Surfing the web looking for "1000SEL" I find the weirdest things and wildest stories. According to some the 1000SEL was a Mercedes-Benz fitted with a 10 Litre engine. Some say it was a stretched S-class stretched by a 1000mm or maybe it was a limousine that would be made on special order by Mercedes-Benz themselves? I'm sorry, some came close, but here's the "truth"
The 1000SEL wasn't a factory built Mercedes-Benz you could order at your regular Mercedes dealership. The 1000SELs as such weren't even made by Mercedes-Benz: the 1000SEL's were aftermarket conversions of mainly the Mercedes 500SEL and 560SEL S-class of the W126-type (1979-1991). The cars started out as factory-fresh S-classes and were modified (mostly in Germany and the UK) by tuning and coachbuilding companies like Chameleon, Kugok, Robert Jankel Design, Styling-Garage/SGS, Trasco and Vantagefield. Variations on the 1000SEL-theme were even given names like 1001SEL (Gemballa), 1000SGS (Styling-Garage), 5000GFG (GFG), 5000SEL (Gemballa) and 10000SEL (ABC Exclusive). Modified Mercedes-Benz SEC coupes were also given similar names but in stead of 1000SEL it was a 1000SEC.
A 1000SEL, what is it?
So what exactly does a 1000SEL set itself apart from other Mercedes S-classes? Well, a 1000SEL-badged Mercedes could be anything to be quite frank. Basically "1000SEL" was just a badge on the trunk of any Mercedes and the contents were defined by the wishes of the customer. Some companies sold the 1000SEL-badge separately so you could just order badge and slap it on the back of your 380SE Mercedes to make it look "the business". A "real" 1000SEL however was offered as a complete car with many high-end modifications, both exterior and interior.
What's in a name?
So where does the name 1000SEL come from? Well, it is rumoured somewhere in the early 1980s a Middle-East customer from Styling Garage ordered himself a heavily modified Mercedes 500SEL. When he received the keys he told the owner of the company, Chris Hahn, that his car was twice as good as a regular 500SEL and he'd like to have a different badge on the car. Well there you have it: 500SEL x 2 = 1000SEL. It should be mentioned that most of the 1000SEL conversions were sold to customers in the Middle-East.
Exterior of a 1000SEL
The exterior of the 1000SEL could include many extras and options. More chrome, gold instead of chrome, paint instead of gold, new rims, bumpers, spoilers, skirts and a boomerang- antenna on the bootlid for the TV. All were options. In fact the badge "1000SEL" meant that anything was possible as long as you paid the bill.
One of the options offered by companies like ITS, Kugok and SGS was the so-called 600-nose. This new bonnet incorporated the style of the 600 Mercedes (W100) of the 1960's. Another option were to have the chrome parts sprayed in the car's colour or could be gold-plated (e.i. Kugok, SGS) or sprayed in a completely different colour (SGS).
A Styling-Garage 1000SEL that shows many of the extra "1000SEL-options": special wheels, special taillights, gilded logos and look at the interior.
Interior of a 1000SEL
A real 1000SEL Mercedes has a new interior. This interior should at least have a new upholstery, most likely in leather and preferably in white, creme or red. A centre console that runs through the whole car is also very important. This console was in most cases finished in the finest wood veneers and fitted with all kinds of compartments to store your personal belongings. A champagne cooler and a TV for the passengers must be included. High-end over-the-top HiFi-Stereo by Clarion or Pioneer were no exception.
A 1000SEL-worthy interior: Recaro seats in funky colors, TV, VCR, anything you need. Gemballa, early 1980's.
1. The 1000SEL was never offered by Mercedes-Benz.
2. The 1000SEL was a modified (W126) S-class, sold by tuning/coachbuilding companies.
3. A "real" 1000SEL (some cars just have the badge) is made to customers specifications.
So there you have it: a 1000SEL Mercedes-Benz was nothing more, but surely nothing less than a superlative S-class from the '80s built by small tuning and coachbuilding companies. A car Mercedes-Benz couldn't offer anymore after they shut down the production of the "600" in 1981...
London based company Chameleon Car's owner Mike Lahav standing in front of a 1000SEL in the Park Lane showroom.
An interior worthy of a 1000SEL in parts, made by Japanese company "Marine Blau".
A Chameleon brochure displaying some of the 1000SEL options...
A Gemballa "1001SEL" built for an Arab customer... Mercedes-Benz 500SEL base with very extensive modifications done by Gemballa to both exterior and interior.
A Carat by Duchatelet "Diamond"; Belgian coachbuilder Duchatelet modified this Mercedes-Benz 500SEL to "Diamond-specifications" with new bumpers, special paintwork, complete interior overhaul in Rolls-Royce fashion with best leather available, special seats, TV, etc.
Text: copyright Bram Corts 2013