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
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.
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.