What exactly is the stuff of dreams? Could it be the same ingredients that make up that nebulous “cloud nine”? The recipe for making dreams of the automotive kind is reasonably clear: Steel, chrome, burled walnut and leather seemed to do the trick for the Mercedes-Benz W 111 Cabriolet, a car that can justifiably be described as a legend. It first hit the roads in 1961 in 220 SE Cabriolet form, powered by a six-cylinder engine – a majestic model of great elegance whose pure length, smooth lines and curves still conjure an aura of calm and authority. The sedan version’s “sight lines,” which spawned its “Fintail” nickname, are rounded off on the cabriolet. And its sophisticated brand of comfort – think leather seats, fine wood fixtures and fittings, plus room for the whole family – were complemented by the type of safety innovations for which Daimler is renowned: Disc brakes, a steering wheel with impact plate, and crumple zones at the front and rear were all present and correct. The car was conceived as a long-distance tourer, but doubled as a creation to fill the dreams of fans. By 1971 the lineup had expanded to include the 250 SE, 280 SE and eight-cylinder 280 SE 3.5. And that was it for 45 years – which didn’t do any harm to the large cabriolet’s quasi-mythical status, either.
Cruising along in one of these classic cars nowadays, gazing into the heavens with the roof down, you can’t help but feel the thirst for freedom and fantasies of progress so emblematic of the 1960s – not to mention the Mercedes-Benz designers’ respect for tradition. So it was that the W 111 Cabriolet’s classic-car career began the moment the last one rolled off the line. The rise in value of these cars has been substantial. A 1971 280 SE 3.5 now costs in the region of $375,000, but you can pay well over half a million dollars; 10 years ago, values were still around $150,000. A 220 SE will set you back around $100,000, and that figure is also likely to rise.
45 years later, the comeback
The W 111’s shoes, then, are big ones to fill. But the new S-Class Cabriolet is capable of doing just that – a worthy heir apparent. Like its celebrated forebear, the 2016 car is arguably the most cosseting and innovative cabriolet of its time. Viewed in profile, its dynamic lines lend it the powerful serenity of its predecessor and will certainly have heads turning on short trips and long journeys alike, even in vastly different weather conditions. This is because the new S-Class Cabriolet also comes with the innovative AIRSCARF system, which sends warm air out from the head restraints around the neck area of the driver and front passenger, making top-down driving on cooler days a very pleasurable pursuit. AIRSCARF supplements the work of the new THERMOTRONIC climate control system, which makes its debut in this model. THERMOTRONIC maintains the balance of the in-car climate fully automatically – even during the transition from roof down to roof up. Twelve sensors register the temperature inside and outside, as well as the intensity of the incoming sunlight, the air quality and the levels of harmful gases, allowing the system to check the nature of the air being pulled in from outside.
It’s calm, even with the roof down
The car’s remarkable climate-control abilities are complemented by exceptional acoustic comfort, which bathes the interior in an almost monastic calm. The S-Class Coupe is the quietest production car in the world, but the cabriolet isn’t far behind. The sealing concept for the doors is extraordinary, and the windows are double-glazed. With the roof down, the AIRCAP automatic wind protection system reduces turbulence in the interior and makes the flow of air less noisy. A wind deflector extends out of the windscreen frame, while a draft-stop between the head restraints minimizes the breeze.
The three-layered roof is available in black, dark blue, beige or dark red, and features a butyl layer as a water barrier on the inside. Butyl makes a better soundproofing material than neoprene, which is commonly used in such models. The upholstery matting and roof lining provide additional buffers against outside noise.
At the touch of a button, the roof slips back under the soft-top compartment lid – which is framed by a chrome trim element and blends harmoniously into the broad, muscular rear end – in just 20 seconds. And that leaves the sun to shine into an interior that can be decked out in a range of different leathers and that makes a compelling prospect with its use of chrome and choice of six different colour concepts. One of these brings together the porcelain and deep-sea-blue tones, giving the S-Class a sophisticated yacht-style ambience.
For the protection and comfort of its passengers, the cabriolet also comes with cutting-edge Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive assistance systems. This technology helps with braking, keeps the car in its lane, spots pedestrians and even uses the PRE-SAFE system to reduce speed automatically if required. PRE-SAFE PLUS also detects a looming rear-end collision early on. If the danger is not averted, the system can apply the brakes firmly and automatically pull the seat belts tight prior to an impact.
Combining intelligent technology with timeless design is a fine art. And one with a tradition in large Mercedes-Benz cabriolets that stretches back a lot longer than 45 years.