Thug Life: A Portrait of Post-Communist Gangster Culture with a Bad-Ass Benz

The Mercedes-Benz W140 was the underworld’s transport of choice for not only the Yakuza, but for the emerging gangsters of post-Communist Central Europe as well. Watch this video and you’ll see why.

The W140 was the battleship of the post-Communist world, the car you left in the middle of an intersection with the hazard lights flashing to do your errands and no officer on duty would approach you without a helicopter gunship and an antiaircraft gun. An urban tank for a strange social experiment, hewn from a solid block of German steel, thrust into a world where capitalism arrived like a meteorite from outer space.


It was among the last of the truly over-engineered Benzes, with the future threat of Lexus already a darkening cloud on the horizon, and it was far from perfect. The amount of technology crammed into its titanic frame was bursting it apart at the seams and reliability was not quite what the Teutonic looks would suggest.

Still, it commanded respect like no other car. The primordial thugs of Central Europe carved out their turves in W140’s, hunting each other down with surplus Soviet assault rifles. One was blown up smack in the middle of Budapest, taking out the owner, three other people and half a city block.


By the time the early gang wars were over, the W140 was gone, replaced by the meek W220. No Benz has equalled it in sheer gangster menace since. Most of them are gone from the streets here, gone east to the ‘stans of Central Asia, but a few remain.

It was one of these remaining leviathans my friend Nino Karotta (not pictured left) used for a social documentary disguised as a road test. An S600 AMG coupé at that, in every way the ultimate version of the W140, with the same V12 engine which would later crop up in the Pagani Zonda, albeit with an extra helping of titanium and revs.


The video was filmed over a rainy winter day for the 2007 relaunch of Totalcar, the most awesome car show produced east of Top Gear’s test track, which Nino co-hosted for six years. Do enjoy. I wrote subtitles.


Photo Credit: IMCDB

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