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Mercedes Benz 350 SE (W 116) and BMW 730 (E 23): luxury class of the 70s

Jooß, Uli
Mercedes Benz 350 SE (W 116) and BMW 730 (E 23)
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D he 7 Series BMW looks wicked. On the outside a bright ruby ​​red, like nail polish from Chanel, inside deep black velor, sinful like lingerie from La Perla. This color combination, which a courageous entrepreneur once chose as the first owner of the BMW 730, is not at all managerial or business-like. It was certainly an unusual choice even in the wicked seventies. 7s for the executive floor and for freelancers who drive a lot were usually more discreet. She was mainly dressed in a delicate reseda green, a serious Baltic blue or a muted polar silver. White was considered to be discontinued - delicate, pastel metallic tones were all the rage.

BMW with striking shark-mouth front

The Mercedes 350 SE looks good. Its first owner, a neurologist from Wuppertal, valued dignified understatement. Classic white with blue velor - it's like silver with black today, you can't go wrong. The combination of white and blue gives off a conservative marine look, not a trace of red light. Only the blue instrument panel and the luggage nets in the rear appear cheeky.

No question about it, the flashy BMW is an eye-catcher for the promenading audience on the Rhine. The early 7s with the distinctive shark's mouth front and a kidney lovingly embedded in sheet metal are almost extinct. The facelift from 1982 with the kidney on top takes away the nasty, determined facial expression of the 7 Series and degrades it to a mildly smiling over five. The more common Mercedes 350 SE, which casual car amateurs sometimes mistake for a 123er in plain white, attracts far less attention.

Mercedes-V8 with impressive sound

That changes quickly with the constantly recurring driving maneuvers for the photo drives when starting, accelerating and maintaining a certain speed are required. Moved by Mercedes 350 SE driver Jürgen Kreuer, the eight-cylinder intones its impressive staccato sound, while the easy-to-turn eight-cylinder lifts the 1.8-ton sedan out of the springs with a dull rumble. The engine revs up, the three-speed automatic shifts late, but as always under load - the powerful sound does not suddenly collapse when changing gears, as with the shift model. The car enthusiast viewer gets a pleasant shiver over themBack.

Carlos Plachetta doesn't quite manage this brilliant spectacle with his BMW 730. No less powerful in acceleration, the shark's mouth rears up threateningly when starting. But the quiet, vibration-free six-cylinder hums a harmless baritone. He can't make the evil, threatening eight-cylinder sound, and he doesn't have the eight-cylinder prestige. That's his stigma, until today. Because despite its brilliant six-cylinder, which is superior in all criteria to the far more elaborate double-camshaft engine M 100 from Mercedes, the first sevens always stayed second in sales figures and in the comparison tests.

BMW had 8 - and 12-cylinder in the drawer

Because for the same basic price of the BMW 733i you could get a sparsely equipped Mercedes 350 SE. BMW had a fully developed eight-cylinder engine for the first seven-cylinder, which, like the legendary 502 eight-cylinder in the fifties, was supposed to catapult the white-and-blue brand far forward - yes, even a twelve-cylinder, both based on the M 10 and M 30, ready for series production in the drawer. But the second oil crisis in 1979 thwarted the premiere. BMW didn't dare. In addition, the engines were too heavy and large cars were therefore too top-heavy.

People rowed back violently and continued to praise the six-cylinder in advertisements and brochures 'as the best solution in terms of low specific consumption and balance of inertia forces and moments of inertia and second order '.

From 1980 the supercharged BMW 745i should make up for the performance deficit compared to a 450 SEL 6.9. In its first edition as a 3.2-liter, it developed into a notorious drunkard with bad manners, severe turbo lag and critical oversteer at the limit. A manually shifted BMW 730 with a carburettor engine - you have to force yourself to leave out the long obligatory 'i' in the type designation - and the Mercedes 350 SE doesn't drive away with 184 hp. Because its slow-shifting three-speed automatic does not use the high speed potential of 6,250 /min.

Mercedes without a rev counter, BMW with unmatched ease

Oh, by the way, dear Mercedes people, a rev counter is an essential part of a car of this class. Both the 7 and 116 are still fast and comfortable touring cars today. They have a constant speed of 160 km /h on the motorway. Consumption, speed and driving noises are so harmoniously in harmony that there is no guilty conscience. On winding country roads with frequent load changes, it is the hour of the BMW 730 in particular. Its maneuverability is unmatched despite its generous external dimensions. for sudden changes of direction. InIn fast corners, a harmless oversteer is announced early, which can be precisely corrected with a slight backward movement of the steering wheel, which is at last pleasantly steep for BMW habits. The trailing arm rear axle has long been part of BMW's credo. For the 7 Series, it has been refined to a more dynamic variant with shock absorbers - it can also be very comfortable to drive, but that is the domain of the Mercedes 350 SE.

The Mercedes is the sovereign glider

The Mercedes 350 SE even rolls confidently over the mosaic pavement of old autobahn driveways or stressed Duisburg harbor bridges. When cornering quickly, it clearly understeers, you don't raid on country roads with it. Its steering around the central position is too casual, the steering wheel too clunky and its velor upholstery too plush. Those who like this can enjoy the pathetic, Wagnerian sounds of the angry eight-cylinder engine at full throttle with the feeling of the heavy car.

The BMW 730 is much more of a driver's car - more nervous, more unpredictable, but also more pleasurable. Not in terms of acoustics, but above all in terms of driving pleasure. It still has the sporty genes of its predecessor, the 2500 to 3.0 Si, which was often referred to as the Porsche for family men. Under the direction of the new General Director Eberhard von Kuenheim, BMW has softened its tough men's cars. He wanted to get out of the lively niche of improvisation with more comfort, more safety and a much higher bodywork perfection. Engines and chassis were already setting standards, for a long time they were superior to the rough and thirsty six-cylinder and wobbly pendulum axles of the star.

For the first time, BMW can stand up to Mercedes

The first 7 Series is a milestone in recent BMW history, because for the first time it really stood up to the S-Class. It impresses with heavy doors that fall tightly into the lock, with vacuum-operated switches for the heating and ventilation system. And a new type of central hydraulics, which feeds the brake and steering servo together, shows more bite.

Despite its perfection, the 7 Series also has a few lovable quirks. The bonnet is leaned against to close and then locked from the inside, the tank filler neck is on the left, and the tank is still negligently in the impact area of ​​the rear end. There is no central locking for the BMW 730; on the other hand, velor upholstery, headrests in the rear and the large tool box are standard. The slightly inharmonious line of the car polarizes more than the balanced styling of the Mercedes.

BMW designer Paul Bracq weighted the mighty rear too much and cut the side windows too deep. The E 23 is not as pleasing as other, later BMW. He's more of a character than a face in the crowd, especially in ruby ​​red with black velor.


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