• No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

    The fascination surrounding the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

    No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

Queen of the automotive world.

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class. For decades it has been setting standards in the global luxury sector made in Sindelfingen. Every new generation defines the automotive segment of the rich and beautiful anew – not least through the many innovations.

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

It all started with the self-supporting chassis-body structure Mercedes. The Mercedes 220 was driven by a six-cylinder inline engine with 85 hp – the luxurious measure of all things in its day.

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

Family photo in front of the tradition-steeped Friedrichsruhe Palace. For decades some of the Mercedes S-Class approval drives were carried out in the area.

Friedrichsruhe test tracks.

Friedrichsruhe. The small village which is part of the municipality of Zweiflingen in the Hohenlohe region has more influence on the international car world than you would think at first glance. 'Here in this area we have had our set routes for tuning the suspension of the S-Class to all requirements', recalls Frank Knothe, who up until 2007 was responsible for Overall S-Class Vehicle Development at Daimler, 'of course it was about comfort, but also about vehicle dynamics. The roads around here with their different surfaces were absolutely ideal for this.' Over many years Knothe put his technical stamp on the S-Class, just as lots of other people responsible for development and design have done for the best in class.

Talking shop in tradition-steeped surroundings.

Until way into the 1990s the region in the North East of Baden-Württemberg was a central touchstone for the development of every new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. So there could be no better place for a 'Classic Insight', a Mercedes-Benz Classic event. Where could there be a more suitable setting to drive nine different generations of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and their preceding series alongside one another in tradition-steeped surroundings, to talk shop with contemporary witnesses from yesteryear and to delve into the spectacular history?

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.
No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

A fine piece of S-Class history with developers responsible over the past decades, such as Frank Knothe (centre) and Karl-Heinz Baumann (left).

Unique tradition.

The designation S-Class may have been coined 45 years ago, but the tradition of this model series stretches back much further: since the start of the 20th century, luxury-segment models had always been an important part of the model range of Mercedes-Benz and its predecessor brands.What's more: the Mercedes top models have shaped automotive development in their respective epoch over and again with their groundbreaking innovations. In the post-war period the step from the mere 80 hp Mercedes-Benz 220 (W 187) from 1951 to the 220 SE (W 111) fintail model unveiled eight years later was huge, even though the 2.2-litre six-cylinder inline model had the same basic construction.

Completely new standards.

The output had grown to 88 kW / 120 hp and facilitated a top speed of an impressive 170 km/h, and with the launch of the safety body with crumple zones the model series W 111 stands for a Mercedes-Benz innovation which has saved the lives of countless people. The model series W 109 unveiled in 1965 set completely new standards not only where the drive system was concerned, but also regarding the amount of space offered and the comfort attributes. Its V8 top model launched in 1968 was focussed on the hugely important US market and from a displacement of over 6.3 litres it mustered a hefty 184 kW / 250 hp and a maximum speed of 220 km/h. The most powerful 109 also formed the technical basis for the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG racing saloon which had become an icon in Spa-Francorchamps.

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

Here stands nearly a century of luxurious Mercedes saloon history – from the legendary 460 Nürburg (front left) to the different S-Class generations.

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

There could be no better place for 'Classic Insight', a Mercedes-Benz Classic event, than the Friedrichsruhe palace.

S for Super.

The model series 116 had long since become a legend and was the first Mercedes-Benz luxury-class model series bear the memorable name S-Class. For many years it charmed the elite from Cannes to Los Angeles, Tokyo to Munich, virtually unrivalled. In the USA sunshine states of California and Florida you can sometimes to this day see many specimens in their original condition parked in the verdant driveways of mansions. In Europe lots of people have discovered their love of yesteryear's S-Class and its limitless luxury, and have given it a new lease of live as a classic car. The model series 116 debuted in the year of the German Olympics, 1972, and was priced at a minimum of 23,500 marks as the Mercedes-Benz 280 S entry-level model. The S-Class offered the pinnacle of what was technically possible back then and was available with every comfort imaginable. There was only one thing it did not have – any real competition. Jaguar had its luxurious cats, BMW was working at full steam on the first 7 Series and there was virtually no competition to speak of from Italy, the USA and France.

