Mercedes-Benz's W126 turns 40

A true pioneering automobile, the legendary W126-generation S-Class recently turned 40.

Forty years ago this month, the iconic Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W126) was launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show. At the time, it boasted groundbreaking technology and the kind of build quality that has ensured that many survive to this day. These days, a clean W126 is also a classy (and reasonably affordable) set of classic wheels to acquire.

Featuring optimised aerodynamics, airbags and deliberate weight reduction, the S-Class made its debut at the Frankfurt International Motor Show to great acclaim. Initially there were 7 models and 4 engines, ranging from a 115kW carburettor-fed 2.8L 6-cylinder to a 176kW 5.0 V8 with fuel injection. For some markets there was also a 300SD (a 5-cylinder, 3.0L turbodiesel with 92kW). A long-wheelbase variant was also offered, with an extra 140mm between the axles.

Great attention to detail was paid to the W126's aerodynamics in pursuit of lower fuel consumption.

Interestingly, the new W126 was the first Mercedes-Benz not to feature conventional bumpers, but rather plastic-coated bumpers integrated into the overall design of the vehicle. This was just one part of an overall strategy to create a more efficient vehicle. Compared with its predecessor, the equivalent W126 derivatives were 10% more efficient. 

One of the most important safety systems ever to be developed for the automobile, the airbag, made its debut on the W126, initially as an optional extra. The W126 also featured a seatbelt pretensioner system (optional, initially), and later on a front passenger airbag was also offered (from the 1988 model year). Also arriving later was acceleration skid control (optional from 1985 on V8 models).

Still looks neat and attractive today, doesn't it? The W126 featured various groundbreaking safety systems at the time of its launch.

Four years after its initial launch, again at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, the facelifted model made its debut, featuring numerous detail changes (including going from 14-inch wheels to 15 inchers), but most importantly a new engine line-up that mirrored that of the then new W124's, launched 9 months earlier. A new addition to the range was a 4.2L V8 engine, which had been created by boring out the 3.8-litre engine. The 5.0-litre engine was also modified and was now equipped with an electronic ignition system and the Bosch KE-Jetronic electronically controlled mechanical fuel injection system which helped it generate an output of 180 kW. The diesel export model was replaced by the new 300 SDL with 110 kW.

With over 800 000 units sold, the S-Class (W126) is the most successful luxury class car ever sold by Mercedes-Benz.

Then, of course, there was the 560... Featuring a 5.6L V8 engine derived from the 5.0L by extending the stroke, the 560 punched out 200kW. On request, there was even a version with higher compression which allowed for 221 kW but this variant was not available with an emission control system. 

By 1991, a total of 818 036 of these saloons had left the factory in Sindelfingen within the 12-year production period. From 1981 to 1991, 74 060 SEC coupés (C 126) were also built. This made the 126 series the most successful luxury class series in the company’s history.

1 comment

  • I own a 1982 Mercedes Benz 280SE. Its in daily use and only have around 280 000 on the odio.
    Awesome vehicle. One of the rare models with factory fitted sunroof.


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