RIS­ING THREE POINTED STARS

From the late ‘Sev­en­ties Mercedes-Benz badged cars be­gan to sweep aside a num­ber pre­vi­ously dom­i­nant do­mes­tic lux­ury marques. We look at the prin­ci­pal mod­els pro­duced by the Stuttgart-based com­pany be­tween 1980 and 1999

Classics Monthly - - Marque Guide Mercedes-benz – 1980-1999 - WOrDS IAIN WAKE­FIELD

Athree-pointed star has adorned the front of vir­tu­ally mil­lions of Mercedes-Benz ve­hi­cles but through­out the ‘Fifties, ‘Six­ties and the early ‘Sev­en­ties, it was rel­a­tively rare to see a four-door saloon dis­play­ing the mar­que’s three-di­men­sional ce­les­tial em­blem on this side of the chan­nel. up to then it was the two-seater SL that that had been fly­ing the flag for Mercedes-Benz in the uK and it wasn’t un­til the launch of the finely en­gi­neered 200-300 W123 se­ries in 1976 that the Stuttgart based com­pany re­ally started to make se­ri­ous in­roads into this coun­try’s ex­ec­u­tive saloon mar­ket.

The stylish two-door coupé and prac­ti­cal T123 es­tate quickly fol­lowed on from the four-door saloon and by the end of the decade Mercedes-Benz had in­tro­duced a civil­ian ver­sion of all-wheel drive W460 G-Wa­gen to square up to the all­con­quer­ing range rover. The early ‘Eight­ies proved a tur­bu­lent time for uK ve­hi­cle mak­ers. BL con­tin­ued to build cars that no­body re­ally wanted to buy, Ford and Vauxhall were busy sat­is­fy­ing the fleet mar­ket and the for­mer rootes Group, by now a part of Peu­geot, had vir­tu­ally given up pan­der­ing to the uK's ex­ec­u­tive car sec­tor.

This left the mar­ket clear for Mercedes-Benz to woe pri­vate and cor­po­rate buy­ers look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent and more ex­clu­sive than a Jaguar or a rover by of­fer­ing a range of well-built cars cov­er­ing a num­ber of im­por­tant sec­tors.

From the range open­ing W123 to large ex­ec­u­tive board­room ex­presses like the S-Class W126 and the ev­er­pop­u­lar SL, Mercedes-Benz badged cars were con­sid­ered ex­tremely well en­gi­neered and the num­bers be­ing im­ported in the uK started to steadily rise.

In 1982 Mercedes-Benz shocked the lux­ury mid-sized saloon mar­ket with the in­tro­duc­tion of the com­pact W201 190, a model that quickly be­came known as the ‘baby Benz’. The all-new W124, the first model to be known as the E-Class, came on the scene in 1985 and by the end of the decade diesel pow­ered op­tions were be­com­ing more pop­u­lar.

Mercedes-Benz kept the pres­sure on the pres­tige sports car sec­tor with the in­tro­duc­tion of the in­no­va­tive r129 SL in 1989 and two years later the com­pany in­tro­duced the heav­ily revised W140 S-Class. The next new model to come on the scene was in 1993 when the cov­ers came off the com­pact C-Class W202 se­ries. a brand new E-Class, the W210 se­ries, was in­tro­duced in 1995 and the fol­low­ing year Mercedes-Benz threw a grenade into Mazda’s MX-5 party with the in­tro­duc­tion of the SLK W170, a two-seat road­ster with a fold­ing metal roof. In 1996 MercedesBenz en­tered the then ris­ing peo­ple car­rier mar­ket with the launch of the V-Class 638 se­ries MPV, the first time a three-star decked pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cle had used a front-wheel drive for­mat.

Per­haps the most con­tro­ver­sial Mercedes-Benz pas­sen­ger car of the ‘nineties was the 1997 in­tro­duced a-Class 168 se­ries su­per­mini. al­though an in­ci­dent while test­ing the car in Swe­den tainted the car’s ini­tial ap­peal, the a-Class took the com­pany into a new mar­ket and went on to be­come a huge suc­cess.

In 1998 par­ent com­pany Daim­ler-Benz pur­chased the Chrysler Cor­po­ra­tion and sub­se­quent cost cut­tings re­sulted in a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to qual­ity con­trol, which sig­nalled the demise of ‘over en­gi­neered’ Mercedes prod­ucts. The first new model to be launched un­der Daim­lerChrysleraG's con­trol was the W220 se­ries S-Class and the fol­low­ing year the CL-Class W215 se­ries was launched.

The Chrysler years weren’t happy ones for Mercedes-Benz, as it seemed the ac­coun­tants were now con­trol­ling the de­sign­ers and en­gi­neers, Many fans of the mar­que heaved a sigh of re­lief when the Chrysler arm was sold off in 2007 and cheered

again two years later when the par­ent com­pany’s name reverted to Daim­leraG – Mercedes-Benz was once again a mighty force to be reck­oned with.

