Cue Fanfare

Meet the new Grandmaster. 

Image: Mercedes-Benz-author’s collection.

They called it the match of the century, an East versus West showdown to elect a new Grandmaster, to be decided in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik. Over a tense series of matches from July to August of 1972, Brooklyn-native, Bobby Fischer sensationally became not only the first American, but the first non-Russian to win the World Chess Championship since its 1866 inception. A momentous year in many areas, 1972 would also bear witness Volkswagen’s Beetle outselling Ford’s Model T, the first model line to do so, while the last men to set foot upon the moon’s surface, NASA Astronauts, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt splashed down to earth that December.

Image Mercedes-Benz-author’s collection.

Anything but strangers to the arc of history, in September 1972, Mercedes-Benz would redefine the luxury saloon, producing a model line which would not only become (for many) the last word in upmarket motoring, but the first of an enduring line of benchmark cars against which everything else would be judged. The S-Class.

Throughout the late ‘Sixties, the elegant and understated W108/9 saloons had been Mercedes-Benz’s premier-class offerings. But with the requirements of the United States market paramount to the Swabian carmaker’s sales ambitions, ever more onerous impact and emissions mandates began to weigh heavily. Not that Mercedes were slouches in these departments, for under the inspired leadership of eminent engineer, Béla Barényi, Sindelfingen were leaders in occupant and vehicle safety research.

A good many of the S-Class’ (dubbed W116 internally) safety features[1], especially those within the cabin would be inspired by the Mercedes ESF 13 prototype, a fully realised study into passive safety[2], presented at the International Safety Vehicle Conference held in Washington DC during the Summer of 1972. But primary safety too was prioritised, W116 featuring zero-offset steering, to counter sudden deflections or a change in road surface under braking and a progressive anti-dive suspension geometry, which was proportional to the braking force and could vary the degree of resistance to help counter brake dive.

W116’s suspension design was a step forward from its predecessor, its double wishbone front end being similar to that of the acclaimed C111 prototype, while at the rear, a semi-trailing arm system replaced the low-pivot swing axles of old. It was reported that Mercedes engineers chose not to isolate the front crossmember with a rubber mounted subframe because they concluded that to do so would be detrimental to the car’s impact-absorbing qualities. Safety concerns would also lead them to ensure that the roof pillars could support a load of ten tonnes.

Image Mercedes-Benz-author’s collection.

A hugely impressive motor car, the S-Class was viewed (in Europe at least) as being largely in a class of one, a matter reflected in the W116 being awarded the European Car of the Year award in 1974. Mercedes themselves appeared to be in accord, proudly stating, “Mercedes-Benz vehicles have already reached such a high level of technology that any further real improvement seemed almost impossible. But with the S-Class, tangible improvements have been made. In developing these models we have reached the physical and technological limits of current automotive engineering. Higher standards are inconceivable at the present time”.

While undoubtedly a technical tour de force, where the Swabians were less successful was in matters of aesthetics, the W116 never quite coming across as anything less than heavy-handed and broad-beamed. Combining design elements first seen in the previous year’s R107 SL/ SLC models, the S-Class was modern, imposing, unmistakable, yet to many eyes, somewhat indelicate – especially with the longer wheelbase bodyshell[3].

Image: 500sec.com

Inside, the W116 cabin offered its occupants unrivalled protection with Sindelfingen’s most up to date safety cell, generous interior padding and deformable surfaces. The beautifully finished cabin decor however, which Mercedes characterised as “practical elegance” was decidedly on the austere side of the luxury coin, so while all the modern conveniences were present, the Mercedes philosophy of driver alertness and the avoidance of distraction meant that functionality and ease of use would over-ride anything of a more frivolous nature. Luxury for luxury’s sake was therefore tantamount to heresy. A hairshirt then perhaps, but one that would conceivably take you to the moon and back.

This certainly appears to have been the slant taken by US imprint, Car and Driver in 1973, who dispensed praise for the S-Class’ many fine qualities, but criticised Mercedes heavily for sacrificing passenger comfort and noise suppression over safety and dynamic concerns[4]. In the UK however, Car magazine who set the first-principles Mercedes against its only natural European predator, viewed the 350 SE as being the Jaguar XJ12’s equal in areas like quietness and ride comfort; the very aspects about which its American counterparts were least enamoured. Conversely, while Car and Driver made little mention of the S-Class’ styling, apart from suggesting that it too had been sacrificed at the altar of safety, Car on the other hand were more overtly critical[5].

