Exposure to a Performance Car review of the Lamborghini Countach 5000QV at an impressionable age set Dan Trent on course for a life-long obsession with cars. As editor of PistonHeads.com he’s got direct access to a classifieds repository of over 100,000 such vehicles to browse day in, day out. Temptation is never far away. He’s still some way off that Countach though.
For someone who errs toward the driver focused end of the spectrum my ‘thing’ for the Mercedes-Benz CL is perhaps a little surprising.
But as the 911 is to Porsche, the Mulsanne is to Bentley and V12 Berlinettas are to Ferrari, the CL and its relatives are the brand doing what it does best. Whatever age you choose, the flagship Mercedes coupe was the standard bearer for the marque’s design language and technical innovation of the day. Whether it’s the chrome and superchargers of the S, 540K and other pre-war models or the fuel-injected engines and independent rear suspension of the 1950s 300 (both nicked and used in the 300 SL Gullwing), these big Merc coupes have been hugely influential cars. More recently much of the tech you now get on a C-Class was first debuted a generation or two back on an S-Class Coupe, CL or whatever it happened to be called at the time.
My favourite is the C215 generation, launched in 1999 and representing a massive philosophical and technical change over its hulking C140 predecessor. For starters it was – in the case of the CL600 I’m looking at here – 355kg lighter like for like! Thank a clever mix of magnesium, aluminium, plastic and steel construction for that. It also launched Mercedes’ pioneering Active Body Control suspension, which ditches conventional anti-roll bars for computer controlled hydraulic chambers in the struts for a cake and eat it combination of comfort and composure. This has evolved into the Curve Tilting function in the new S-Class Coupe, while its influence can be found in everything from the McLaren 650S to sporting SUVs – the latter dependent on active anti-roll to offset unfavourable top-heavy weight distribution.
Mainly though the CL looks superb; sleek and modern but with some neat touches like the reference to the gorgeous Paul Bracq era coupes of the 60s in the rear window line. The first one I ever saw was parked in Casino Square in Monaco and, to this day, the associated sense of glamour remains irresistible.
If you’re going to do a CL you should do it properly, so I’d be wanting a V12 CL600. Now, this was facelifted in 2002 to a twin-turbo unit that took power from 367hp [362bhp] to 500hp [493bhp] and torque from 391lb ft to 590lb ft. Tempting. But I spent some time in the naturally aspirated one in period and was struck by its silky power delivery. And for a refined GT the power is enough, curiosity value like the ahead-of-its-time cylinder deactivation adding to the interest. The comparably quick AMG versions (above) are nice too but, I think, the refined V12 is more appropriate to the CL’s standing.
Given you can get a BiTurbo one for the same money you’d have to be bloody-minded to want the original. But I am. And I found two for sale, one at a strong £9,995 and the other for just £6,995. Sadly neither wears the V12-specific polished wheels and I’d have to hunt a set of those down to finish the look. The cheaper car is a slightly boring silver but debadged, which I think shows commendable character in its original purchaser.
Clearly some fairly sturdy denial about potential maintenance costs would be required before taking the plunge. But, cheap to purchase or not, this is a true flagship Benz. And hugely tempting whatever the cost.
Photography courtesy of Mercedes-Benz and Pistonheads