W123 –1976-86

The W123 was of­fered with a va­ri­ety of body styles that in­cluded a four-door saloon, a prac­ti­cal five-door es­tate, lux­ury li­mou­sine, stylish two-door coupé and a bare chas­sis for spe­cial con­ver­sions. En­try-level mod­els were badged as the 200 and power for these vari­ants came from an in­line-four ca­pa­ble of de­vel­op­ing 93hp at 4800rpm driv­ing the rear wheels through ei­ther a five-speed man­ual or four-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

The next mod­els in the ex­ten­sive W123 line-up in­cluded the 2.3 litre, four cylin­der 230 fol­lowed by the 2.5 litre 140bhp 250. Six-cylin­der choices in­cluded the 2746cc 2.8 litre 280 and the 2962cc 3.0 litre 300, while diesel op­tions were cov­ered by 2.2, 2.4 or 3.0 litre oil burn­ers.

Petrol pow­ered cars equipped with fuel in­jec­tion were iden­ti­fied with an ‘E’ suf­fix, (Ein­pritzung in Ger­man), while the ‘T’ suf­fix on five-door es­tate trans­lates as Touis­mus und Trans­port. W123 pro­duc­tion came to an end in 1986 af­ter 2.7 mil­lion examples had been built, mak­ing this model one of the most suc­cess­ful MercedesBenz sa­loons ever pro­duced.

S-Class – W126 1979-92/W140 199198/W220 1998-05

In­tro­duced in 1979, the ex­ec­u­tive-sized W126 S-Class re­placed the W116 se­ries and quickly es­tab­lished it­self on this side of the chan­nel as the favoured ex­ec­u­tive trans­port for a grow­ing num­ber of well- heeled in­di­vid­u­als. The model’s ‘S’ suf­fix was an ab­bre­vi­a­tion of Son­derk­lass, which trans­lates to Spe­cial Class and en­gine op­tions for the newly launched W126 sa­loons in­cluded a DOHC 2746cc straight six in the 280SE and a 2962cc six-pot for the 300SE and 300SEL.

The light al­loy 3839cc V8 pow­ered 380SEC and 4973cc 500SEC coupés ap­peared in 1981 along with the range top­ping 420/500/560SEC. al­though the flag­ship S-Class sa­loons were the 1986 in­tro­duced 400SE/SEL, 420SE/ SEL and 500SE/SEL, the ul­ti­mate model in the range has to be the 5546cc V8 pow­ered four-door 560SEL.

In 1991 Mercedes-Benz cranked up the stakes in the pres­tige mar­ket with the launch

of the heav­ily revised W140 se­ries S-Class. Many mo­tor­ing magazines con­sid­ered the new S-Class, which was avail­able from launch as the 300SE, 400SE 500SE and 600SE to be the ‘best built car in the world’. The equally heav­ily revised S-Class coupé was pro­duced be­tween 1992 and 1998 and the range top­ping 6.0 litre V12 was the fi­nal of­fer­ing be­fore the W220 se­ries S-Class picked up the reigns.

SLK W170 – 1996-2004

With Mazda en­joy­ing a huge amount of suc­cess with its MX-5, Mercedes-Benz de­cided to en­ter the small two-seat road­ster mar­ket with its neat look­ing tin-topped con­vert­ible SLK (the K stood for Kurz, which trans­lates to short). De­spite the rear-wheel drive SLK be­ing con­sid­ered noth­ing more than a cut down SL in some quar­ters, there was very lit­tle equip­ment shared be­tween these two cars. In fact the SLK shared more of its un­der­pin­nings with the C-Class and en­gine op­tions avail­able in­cluded a 1998/2295cc four cylin­der and a 3199cc V6. The SLK is fea­tured in more de­tail in this month’s Emerg­ing Clas­sic fea­ture on pages 112-113.

A-CLASS 168 SE­RIES – 1997-04

The ul­tra-com­pact sized front-wheel drive a-Class didn’t get the best of start out in life, as it caused mas­sive prob­lems for the com­pany when one flipped over while per­form­ing an Elk avoid­ance test with a

Swedish mo­tor­ing mag­a­zine. This re­sulted with sales be­ing sus­pended un­til the ad­di­tion of elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol along with a num­ber of sus­pen­sion tweaks that even­tu­ally im­proved the car’s high-speed sta­bil­ity.

De­spite these early prob­lems, the A-Class was ac­tu­ally a very safe car due to a clever sand­wich style floor area de­signed to al­low the en­gine and trans­mis­sion to be de­fected down­wards and away from the oc­cu­pant’ s lower limbs. This meant that the seat­ing ar­range­ment in the A-Class was much higher than com­pa­ra­ble sized cars and this tended to em­pha­sise the lit­tle car’s up­right stance.

En­gine choices in­cluded ei­ther a 1397, 1598 or 1898cc in­line-four or a 1689cc oil burner. In 2004 a heav­ily revised model came on the scene af­ter 1.7 mil­lion examples of the first gen­er­a­tion A-Class had rolled off the line at the com­pany’s Ras­tatt plant.

The A-Class took Mercedes into a com­pletely new mar­ket.

For top­less mo­tor­ing the SLK's metal roof folded up at the touch of a but­ton.

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