progress to trying to dance with a fat woman, not the sort of comment that would be deemed appropriate in these enwokened times. Mercedes had planned to offer air suspension but couldn't get the system to work well enough for its liking and on steel springs with softish dampers the S's defining press-on trait was roll and squeal, the latter likely to come from both tyres and passengers. Steering assistance is like the helm of a supertanker - light and short on feedback.

It is far better to sit back, relax, look down the gunsight badge at the end of the vast bonnet and enjoy still-impressive refinement. This S-Class was the first Merc to get double glazing, and even now the cabin should be whisper quiet at big speeds. There were some very odd toys, including an optional power-operated internal rear view mirror controlled by a small joystick on the dash - and this was also the Merc that pioneered soft-close doors. Our Pill is slightly too early to have the then pioneering stability control that was fitted to later models, but it does get the ASR traction management with a dashboard light that will flash admonition whenever this is triggered.

Oh, have a look at the rear wings: see what look like the top of power-operated radio aerials, one on each side? They aren't, rather they are 'parking wands', two small metal poles that motor up whenever the car is put in reverse to make it slightly easier to judge where the back of the bootlid is and cut down on expensive crunching sounds. It was only offered briefly, later versions of the 140 clan being modern enough to have radar sensors, making this car an interesting piece of history.

Which segways us neatly to the vendor's claim that this car boasts a full service history. This may well be the case - it may all be there - but the bits listed in the ad reveal and obvious and substantial chasm between the main dealer services listed in 2008 and 2014. It could be that the car fell into a period of specialist care that our seller doesn't deem worthy of extensive documentation, but equally comprehensive list of MOTs make clear the car was in use throughout this time, albeit barely. The listed history also suggests our Pill's last service was in September 2015, but just 400 miles ago. Obscured plates deny us a look at the MOT history, which might raise some more questions, although the good news is that the 140 is much less prone to rusting than lesser Mercs from the era.

Not that there isn't plenty to still go wrong. The 140 is often described as the last hewn-from-solid Merc before the palace coup that saw the company's engineers overthrown by the accountants. But running costs can still be painful, with the V12 mill having a tendency to fry the under-bonnet part of the wiring loom. It will also devour tyres, brakes, suspension components and - most of all - petrol. The official 15.3mpg should be regarded as a best-case scenario. Although, this being PH, there will doubtless be a starry-eyed owner insisting it is possible to get 30 on a run.

At Β£12,995 from a dealer before negotiations commence our Pill also strong money; it is possible to get a decent-looking S600 saloon for less than half of that, you could even stretch to a nice example of the twin-turbo W221 CL600 for less. But our choice is properly rare and comes with the sort of swaggering presence that only a truly brave buyer knows.

See the original advert

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (63) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Venisonpie 03 Aug 2019

    Love the saloons of this era but the coupe's look awkward and the wheels do it no favours.
    Great engine though.

  • A1VDY 03 Aug 2019

    Awful looking thing and the description of concrete gun emplacement is apt.
    Ave of 12 mpg (likely far less) makes this thing pretty useless... Unless just bought as an enormous ornament..

  • humphra 03 Aug 2019

    [quote] .....the S's defining press-on trait was roll and squeal, the latter likely to come from both tyres and passengers.

    Love an early morning chuckle and this gave it to me!

    It's what I'd call an archetypal Merc - imposing and dressed in black. Not for me, but I can see the attraction.

  • LaurasOtherHalf 03 Aug 2019

    I honestly think these look better than what came after

  • MadDog1962 03 Aug 2019

    Hmmm.... This is like an alternative to an XJ-S. Except there is probably a reasonable chance that you could find less expensive parts for the Jag (as they were sold in much larger numbers). I can't honestly recall when I last saw one of these beasties. Probably a wonderful cruiser, but it'll have all the complexity and costs associated with a big Benz. Any kind of major mechanical failure (e.g. a major transmission failure) will spell the economic end of life no matter how magnificent the rest of it is.

    At £6K it's probably worth the risk, but at £12K it probably isn't. That doesn't stop me liking it though.

View all comments in the forums Make a comment