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Evolution of an icon: the Mercedes S-Class Coupe changes with the times but remains a symbol of style

A powerful engine, a luxurious cabin, and all the latest technology wrapped in stylish two-door bodywork. What could be better?

Nothing says sophistication like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe. With an all-new model, previewed by the Concept S-Class Coupe from the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show, waiting in the wings, we decided to take a look at the evolution of this iconic luxury car.

In the beginning

Mercedes was making big, luxurious coupes long before the S-Class. Prewar models cemented Benz’s reputation as the builder extremely desirable cars. After WWII, the “Ponton” models helped re-establish Benz’s reputation as Germany attempted to rebuild itself.

However, the S-Class Coupe lineage really began with the 1959 “Fintail” Mercedes, (named for their minimalist tail fins) and the facelifted models that succeeded them in 1965. They had the size and swagger that we associate with the S-Class today.

These cars were big and decently fast for the time. They emphasized smooth cruising over outright performance. They were Mercedes’ flagship model line until Stuttgart launched the first S-Class in 1972.

A coupe by any other name

That first S-Class, the W116, established the concept of a full-size sedan model line that could serve as Mercedes’ standard-bearer. The 1972 S-Class sedan was one of the most advanced cars of its time, but there was no coupe. Instead, Mercedes decided to position the SL-Class as its top two-door.

It turned out that some customers still wanted a big, four-seat coupe instead of the relatively compact, two-seat SL. So, when the S-Class was redesigned for the 1980 model year, Mercedes created a coupe variant, which it badged SEC.

In 1992, the SEC joined the S-Class sedan on the new W140 platform, with slightly amorphous styling perfectly suited for the 1990s. It also gained its first V12: a 6.0-liter unit offered alongside a 5.0-liter V8.

The SEC got a new name the next year, becoming the CL-Class.

Mercedes’ two-door flagship

The CL-Class grew to new levels of extravagance with the launch of a redesigned model in 1999. Sleeker than the W140 model but still utterly massive, the W215 would gain a reputation for performance as well as luxury.

The V8 CL500 and V12 CL600 returned, but they were joined by performance variants tuned by Mercedes’ AMG division. 

The quickest of these cars, the CL65 AMG, could do 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds and reach an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. That may seem impressive for a full-size coupe, but it sounds just about right for a car with 603 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque.

The AMG performance models returned for the final iteration of the CL, launched in 2006 as a 2007 model. However, for a mid-cycle refresh in 2011, they got downsized engines to give the car slightly less abysmal fuel economy.

The CL63 AMG’s 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8 became a 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V8; the CL65 AMG got a 6.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V12. Power figures – 536 hp and 621 hp, respectively – are actually improvements over the old engines, as is the performance.

The current CL-Class also comes with a suite of safety tech, including Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keep Assist, and Active Body Control.

S-Class Coupe

The S-Class sedan was completely redesigned for the 2014 model year, and the “S-Class Coupe” CL will join it on the new chassis soon but will once again carry that iconic S-Class badge.

If the production car looks anything like the 2013 Frankfurt show car, it will definitely have the presence of previous big Mercedes coupes. Like its forebears, the new S-Class Coupe will be an uncanny combination technology, luxury, and style.