The finest-looking S-Class.

Almost five metres in length, the elegant four-door model with an abundance of chrome on the exterior and wood on the interior was for some people the finest-looking S-Class ever, and offered an eye-watering engine spectrum as far as many other car makers were concerned. It got off to an impressive start, with the 115 kW /156 hp 280 S and the 280 SE injection engine with 136 kW / 185 hp as a manual and automatic version, and then the 350 and 450 V8 models set the hearts of saloon fans racing. The unsurpassed luxury model was the elite Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 launched in 1975, a dynamic enhancement of the 300 SEL 6.3. The engine and automatic transmission of the Über-116 model had the performance potential of a sports car. Technically speaking the 6.9 was in an S-Class of its own. Instead of the 4.5-litre displacement of the 450 SEL the eight-cylinder had a total capacity of a monumental 6.9 litres. The result: 210 kW / 286 hp and 560 Nm maximum torque at 3000 rpm. The top speed of the 450 SEL 6.9 was 230 km/h, on a par with a sports car.

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

S-Class generations on a big journey – in the foreground the 250 hp 300 SEL 6.3.

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

The radiator grille has always played an especially important role at Mercedes-Benz, on the S-Class in particular. The different grilles are also a sign of their times.

The finest saloon in the world.

As the finest saloon in the world, as the SEL was often described back then, it was given the ultimate in luxury equipment. Not the exaggerated pomp of its American counterparts, but a mixture of fitting opulence coupled with a down-to-earth Stuttgart character and high tech aplenty, heralding in a new era in automotive engineering. The 6.9 was also very much aware of its origins. And the customers barely seemed to notice that the Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 was twice the price of a 350 SE. Alongside the generous amount of space and the unrivalled safety equipment, the luxuries on board as standard included cruise control, a central locking system, air conditioning system, 4 power windows, a headlamp washer system and head restraints with the characteristic 'ears' in the rear, too

Launch of ABS.

At the end of 1978 the 116 model was also the first series production vehicle to be available with the innovative life-saving anti-lock braking system ABS. Half a year previously the first S-Class with a diesel engine had celebrated its market launch: but the 300 SD was only produced for the USA – and in particular for the Californian market. As a powerful V8 model, meanwhile, the 116 S-Class was embraced by celebrities as well as governments and royalty all over the world.

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

From elite to sporty. The history of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class started with the Mercedes 460 Nürburg (left). On the right the legendary 'Red Sow', which took second place as the 300 SEL 6.8 in the 24 Hours of Spa.

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

Where could there be a more suitable setting to drive nine different generations of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and their preceding series alongside one another in tradition-steeped surroundings, talk shop with contemporary witnesses from yesteryear and delve into the spectacular history?

Luxury saloon for owner-drivers and chauffeured passengers alike.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class was always a technology platform, and always immeasurably distinguished rather than fashionable. A man of the world sat in the back of an S-Class, driven by his chauffeur, naturally. Nevertheless, at the same time the S-Class has always been the ideal luxury saloon for owner-drivers. One drives an S-Class, as opposed to a Mercedes-Benz. The engine was at most an interesting side issue, for even if the entry-level models were usually not so luxuriously appointed one always knew that behind the tinted or even armoured windows a leather armchair and the finest materials would always make a transfer journey a particularly pleasant one.

The oasis of calm in the everyday hustle and bustle.

It was not only private individuals from the exclusive Grünwald or Blankenese areas, but first and foremost business people in top positions who would be chauffeured through the crowds in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The oasis of calm in the everyday hustle and bustle. It has been the same story for over four decades: business leaders and captains of industry love the Über-Benz as much as heads of state and government. Ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, for example, let nothing come between him and his heavily armoured dark grey S-Class vehicles from the day he was elected in 1982, and enjoyed dealing with his state business in the saloon with a long wheelbase – in both the front and rear.

Whilst the successor model series, the 126, did not have as much chrome and pomp to offer, it came with timeless elegance. And for many fans this is regarded as the ultimate Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Karl-Heinz Baumann, Head of Passive Safety for many years: 'The S-Class was always a trendsetter in the field of vehicle safety and crashworthiness. The 126 model was the first to be truly prepared for a frontal accident.'

