Presented to the world in sedan form for the first time in late 1984, the still-desirable W124 has turned 35 years old. These days a well-kept W124, whether it's a basic sedan or one of the rarer coupes, convertibles or wagons are sought-after modern classics. Let's take a look at its history.
Following in the footsteps of another star performer, the seemingly unbreakable W123, Mercedes-Benz couldn't afford getting the W124 wrong. The daunting task of developing it, however, didn't stop the brand from throwing all its latest tech at the new executive segment contender.
The sedan (W124) made its first appearance in Spain in late 1984, with the station wagon/estate (S124) following in 1985, the coupe (C124) in 1987 and the Cabriolet (A124) in 1991. A long-wheelbase variant (V124) was introduced in 1989. In 1993 this series of cars was facelifted and became the first to wear the E-Class name.
Work started on the W124 even before the W123, its predecessor, reached the market.
In Europe (and in South Africa), the W124 line-up has become a highly desirable "youngtimer" classic. While basic sedans can still be picked up relatively cheaply, don't expect this to be the case for much longer, especially for low-mileage examples.
This trend, Mercedes-Benz says, is confirmed by the “Emerging Classics” index, which is a part of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Index (MBC Index) of the Historic Automobile Group International (HAGI). For example, here the 500 E V8 version, the top AMG models as well as the cabriolets and coupés are among the most promising classic cars of the brand, said Dietrich Hatlapa from HAGI. Between its launch at the end of 2011 and September 2019, the MBC Index has more than doubled.
Aerodynamics played a big role in the W124's efficiency game.
The W124 series had a long gestation. According to Mercedes-Benz the so-called Stroke/8 sedans of the W114/115 series were still in production when work started on the W124. Work started seriously at the end of 1975 on the car that would eventually replace the W123, itself only introduced in January 1976!
The W124's development coincided with a lot of change in upper executive management of the company (then Daimler-Benz AG), as well as far stricter emissions legislation in some countries. Consequently, efficiency was high on the agenda, and Mercedes-Benz developed a new line-up of 6-cylinder engines and a whole range of diesels.
No wonder the W124 is a desirable modern classic, it's cabin still looks classy.
When the car was eventually revealed, it stunned the world with its aerodynamic shape. The first project descriptions and ten plasticine models of the W124 were created in 1977 at a scale of 1:5 – a drag coefficient of Cd = 0.32 was aspired to in the specifications. In 1981 management decided on the final design with seven clay models. At launch, the car was also lauded for its ride comfort and dynamics (new multi-link rear suspension) and safety.
Launch in South Africa in 1986, the line-up initially consisted of the 200 (manual and automatic), 230 E (manual and automatic) and 260 E (manual and automatic). The South African press also praised the W124, for its ride/handling balance, refinement and build quality. No wonder so many have lasted so long, even with exceptionally high mileages. No wonder, also, that so many W124s were used as taxis in Germany long after the range had been replaced.
A late-model Coupe such as this one is a sought-after vehicle these days.
The range expanded eventually, with the Coupe, Cabriolet and Station Wagon models becoming available in limited numbers. Sadly, we never got the 500 E (240kW) super sedan, or the thumping E 60 AMG (280kW).
In 1993 the E-Class name was applied for the first time, with the naming nomenclature changing from 500 E to E 500, as an example. Production of the W124 ended in 1995 in the Sindelfingen factory, with CKD kit manufacture ceasing a year later. In 11 years 2 213 167 sedans were built, and a total of 2 737 860 W124s, making it the most successful E-Class segment vehicle of all time for the brand.
In 1993 the W124 became the first Mercedes-Benz to adopt the E-Class name.
There are still many W124s to choose from in the South African used car market, and you needn't necessarily be put off by high mileage, as long as the service record is complete. These are hardy cars. We would love to have a 300 TE or 300 CE in our driveway...