A dry-sumped 6.9 litre super-saloon could be described as many things, but austere was certainly not one of them. Having shoehorned an enlarged version of their already legendary M100 V8 unit into the W116 body, which coupled with Mercedes’ own design of fully hydropneumatic suspension, Sindelfingen’s engineers created a car like no other. If the standard S-Class was, as Car magazine described it, “a vehicle of major significance”, the 450 SEL 6.9 was, in the words of LJK Setright, “one of those rare cars that are so good of their kind that you cannot get anything better”. Mercedes built the Soixante Neuf in relatively small numbers from 1975, but it would become the defining W116 model, and from 1978, would stop equally as well as it went[6].

Image: cardatamax

Following his sensational victory over reigning chess champion, Boris Spassky, the 1972 Grandmaster would not survive first contact with the fame and adulation that awaited him. His once rigorous, logical mind would descend into increasingly erratic and wildly provocative statements and actions. He never defended his championship, and lost his battle with deteriorating mental health in 2008. Meanwhile, for Astronauts, Cernan and Schmitt, like all former moonwalkers, life back on the good old world would prove something of an anti-climax. Stars must fall.

Rigorous logic was also the leitmotif of both Mercedes-Benz, and its own 1972 grandmaster. The W116’s crushing superiority may have carried all before it, yet Sindelfingen engineers in their pursuit of “perfection down to the smallest detail” neglected a more nebulous quality – warmth. And it was perhaps this deficit which would over time undermine the 116 against more frangible rivals.

By 1979, the W116 had become perceived as something of a barge, and somewhat unusually for Mercedes, its rather overwrought appearance was deemed increasingly to resemble one. Nevertheless, between 1972 and 1979, when it was superseded by the even more impressive W126[7] model, 473,035 W116s were built[8] – a phenomenal number considering its price, corpulence and the relative affluence of customers during those volatile times.

Class will out.

[1] A W116 innovation was the positioning of its fuel tank, which was sited in a protected position above the rear axle. The fuel filler neck was also deformable, to avoid breakage. This would become universal auto industry practice.

[2] The 1972 ESF 13 was followed by the ESF 22 (1973) and ESF 24 (1974), both of which were W116-based. Further studies would follow; Mercedes-Benz continuing the ESF programme to this day.

[3] The long wheelbase body was enlarged by 100 mm. Introduced with the 450 model, the SEL body was later rolled out across the entire S-Class range. 

[4] Car and Driver were less than impressed with the S-Class as a luxury vehicle, stating for instance that… “the ride is exceptionally harsh for a sedan“. They went on : “The Mercedes transmits not only roughness to the interior but substantial amounts of noise as well.” They concluded, “we can only question certain priorities…” before going on to point out that the 450 SE “…in no way imparts the sense of luxury.” They concluded that its predecessor was the better luxury car.

[5] Car’s Ian Fraser had this to say: “Although the Merc’s body shape is new, and practical in all respects, it’s hardly likely to have people flinging themselves about in a frenzy of ecstasy upon first sighting it“, going on to suggest that ” to look like a Mercedes can be a goal in itself.” Fraser was also less than enamoured with the W116’s cabin, suggesting that “it looks somehow to have been cobbled up.” Incidentally, the W116 was apparently the last Mercedes design to have been styled under the supervision of Friedrich Geiger, prior to his retirement.

[6] In 1978, the fully electronic Bosch ABS anti-lock braking system was introduced on W116 as an option.

[7] Efficiency this time would be the Mercedes-Benz watchword. The W126 series saw the S-Class truly come of age. 

[8] The very last W116 (believed to have been a 300SD model) emerged from the Sindelfingen production tracks in 1980.

Engines: W116 was introduced in Europe as the 280 S (carburettor), and 280 SE (fuel injection); both using the 2.8 litre Mercedes M110 twin-cam straight six. The 350 SE was fitted with the M116 3.5 litre V8 unit (also fuel injected). In 1973, the M117 4.5 litre fuel injected V8 was introduced as the 450 SE and SEL. (The 450 model was standardised for the US market from launch). In 1978, a 3.0 litre 5 cylinder turbocharged diesel model was introduced into the North American markets to help Mercedes conform to Corporate Average Fuel Consumption (CAFE) regulations. As US fuel prices rose and austerity bit, this would prove an astute move on the Swabian’s part.

