For decades, the automotive industry has mastered the art of impactful presentation. There are special editions, popular limited runs, and precious one-offs of many cars. Yet, nothing is as exclusive as the last off the line.
To those not familiar with the car scene, the term “last off the line” may not mean much. It refers to the very last model produced in a series. This means, after this single unit, production ceases, and the manufacturing equipment is repurposed for the next generation or a completely different vehicle. Manufacturers like Mercedes celebrate this final model in special vehicle series, adding it to their own collection as an exceptionally exclusive model. Initially, this vehicle often sits somewhat unnoticed for a few years in the collection or museum, as the just-discontinued model doesn’t hold significant value at first. This changes after a few years when it is brought back into the limelight for anniversaries or special occasions.
This happened in the snow-rich start of 2023 when the production of the Mercedes CLS, internal designation C257, ceased. Not just the current generation, but the entire CLS series, once positioned as a distinctively exclusive and image-boosting model between the E- and S-Class, was discontinued. While the Mercedes CLS didn’t set volume records since its debut in 2004, it did a lot for the brand’s image and established a vehicle segment that didn’t exist in Europe at least. Particularly, the first generation of the Mercedes CLS, the elegant C219 series designed by then-chief designer Peter Pfeiffer, caused a stir. Its differences from the technically similar E-Class W211 were significant. Visually, the four-door coupe was such a showpiece that one might have only expected from luxury brands like Alfa Romeo, Maserati, or Aston Martin.
Between October 2004 and July 2010, around 170,000 CLS models were sold. From the subsequent generation C218, with a second body variant of the Shooting Brake estate, around 170,000 units were sold from early 2011 to the end of 2018. The current generation C257, produced since early 2019, retires after 140,000 vehicles. The reason for the discontinuation is not due to lack of success but the technical similarity with the E-Class. The new E-Class, the last Mercedes vehicle to be newly developed with a combustion engine, won’t have a technical coupe derivative. The new generation CLE, a synthesis of the C- and E-Class as a two-door coupe, will suffice to please the aesthetes. The increasing number of electric models with the star emblem means that even the Stuttgart brand has to reduce its combustion engine portfolio due to excessive vehicle variance.
The Mercedes CLS retires with a last off the line model that is truly impressive. Painted in the dark emerald green metallic, the Nappa leather interior is a stunning combination of saddle brown and black. It’s a CLS 450 4matic that had just 14 kilometers on the clock at its final handover at the production site. Its original price: 110,000 euros. The 270 kW / 367 HP coupe with the inline six-cylinder type M256 is almost fully equipped and rides on 20-inch wheels with AMG design. As the car will eventually be used for communication purposes, the usually dark-tinted rear windows were omitted for potential photo shoots. “Usually, a last off the line is recorded in the production system with a configuration that includes the special equipment and colour combinations that were common during the production time,” explains Matthias Knebel, responsible for the vehicle collection at Mercedes, “simply put: a last off the line reflects the buyer preferences of the respective era and documents how a typical Mercedes-Benz appeared on the streets.”
In the Mercedes vehicle collection, housed in a secret and strictly guarded hall in Fellbach, stand numerous particularly exclusive Mercedes models. These include 600 state limousines, the armoured S-Classes of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and several last off the line models. The pattern of the last off the line is evident in the example of the S-Class Coupe, series C126. It is painted in the then-popular exterior colour “blue-black metallic” (Code 199) and has a mushroom leather interior (265). Ordered and delivered with optional extras like an electric sunroof, air conditioning, and the prestigious headlight cleaning system, the coupe represented the era’s luxury. “The last off the line models are usually model care vehicles and document the final state of the respective series. The often extensive full equipment is also documented in the records,” explains Matthias Knebel, “Special editions, usually limited, are reserved for our customers – accordingly, such vehicles are sometimes purchased on the open market, several years later.”
It’s not every year that a retiring vehicle rolls into Mercedes’ exclusive, multimillion-classic collection.