Small Details: More Sagging Lines

Obviously if Bruno Sacco is involved, a design decision is not trivial. Under scrutiny here is the decision to make the lower edge of the 1991 Mercedes S-class sideglass sag by a very small amount.

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What effect did it achieve and would the car be better off without it? Here are four photos to show the effect of a straight lower window line. Obviously this sag is a deliberate choice. By removing it we can see what effect it was supposed to have. I think.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

10 thoughts on “Small Details: More Sagging Lines”

  1. It may have been a blunt car overall, but Sacco certainly knew about the importance of details and how to handle them (until he caught the vicious cheesiness virus at some point in the early ’90s – or was being sidelined by the management; take your pick). These days, to these eyes, the W140’s clean lines appear almost attractive, and certainly comfortingly calm. This basic design, with smaller, less ‘engineering-led’ proportions, could’ve been a very fine-looking machine, indeed.

  2. Every year I feel more and more confused as to why I took so badly against the W140. Sure, after its W126 predecessor and the then current W124 E Class, it isn’t Sacco at the height of his power, but it looks damn fine now. But please don’t wait for a similar retraction from me concerning ‘his’ W210 E Class – which certainly wasn’t improved by its sag.

  3. Well observed Richard. Is it heresy to suggest a straight edge would have looked more ‘correct’? With a little less visual heft – especially at the rear three-quarters, the SWB W140 could have been the defining Benz of its era. Viewed side-on, it looks fine, but from the rear in particular the 140 appears massively overbodied.

    As for the crime scene on wheels that is the W210, it was, is and will always remain ineptitude on a truly epic scale. They simply cannot rust into oblivion fast enough. I propose a new demolition-derby formula exclusively for W210’s and X200 S-Types. Not only entertaining, but a service to motordom…

    1. I always thought that the worst angle for the W140 is the 3/4 frontal view. From a certain angle it looks as if the massive C-pillar hangs way oitside and behind the rear wheel, while the boot is barely visible. It makes the rear track seem unnaturally narrow, and the whole car – yes, overbodied.

      To the W210 and X200, I have nothing to add. Where can I watch one of these derbies?

  4. The version with the straight line looks better but more like a W126. In comparison with the predecessor, the ’91 S is a slab, lacking any nuances. That sagging window is an error not a nuance. In comparison with today’s S, it seems restrained and therefor commendable. Volvo’s S80 seems to have been the last nice, big car.

  5. If the car had tapered from front to rear the overbodied look would have been avoided. I guess a taper of 100 mm might have been required to be noticeable. Then we have a clear conflict of values: packaging efficiency versus appearances. So, does reducing the width by 100 mm reduce the boot a lot or a little or any noticeable amount? What did it do for the interior room for the passengers? I think that Sacco and Co. decided the package was more important than looks.

  6. You just made me wonder if packaging was really the issue, or if they wanted the car to be impressive and representative by its sheer size and squareness.
    But I actually start to like this “packaging over looks” idea, and I wish it could still be applied today.

  7. Packaging and looks are hard to reconcile sometimes. I tend to take the view that under certain circumstances a packaging-led car has clear integrity and can be marketed succesfully. The S-class was so massively scaled that they had room to compromise packaging so as to make the appearance just a shade more subtle. The C-pillar is not positioned correctly; it is situated too far back relative to the rear axle.
    Packaging over looks: generally one gets the feeling the pendulum has swung towards looks at the expense of packaging. I may be wrong but that´s my feeling. A counter-argument is that cars have grown so much in the last 20 years that there is room to improve appearances and still leave room to spare for passengers and luggage.
    The matter is fundamentally one of irreconcilable values. Packaging is quantitative and appearances qualitative. This might be one of the few areas in modern life where a qualitative value has trumped a quantitative one.

    1. Sacco has been on the record numerous times (post-retirement, that is) that the W140’s basic proportions had been dictated by engineering, who wanted to crush the BMW Seven, along with the rest of the opposition, with all the might they could muster. The engineers wanted to basically design a 600 for the ’90s: one car to rule them all, hence their insisting on such vast dimensions (as well as, lest we forget, novelties like CAN-Bus). Incidentally, there was to be no SWB version of the W140 planned, hence the particularly ungainly look of the ‘small’ S.
      To Sacco, the W140’s main problem is its height, which he’d been dead set on lowering, but to no avail. Regarding the W140’s slab look, I must admit to finding it rather pleasingly clean and, above all, solid. Giving the car such a high-grade cast-iron look cannot have been all that easy, even if I certainly prefer the W126’s more nuanced appearance.

      The designer in charge of W140’s exterior, by the way, was Olivier Boulay, who could later on commit the Maybach. Which certainly proved that much worse things than the W140 could be done using the same underpinnings.

  8. The version with the relocated C-pillar looks like a W124 with a very large ass, it becomes too rear heavy.

    I don’t think there’s any way to improve the design of the W140 without making a completely different car. They wanted a giant slab to rule them all, and by God that’s exactly what they got. It is no mistake, it is very deliberately made. I don’t think a car has been more deliberately sinister looking since the W100 600, and that’s no coincidence either. There isn’t something wrong with the design, this is exactly what they wished for. And that’s what freightens people, because one shouldn’t see their dreams come true if they look like nightmares…

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