Mercedes-Benz-Blog TRIVIA: The great Mercedes-Benz Coupés - PART V


Stuttgart, Germany, Jul 31, 2006

1981: A new departure for the Coupés

The year 1981 ushered in the era of truly global communication, both at the technological and social level. A young software company named Microsoft in Seattle, Washington achieved a worldwide breakthrough with its computer operating system when MS DOS became the standard for most of the world’s PCs. Another major event was attracting far more media attention at the time, however: the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981. This royal spectacle was broadcast by more TV stations and seen by more viewers than any Olympic Games: statisticians have calculated that more than one billion people witnessed the marriage ceremony. 25 years have passed since then, but in people’s collective memory it has gone down as an event which only took place recently.

Media appearances occur at shorter intervals for cars than for royal weddings. This does not lessen the importance of the cars, as they always represent a measure of the technical progress achieved in each case – at least in the case of Mercedes-Benz. When the Mercedes 380 SEC Coupé and 500 SEC Coupé in the C 126 model series were presented in 1981, the designers and engineers had once again turned to the S-Class as the basis for the Coupés rather than the SL-Class, which was also available as the SLC Coupé from 1971 to 1981. This initially meant that their dimensions were slightly increased. The design of the new Coupé was also derived from the four-door saloons, with elegant and harmonious contours. Its aura was one of even more raw power and agility, however: the body designers had pulled off the remarkable achievement of clothing an extremely muscular body in a finely tailored jacket.

V8 engines for fuel economy

Car ownership in Germany had expanded at an enormous rate, for in 1981 no less than 385 of every thousand inhabitants possessed a car. The expectations of car buyers increased. Mercedes-Benz engineers met the demands for more output with V8 engines for the new Coupés, which had also been thoroughly revised to achieve a reduced fuel consumption and exhaust emissions as part of the "Mercedes-Benz Energy Concept". The output of the 380 SEC Coupé was 150 kW/204 hp, that of the 500 SEC Coupé 170 kW/231 hp. As a motoring magazine wrote at the time: "The feeling of spaciousness and visibility are quite excellent, the SEC appears to drive itself."

In addition to a higher compression ratio, technical modifications included improved camshafts with altered timing, air-bathed injection valves and electronic idling speed control. Thanks to these sophisticated modifications it was possible to reduce the fuel consumption of the SEC Coupés significantly compared to their predecessors. Naturally these Coupés also shared the same high safety standards as the S-Class Saloons.

A particularly interesting interior feature was the electrically operated belt feeders, which were standard equipment in the SEC models and were designed to bring the seat belts into the field of vision on all four seats, while making those for the driver and front passenger easily accessible. A driver airbag and a belt tensioner for the front passenger were available on request.

The excitement generated by the new, large Coupé was not least confirmed by the sales figures, with 74,060 units of the W 126 series produced. These Coupés, which many aficionados regard as "the ultimate touring car", are now among the most sought-after young classics produced by Mercedes-Benz. They combine technical progress in performance and handling safety with the traditional standards of exclusivity and comfort.

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