Petrolhead

Richard Porter

Porter has been reminded just how special luxury cars used to be by an encounter with an interesting old Mercedes

'YOU CAN ONLY IMAGINE HOW MUCH NASAL MOANING WENT ON INSIDE MANSELUS 560 SEC'

fact, you could stand there repeatedly pushing the huge frameless doors closed for many hours without getting bored of the impeccably engineered way they thunk home. They really don't built 'em like this anymore.

And that extends to the interior, which provides an extraordinary contrast to the luxo-barges of 2010. Yes, there are a number of switches on the dash - Merc was very generous when it came to speccing Nige's freebie - but the interior still feels very simple, to the point of bare minimalism. Yet, at the same time, this old Benz has more or a sense of occasion and specialness to it than any current luxury car that I've driven.

Obviously tliere's a certain amount of novelty in driving a 23-year-old example of a car you've always admired, especially when the interior gives you a marvellous sense of what it would be like to be trapped inside a huge block of fudge. Plus, it's hard to forget that your arse is parked on a seat variously occupied by a moany Formula 1 he-o and a chap who, in the words of John Humphrys, 'makes the Qieen sound common'.

But the real reason the SEC is truly mere special than any current S-class is because its designers realised that genuine luxury isn't about how many buttons there are on the dashboard nor how man/ microscopically detailed settings there are within the control screen menus. Real luxury is about light and space and majesty, all qualities this aged coupe has in spades.

And, actually, it dr ives pretty well too, surging forward in an unfussed but adequately brisk way whilst the auto 'box smudges one gear into another as smoothly as any of today's waiters.

What today's wafters can't match, however, is the comically massive steering wheel that just urges you to adopt the light, two-finger pinch of the true lounge lizard, nor the vast and open footwells that would prompt you to think twice about the style and quality of ycur shoes. Today's wafters also don't have huge and bungy seats in which you can feel individual springs doing their job like in an old-fashioned mattress, and they certainly don't have a little switch in f-ont of the gear selector that permits the driver to select between two horn tones, one for town, the other for country.

Basically, compared with this old 560 SEC, today'i wafters just don't have enough class. Even if they were to be owned by Nigel Mansell and the art critic Brian Sewell.

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