If you want a classic that’s made to travel at great speed for extended periods, it’s best to buy German. Here are our favourite Autobahn-ready classics
Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 (1975–1981)
The most intimidating sight in the rear view mirror in the mid-to-late 70s would have been the wide nose of the then-new S Class in 450SEL 6.9 guise. Very few cars would be able to keep up with the big V8 limo; it could cover the Autobahn prerequisite 70-90mph range in a blistering 6.1 seconds. Saab would later need their 2.3 Turbo beat that time.
And today, while R129 SL values have climbed convincingly, the W116 series is lagging behind; it’s the 6.9 that is of most surprising value. Considering the some of the lofty prices its predecessor’s big V8 models catch, this 140mph Autobahn stormer is still relatively obtainable.
But with its film fame from 1998’s Ronin, plus rose-tinted nostalgia for pre-oil crisis decadence, the state of the market can only mean that the 450SEL 6.9’s time has come.
BMW 8-Series (1990–1999)
BMW’s 8 Series was long misunderstood, perceived as a bit of an ostentatious flagship: too big, too heavy, and less practical than the 7 Series which was available with the same engines for less money. However, recently they’ve been developing a cult following that’s been nurturing values. Relatively limited numbers, especially in the UK, have meant that the 8 Series has begun to seriously outpace the contemporary Mercedes-Benz SEC in the used market, and top CSi models are pushing big numbers.
All models can blast down the outside lane of the Autobahn at 155mph with impeccable stability. A technical tour-de-force for BMW, the 8-Series showcased dynamic stability control, a low drag coefficient of 0.29, and adaptive dampers under its sleek, pillarless bodyshell. Numbers registered on the road in 2021 are low, so now is the time to buy. In the meantime, if you see those slender pop-up lights in your mirrors on the Autobahn, we advise getting out the way – it could be a delimited 186mph CSi.
Audi RS6 (2002–2004)
In the same way that the Porsche 911 Turbo and Nissan Skyline GT-R lit up the expressways of Japan, turbocharging changed the world of go-faster Autobahn cruisers forever. One of the most brutal of this new breed was the Audi RS6. Values for the C5-generation cars are just starting to firm up, so these 450bhp twin-turbo V8 Quattro weapons are currently performance bargains. Even the rarer saloon version, barely seen in generations since, can be had for less than £20,000.
The RS6’s combination of Quattro stability, turbocharged thrust and impressive braking (you can thank the outrageous eight-piston Brembo calipers for that) was a special recipe that’s been continued in more modern performance Audi models. Our advice is to pick up one that’s been cared for – maintenance bills can quickly overwhelm purchase prices.
Mercedes-Benz S55 AMG (1999 – 2005)
Further along the high-performance Mercedes-Benz limousine line, here in AMG flavour, is the W220 S55. In supercharged 493bhp form, it makes for a compelling high-speed Autobahn cruiser. Not only is there a vast quantity of torque (700Nm), and a top speed pushing towards 200mph if derestricted, but air suspension and adaptive cruise control add calm to the proceedings.
The good news is that these fast W220 offer big value for money. Despite there only being a couple hundred left, they linger for sale with price tags under £20,000 for great examples. There are good reasons for to expect appreciation, however: this was the first AMG S-Class available in right-hand-drive for the UK.
With W126 and W140 prices still on the rise, the W220’s value potential for now is in the desirable, iconic models – and the best condition examples. Like the 450SEL 6.9, there’s only one way now for the genre-defining S55 AMG.