The 1980s was the era of the ‘1000SEL’. A coachbuilding and customisation industry flourished on the back of demand for more exclusive and more luxurious versions of the world’s most expensive cars. Rolls Royce, Bentley, Ferrari and Porsche were natural candidates but it was the Mercedes W126 SEL and SEC that were the most prolific in the workshops of ABC Exclusive, SGS, Carat by Duchatalet and many more.
The W126 in 500SEL (latterly 560SEL) form was viewed by many to be the best saloon car in the world. But for some it was not luxurious enough, not exclusive enough and not expensive enough. These styling and tuning houses seemingly offered no limits of what was possible beyond the buyer’s imagination. They were often dubbed the ‘1000SEL’ on account of them being twice the car, certainly twice the price, of the the standard 500SEL.
The Carat Cullinan was the Belgian Coachbuilder, Duchalalet’s take on the ultra-luxury bespoke W126. The Cullinan was a total build car, supplied direct to Duchatalet from Mercedes then stripped back to a shell before being completely rebuilt to the customer’s requirements. Compared with some of the more outlandish creations of the period, the Duchatalet conversions were approved by Mercedes (so allowed to keep the three-pointed star) and were renowned for having some of the best quality interiors in the business.
This Carat Cullinan was commissioned in 1984. Starting with a 500SEL that had a total specification including hydropneumatic suspension, automatic climate control and electric rear seats. The exterior received the Duchatalet’s bodykit, SEC rear boot trim and diamond cut 16-inch Ronal Centra Type 31 wheels, plus a complete repaint in metallic black using Duchalalet’s secret ‘Japan technique’ that involved 48 layers of paint.
Inside, everything was new. Fifteen hides of the finest soft leather were used to cover every surface inside the car – headliner, dashboard, door cards and all. The seats were completely remodelled, a custom centre console was built incorporating three separate, gold-edged Pioneer stereo units (with the obligatory graphic equaliser). Bespoke dials, Rolls Royce ashtrays, an embossed steering wheel and a suede-topped dashboard complete the picture for the driver. Sheepskin rugs were fitted for all passengers and in the rear, electrically operated walnut tables folded out from the front seats and curtains all round shield the occupant from unwanted attention.
This Cullinan has been in the ownership of a royal family since new and covered just 54,464 km (33,842 miles). The car was always kept in Paris, registered on diplomatic plates and chauffeur driven up until 2001 when it was put into secure, dry, underground storage off the Rue Des Belles Feuilles in the 16th Arrondissement.
Some seventeen years later, when a thorough review of the surviving family’s affairs was carried out, the car was rediscovered, largely forgotten, but in perfectly preserved original condition.
We recovered the car to the UK and set about the six-month process of recommissioning. Thanks to its low mileage and perfect storage conditions we found the car’s condition to be absolutely incredible, devoid of any corrosion, damage or fading to the interior. It was as if it had been in a time capsule.
Now comprehensively recommissioned, including a complete refurbishment of the fuel system and suspension, this very special W126 is on the road once more, driving absolutely beautifully and ready to enjoy.
These bespoke S-Classes were always rare due to their astronomic cost. They were the indulgences of the super wealthy and stylistically the very epitome of the flamboyant excess of the era. Today, the number that survive (of all types) in unmarked, original condition is tiny. We have never seen or heard of another. A very exciting and perhaps unique opportunity for a collector who appreciates these extremely rare cars.