I’ve seen quite a few rare and unique cars already, but one-offs, prototypes, and racing cars can rarely trigger the ecstasy I feel when I can finally get lost in the craftsmanship achieved by the German tuners of the 1980s. As you wouldn’t expect, on top of my list are Gemballa, DP Motorsport, and Koenig Specials, along with a few other lesser-known masters of excess and fiberglass.
One oft-forgotten champion of style is Chris Hahn, co-founder of SGS, and creator of the Mercedes-Benz 1000 SEC Gullwing series. With supposedly only 57 of these W126 Mercedes-Benz 500 SEL-based luxury cruisers ever made, never in my wildest dreams could I imagine standing next to not one, but two of these within a year. But to understand the significance of these encounters, we need to revisit what Styling Garage was all about:
Nineteen eighty-five was a busy year for the company, with its deep dive into fabrication leading to the Mercedes-Benz C 111 homage SCS Arrow, along with six of the widened, three-raw S-Class known as the SGS Royales. Three of the latter went straight to Brunei.
Chris Hahn’s team would also make S-Class convertibles and gullwing Porsche 928s, while multiple European and Japanese OEMs commissioned various show cars and one-offs from the Hamburg-based tuning house. Then, there was the SGS 1000 SEC Gullwing series, equipped with at least twice as many of your desires compared to a donor 500 SEL, Daimler’s flagship coupé.
Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, more commonly known as the Rainbow Sheikh is famous for building the largest scaled up cars approved by the Guinness World Records, as well as a pyramid in the desert for this regular car collection. His 200-strong fleet doesn’t include a single supercar, but when it comes to W126 Mercedes-Benz S-Classes in all the colors of the rainbow, the Sheikh is set. In 1981, 40 of those were ordered from Styling Garage for the wedding of the future Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, MbZ.
Officially known by now as the Emirates National Auto Museum, this cash-only experience located some 45 kilometres south of Abu Dhabi offers quite a few surprises, one of which is an SCS 1000 SEC Gullwing in a very desert-friendly pearl white.
Because Styling Garage would go well beyond Mercedes’ “The best or nothing” slogan, this car has everything one could want from a luxury coupé and then some, including a falcon shifter and the plush interior dreams are made of.
Over a year past finding the Rainbow Gullwing, I almost forgot about the importance of 1000 SECs, only to be reminded in Saudi by what is potentially “the lowest mileage example in existence today”. A magnificent car which still appears to be for sale.
Vendor Worldwide Auctioneers claims that these were the most expensive Mercedes-Benz cars in 1985, retailing for $40,000 over the 500 SEL Chris Hahn’s customers would also need to purchase. But for roughly $100,000 plus change, 57 buyers could live the dream. And quite a few of those dreamers, you may even know. Next to Middle Eastern royal families, African politicians and the wildest of Japanese businessmen, it was American celebrities on Mr. Hahn’s radar, with a 1986 article by Spiegel claiming Eddie Murphy to be an early 1000 SEL Gullwing guy. Did the lead role on Beverly Hills Cop pay that well? The movie’s 1984 theatrical release poster, as well as box results suggest a strong maybe.
The SGS 1000 SEL Gullwing. With a 5.0-liter V-8 engine producing 288 horsepower, linked to a smooth four-speed automatic. Reinforced chassis with custom gullwing doors, and a leather interior with the must-have falcon shifter. A Mac audio/Clarion sound system and gold plating all around for this particular Saudi 1000 SEL Gullwing, which is finished in gloss black while showing just 12,754 miles on the clock since 1983.
Perhaps it’s the integrated rear spoiler that makes the 1000 SEL the perfect high-speed cruiser for any occasion, or the convenient door mechanism Mercedes-Benz forgot to apply. Understandably, it remains extremely hard for me to pick a single aspect of this vehicle as my favorite.
If you could find an image of Eddie Murphy with his 1000 SEL, you know how to get in touch with me, but in the meantime, consider becoming an SGS driver yourself. Styling Garage may have gone under in 2005, but its gullwing creations are still out there, ready to take you on a journey through time, vast continents, or the somewhat maintained sections of your favorite desert.
Rest assured that the Sultan of Brunei, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi wouldn’t have spent their hard-earned cash on an 1000 SEL if this Benz couldn’t deal with a sandy road trip. And, I suppose nor would Gumby, dammit!