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

The Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL from model series W 126 is to this day regarded by many as the most elegant and perfect S-Class of all time. No other model was built more frequently.

The most manufactured S-Class.

From 1979 to 1991 the 280 S to 560 SEL models were the measure of all things. Elegant, luxurious and magnificently crafted, many former developers at Daimler still swear by this S-Class to this day. A car without weaknesses and available on request with every extra imaginable. Airbags, electrically operated and heated seats front and rear, automatic climate control, a car phone with a fax and superior office equipment, trip computer and much more meant that there were virtually no limits to the price lists of the day with their additional charges. For in the early 1980s there was an ever-increasing move towards individualisation, a desire that the brand with the star was more than able to respond to in the form of the 126. Cult status was achieved by the 560 SEL, which to this day is the epitome of a luxury Mercedes-Benz S-Class for many, with space galore, endless travel comfort and up to 220 kW / 300 hp. There were more vehicles built of model series 126 than of any other S-Class. In the twelve years of production nearly 820,000 saloons rolled off the production line.

Unadulterated luxury and technology.

At the beginning of the 90s the elegant, filigree S-Class from the 126 model series was superseded by a model which was yet more impressive inside and out. Powerful dimensions and dominant looks put the 140 model series S-Class in the headlines, at least in its home country, Germany. Until the electronic parking aid had what it took for production maturity, extendable markers on the tail end helped guide the mighty top model into parking spaces. Space, workmanship, equipment and luxury knew virtually no earthly bounds and once again the S-Class set standards worldwide where comfort and safety equipment were concerned; not least through the skid preventer ESP, which was launched in 1995 as a world innovation – as an optional extra in the V8 models and standard equipment for the twelve-cylinder models. Further high-tech extras such as the navigation system, voice control and mist-free double glazing were introduced in the 140 model series - and bodyguards soon declared the special-protection models from this model series to be their favourite vehicles.

No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.
No car stands more for Mercedes-Benz than the S-Class.

The perfect S-Class.

To this day the 140 model series has a reputation as the most luxurious S-Class there has ever been. 'In its day the W 140 symbolised maximum comfort', recalls Frank Knothe, 'every engineer at Daimler back then really gave their all in order to put maximum ride comfort in the car. This also included installing features such as double glazing and a subframe axle. Everything was the best and the finest.' With great success to this day, for the fleets of many governments are still stocked with the armoured B6 / B7 models from the years 1991 to 1998. These vehicles boast the best workmanship and as young classics they can be repaired with manageable effort. Until recently Wladimir Putin was one of the world leaders whose preferred method of being chauffeured through this unsafe world was in one of his numerous Mercedes-Benz S 600 Pullman models. The 140 was the first S-Class with a diesel engine also to be offered in Europe, as the 300 SD (from 1993 the S 350 Turbodiesel) and later as the S 300 Turbodiesel.

The S-Class: figurehead and seal of approval.

After the much-lauded 140 model series things became less spectacular but significantly more sophisticated in technical terms. The successor to the 220 model series presented in 1998 was offered in a multitude of variants between the Mercedes-Benz S 320 CDI and S 600 L. 'The 220 set standards with its equipment not only where the issue of comfort was concerned, but in particular also when it came to safety', remembers Karl-Heinz Baumann, 'for example with the reversible belt tensioner. This means that in an emergency the occupants are more closely coupled to the vehicle and, for example, the seats are preconditioned.' The preventive occupant protection system PRE-SAFE was a world innovation when it was launched in 2002 and to this day it is known as a milestone in safety development.

The global sales figures underscore the fact that Mercedes-Benz's figurehead in the luxury class was still in a league of its own despite a host of competitive models. Compared with the model series 140 the 220 model has a more subtle appearance. In the recent past the S-Class has again become more opulent. The model series 221 unveiled in the autumn of 2005 blends elegance, luxury and high tech, as do the current vehicles in the model series 222. A Mercedes-Benz S-Class is and remains what it always has been: the S-Class among cars, setting standards to this day with regard to luxury, elegance, comfort and safety.