Mercedes-Benz-Blog TRIVIA: The History of the S-Class - PART III


Stuttgart, Germany, May 19, 2005

Model history – short version

Mercedes-Benz 220, 187 series (1951 to 1954)
At the first Frankfurt International Motor Show (IAA) in April 1951, Daimler-Benz presented the 220 and 300 passenger cars. Aside from its 2.2-liter engine with 80 hp (59 kW), the 220 was largely based on the 170 S. Running gear and body were almost identical, although the headlamps were now integrated into the specially modified front fenders. Production of the 200 sedan came to an end in May 1954.

Mercedes-Benz 220 a, 219 and 220 S and 220 SE, 180/128 series (1954 to 1959)
In March 1954 Mercedes-Benz introduced the new 220. This decidedly modern overall design bore similarities to the 180 model that had gone into production six months earlier. The 200 now also boasted a self-supporting ponton-type body structure welded firmly to the frame/floor unit. It was also the first Mercedes-Benz production car to benefit from the single-joint swing axle with low pivot point, which had been developed for the W 196 Formula One racing car. The brake system was also much improved: The 220 a was given ribbed brake drums with “turbo cooling” on all four wheels. In March 1956, two years after the presentation of the 220 a, the 219 and 220 S were introduced as successors to the first six-cylinder model a with ponton-type body. In September 1958 Mercedes-Benz presented the new six-cylinder 220 SE model. Delivery started in November.

Mercedes-Benz 220 b, 220 Sb, 220 SEb, 300 SE, 111/112 series (1959 to 1965)
In August 1959, the existing six-cylinder models were succeeded by three completely redesigned models under the slogan: “The new six-cylinders – in a class of their own.” These were the 220 b, 220 Sb and 220 SEb. The new model series set new standards in terms of passive safety, incorporating for the first time in a production car the Barényi-patented rigid passenger cell with front and rear crumple zones. In August 1961, the new premium-class 300 SE model was introduced. In addition to having four-speed automatic transmission and the newly developed power steering, the basic equipment package also included air suspension – featured for the first time in a Mercedes-Benz passenger car and offering a combination of sporty ride characteristics together with outstanding suspension comfort.

Mercedes-Benz 250 S – 300 SE, 300 SEL – 300 SEL 6.3, 108/109 series (1965 to 1972)
In August 1965 came the generation that included the 250 S, 250 SE and 300 SE models designed by Paul Bracq. And in March 1966, the model range was expanded to include the 300 SEL, the wheelbase of which was 100 millimeters longer than the basic model. It also had air suspension as standard. Production of the 250 SE and 300 SE ended at the start of 1968. That January saw the introduction of the successor models 280 S and 280 SE, which differed from their predecessors only in respect of engine and equipment details. In March 1968 came the top of the range 300 SEL 6.3, which boasted the V8 engine and automatic transmission of the 600, thus enabling it to match the potential output of a top-quality sports car. Production of the highly successful W 108/W 109 model series came to an end in September 1972.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class, 116 series (1972 to 1980)
The first official “Mercedes-Benz S-Class” – internal designation W 116 – replaced the W 108/109 series and initially included three models, the 280 S, 280 SE and 350 SE. One noteworthy technical innovation introduced for the first time as standard in the sedans of the W 116 series was the double-wishbone front suspension with zero-offset steering and anti-dive control, which originally underwent testing in the C 111 experimental vehicle. This feature further improved handling characteristics. A new top-of-the-range model was presented in May 1975 – the 450 SEL 6.9. And from fall 1978, the S-Class sedans of the W 116 series became the first vehicles in the world equipped with a technical innovation of ground-breaking significance: The anti-lock brake system (ABS), which guaranteed the vehicle’s unrestricted steering response even under emergency braking.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class, 126 series (1979 to 1991)
In September 1979, Mercedes-Benz presented a new generation of the S-Class at the IAA in Frankfurt. The body was built according to the latest findings in safety research. Thanks to new design principles the passenger compartment could now withstand an “offset crash” at impact speeds up to 55 km/h. From 1981 the vehicle came with an airbag for the driver and – following the model refinement package of 1985 – for the front passenger also. Also in 1985, the engine range underwent a restructuring. The most spectacular newcomer was a 5.6-liter eight-cylinder unit which generated 200 kW (272 hp). In addition, all models in the W 126 series now came equipped with 15-inch wheels and bigger brakes to match. During the twelve-year production period a total of 818,036 sedans left the production workshops in Sindelfingen, making the W 126 the most successful premium-class model series in company history.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class, 140 series (1991 to 1998)
At the Geneva Motor Show in March 1991 the company introduced the S-Class from the W 140 series. A newly developed double wishbone front axle, mounted on a subframe, provided front suspension – a system designed to isolate the body from audible and perceptible vibrations. Ride comfort was also improved considerably by the soundproofing properties of the windows, the first time this feature had been used in a passenger car series. The 6.0-liter V12 engine was a completely new design, and not only the first series-produced twelve-cylinder ever built by Mercedes-Benz for a passenger car, but also the most powerful Mercedes-Benz car engine, with a rated power output of 300 kW (408 hp). In June 1993 the model designations were changed so as to place the “S” in front of the three-digit number. At the Geneva Motor Show in March 1994, the S-Class sedans appeared with discreet stylistic revisions. With effect from December 1996 the S 280 and S 320 models with automatic transmission were also equipped with the dynamic handling control system ESP. At the same time another innovation – and world first – was put into operation: Brake Assist. At the start of its career and particularly in Germany, the largest ever S-Class did not have an easy time of it – despite having undeniable qualities. Nevertheless, by September 1998 a total of 406,532 sedans from the W 140 series had been built – 28,101 of them with diesel engines.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class, 220 series (1998 to 2005)
With the S-Class sedan from the 220 series introduced at the Paris Motor Show in September 1998, the Mercedes-Benz product drive launched more than five years earlier reached a new high point. Over 30 new developments once again made the S-Class from Mercedes-Benz a trendsetter for passenger car design in general. These included automatic cylinder shut-off, which converted the S 500’s eight-cylinder unit into a four-cylinder as required, DISTRONIC autonomous intelligent cruise control and the PRE-SAFE preventative occupant protection system (introduced in 2001), with which Mercedes-Benz moved into a new era of automotive safety. Production of the W 220 series is due to come to an end in fall 2005, making way for the W 221 series. As we have come to expect from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, this series is also sure to set new standards.

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