Mercedes-Benz W126 is First Produced
The Mercedes-Benz W126 is a series of flagship vehicles manufactured by German automotive marque Mercedes-Benz.
Premiering in September 1979 as the successor to the earlier W116 line, the W126 was the second generation of the Mercedes-Benz flagship to officially bear the S-Class name referring to Sonderklasse or "special class." The W126 was initially offered in straight-6, V8, and turbo diesel sedan models. In September 1981, 2-door coupé versions of the W126 were introduced. Compared to its predecessor, the W126 was more aerodynamic, fuel efficient, capacious, and powerfully engined. The W126 S-Class debuted a new Mercedes-Benz design style which was subsequently used on other vehicles in the company's lineup. The W126 line also introduced many Mercedes-Benz safety innovations, including the first airbag supplemental restraint systems, seatbelt pretensioners, and traction control.
The W126 had a twelve-year production run between 1979 and 1991, the longest of any S-Class generation since the flagship models were first built in the mid-1950s.
Following the debut of the 1970s generation W116 (which also included the flagship Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9), Mercedes-Benz began plans for the next-generation S-Class model. Codenamed "project W126," the project had specific goals: an improved ride, better handling, and improved fuel efficiency. These improvements were aimed at helping retain the S-Class' market leadership as the world's best-selling prestige luxury sedan. Following the 1970s oil crisis, Mercedes-Benz had made fuel efficiency an especially pertinent goal (named "Energy Program"), even in the large V8 engined versions of the S-Class.
In terms of the body design, the objective of the W126 design team, led by Mercedes-Benz's Bruno Sacco, was to produce a car that was sleeker and more aerodynamic than the previous model. The application of lighter materials and alloys combined with thorough wind tunnel testing to reduce overall drag meant the car consumed about 10% less fuel than its predecessor. The maximum speed was also increased (250 km/h in the most powerful model).
After six years of development, the W126 was formally introduced at the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (International Motor Show, or IAA) in Frankfurt on September 1979. The initial lineup featured seven models in standard (SE, SD) and long (SEL, SDL) wheelbase sedan body styles: the 280 SE/SEL, 380 SE/SEL, 500 SE/SEL and 300 SD. Technically, the long wheelbase (SEL) variants were codenamed V126, but this was not popularly known. In 1981, the coupé version (SEC) of the W126 S-Class premiered at the IAA with the 500 SEC model. In 1981, Wheels Magazine selected the W126 model 380 SE as its Car of the Year.
Four years after the introduction of the fuel-efficiency "Energy Program," the model range had been reworked completely. In September 1985, again at the IAA in Frankfurt, the reworked model range was reintroduced. Apart from visual changes to the bumpers, side covers and alloys, the changes made to the available collection of engine variants was most visible. Two newly-constructed 6 cylinder engines and new 4.2 and 5.6 litre V8's were added, and other engines were further upgraded.
The W126 generation was replaced by the W140 in 1992, although a satellite factory in South Africa is known to have continued production until 1994. The different body styles of the W126 S-Class achieved a combined sales total of 892,123 units (818,063 sedans and 74,060 coupés), making the W126 the most popular S-Class ever produced.
The W126 S-Class premiered the next generation of Mercedes-Benz car styling, which came to dominate the lineup in the 1980s. Because the appearance differed from the rest of the Mercedes-Benz fleet at that time, some people did not appreciate the design at its debut. Compared to its predecessor, the W116, the new model had a sleeker, lower profile look, with more aerodynamic qualities than before (drag coefficient of Cd 0.36 for the sedans, 0.34 for the coupés). For the first time, a Mercedes-Benz sedan was not equipped with traditional chrome bumpers; polyurethane deformable bumpers were used, and visually aligned with body panels.
The interior featured pleated leather on the doors, woodgrain trim on the center console and across the dash, and a simplified layout with symmetrically placed buttons.
The W126 series premiered in late 1979 as 1980 model (and 1981 in USA). The W126 line introduced a host of new safety features, and ushered in the next phase of Mercedes-Benz styling. The W126 S-Class was also the first luxury car to win the prestigious Car of the Year award from Australia's Wheels Magazine, which it did in 1981. The W126 line lasted from 1979 through 1991, a production run of over twelve years. Total sales of the W126 S-Class sedans reached 818,036 units, with an additional 74,060 coupes sold. These sales figures make the W126 the most successful S-Class line in Mercedes-Benz history.
In 1981, the W126 introduced the modern airbag, as patented by Mercedes in 1971, to the world as an additional measure of occupant protection. Other safety innovations on the W126 included passenger side airbags (in 1986), seat-belt pretensioners, and traction control. In the cabin, additional courtesy and reading lamps, along with heated seats and a more advanced climate control system, added to the luxurious interior environment. A four-speed automatic transmission was standard.
Although the top of range Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 of the previous generation was not directly replaced, the W126 carried forward the hydropneumatic suspension of the 6.9 as an option on the 500SEL. A new cruise control system was offered as well. Abandoning the roadster based coupes, the W126 introduced a two door variant, the SEC coupé. The longevity of the W126 S-Class model cycle was aided by a mid-cycle update in 1986, an upgrade which previously was not done in S-Class generations. During the update of the W126 model S-Class, a facelift was performed and engine upgrades occurred.