Mercedes-Benz S350

Can seriously damage your health, says Michael Booth's doctor

Would suit: Psychiatric consultants
Price (as tested): £68,775
Maximum speed: 155mph, 0-60mph in 7.2 seconds
Combined fuel consumption: 28mpg
Further information: 0800 665 415

Hello, Dr Hywel McDonald here. I work as a consultant psychiatrist at the Southern Counties Psychiatric Hospital near Crawley. Michael Booth's family has asked me to say a few words in lieu of his weekly column. Unfortunately Michael has suffered a chronic psychiatric incident which has left him unable to pen his usual piece about motor cars for you today.

I received a call from Mrs Booth a few days ago expressing concern about his behaviour. He seemed deeply troubled, erratic, emotional, she told me. It was clear from her description that Michael was on the verge of what we psychiatrists call "a total freakout". I was told that, soon after this photograph was taken, his condition deteriorated quite severely. He had just taken delivery of this rather splendid Mercedes-Benz S350 and was excited to be driving it, he said, but following the short drive home his mood changed dramatically. He became pensive and quiet, his wife told me. Later in the day he began mumbling to himself and repeatedly going to his front room window to look at the car, then going outside, walking round it, sitting in it and then disappearing off on drives lasting some hours.

Upon returning home the mumbling would be punctuated by key words and phrases: "Perfect!" "Never in all my years..." "Is there nothing wrong with it?" and, latterly, "**** me that thing is unbelievable!" He grew despondent, depressed. "What the hell am I going to write? I can't find a single fault with the thing! It's just too good," he exclaimed, out of the blue, during dinner that night.

On Wednesday things took a severe turn for the worse. Michael's family arrived home from a day out to find that he had built a life-size replica of the car out of mashed potato. He had, he said, spent the morning examining the car with a magnifying glass and high-powered torch, but still had found nothing to criticise. He started to eat the potato, and had to be physically restrained.

Michael's wife called the next morning and I came as soon as I could, sedated Michael and had him committed to our Betterness Institute, until his condition improves.

Unfortunately, having driven the Mercedes myself, I do not anticipate a swift recovery. It really is a beauty, I can tell you. You see, I felt it was important for my diagnosis to get to know the car as well as - if not more than - the patient. It took a while to get used to all the buttons and gadgets and whatnot, but now I've programmed everything to suit me, I find it works perfectly. I tell you, she goes like the blazes! She's got this thing called Night View Assist which means she can see in the dark, and another gizmo that makes her keep the same distance from the car in front - I managed to read 20 patient files on the M25 thanks to that one!

As for Michael, he is proving a difficult patient. We have tried showing him photographs of 1970s Vauxhalls and this seemed to help a little. "Ha!" he'll suddenly say in the middle of one of his long, brooding silences, "Look at the proportions! All wrong". Or, "Those things were rusting before they even came off the production line!" But this could still take some weeks, I'm afraid. In the meantime, my wife is particularly looking forward to taking delivery of next week's car, the new Mazda MX5. s

It's a classic: Mercedes S-Class

The Mercedes S-Class has laid a strong claim to the best car in the world title pretty much since the first one rolled off the production line in 1972.

The W116 series, to give it its code name, continued Mercedes' tradition of building superb-quality, large saloons. The original S-Class was more refined than anything this side of a Rolls-Royce, but also boasted excellent handling and simple, clean styling that still looks modern over three decades later. Most of them had six-cylinder engines giving 155bhp and a top speed of 118mph.

However, the ultimate W116 was the 450SEL, which had hydropneumatic suspension, electronic rear seats and climate control, as well as a monster 6.9-litre, V8 engine capable of propelling it from 0-60mph just 0.1 seconds slower than the modern-day S350.

Such performance came at a cost, of course, with fuel economy dropping to single figures (and this at the time of the oil crisis), and a list price higher than a Roller. Their tremendous build quality has meant that many 1970s S-Classes survive and remain in use today.

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