Sources: Car and Driver August 1973/ Car Magazine (November 1972/May 1973/June 1975)/ Mercedes Classic/ w116.org/ 500sec.com/ Mercedes-world.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

42 thoughts on “Cue Fanfare”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. I’ve always had a soft spot for the W116 (and it’s successor the W126). I have never sat in one, even though I knew two people who had one back in the ’80’s, both a 280 SE, one brown metallic the other a cream yellow.

    I always thought Mercedes used the hydraulics from Citroën and it wasn’t their own design.

    Here’s a shot of a 1978 450 SEL 6.9 I saw last Saturday on the Concours d’Elégance in Soestdijk.

    1. The hydro pneumaric suspension of the ‘Sechsneuner’ also was available as a costly (and rare) option on all long wheelbase W116s and at least initially also on LWB W126s.
      The system was developed in cooperation with Fichtel & Sachs who also produced it. There are absolutely no Citroen parts in it and you also can’t use LHM in it. The Benz system introduced ideas that would appear on Citroens more than twenty-five years later like anti sink valves which prevent the car from losing its ride height when not on use. There also was a push pull button in the dashboard to ‘lock’ the system which then wouldn’t alter the car’s height, something never possible on Citroens.

      The W116 was an asolute sensation when it appeared on the market. Mercedes the eixtence of the company on the success of this car and they were successful. Don’t forget that the W108/109 – however elegant it was – was just a comprehensive facelift of the tailfin Benz and shortly before Mercedes had been so poor they had to use the same basic bodyshell for their complete model range from W110 190 Dc to W112 300 SEL. The took a high risk by presenting the V8 350 version first and adding the 280 six cylinder versions later.

      The W116 was designed with incredible attention to detail like its rain water management system with parallel wipers that always were in the direction of the airflow, water deflectors in the A posts that guided the water over the roof, side mirrors that kept the door glass clean and a rain gutter in the rear window’s chrome surround.
      As always, the car came with an endlessly long list of expensive options which even had low level door trim (standard with cloth seat covers) and high level door trim flowing into the window surrounds (standard with velours, MT Tex or leather seats) and made-to-measure orthopedic seats.

      The father of a former classmate replaced his 300 SEL 6.3 (which already was a pretty impressive car) with a 450 SEL 6.9 which really was a world of its own. The combination of this huge and relaxed engine with the torque compensating rear axle of the 450 made for effortless high speed progress at engine speeds similar to a truck diesel.

    2. Thanks for enlightening me, Dave. I always wondered about the Citroën connection as you correctly said the Benz doesn’t lose ride height. I was aware it was available on the W126, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across one that had this option.

  2. I can assure you that the ride and noise isolation of the Mercedes is not a match for that of the XJ12. In terms of ride and NVH the Jaguar/Daimler is superior. That’s not to damn the Mercedes. It was built to achieve different targets. It has a completely different feel and provides a completely different driving experience.

    Some things to notice. The XJ12 is accelerates to a given speed in less time than any of the W116 models provided you row through the gears manually. If you rely on the auto-box to self shift, then the Mercedes 450SEL 6.9 is quicker to 60 mph. If you self-shift the XJ12 it is a tenth quicker to 60mph than the 6.9, although the Mercedes can match or better it if the Jag gets a poor start or the driver of the Jag changes into second gear too early. After 60mph though, it is the Jag that is decidedly the quicker of the two.

    The Mercedes 6.9 can smoke both tyres from a standing start in the dry. The Jaguar does not.

    The Mercedes looks solid, feels solid and is solid. Every feature feels as if it has been hewn from a solid block of unobtanium. The Jaguar has details which are flimsy. For example, much of the interior fitting… (door mounted arm rests and door pulls, the rotary knobs for the cabin heating and cooling etc.).

    Mercedes transmissions change gear imperceptively. Not so the Jaguar (definitely not when fitted with the Borg Warner, the TH400 is much closer and that transmission is highly tunable so with the right set up…).

    Mercedes has self leveling in the 6.9. Jaguar does not. Self-leveling is helpful when travelling four up with lots of luggage. The Jaguar is not as good in this mode. It drags its arse and the rear tyres show significant camber.

    Jaguar steering is over-light and is lacking in feel. Mercedes steering has more weighting and the feel is a little better than the Jaguar. Mercedes steering has some on-centre lost motion (not much, but it is there, I have not been able to adjust this out).

    Mercedes is a limit under-steerer. Jaguar is a limit over-steerer. Both can be provoked to power over-steer at low and moderate speeds. Jaguar has a noticeable transient rear steer on turn-in. Mercedes can be provoked to oversteer on trailing throttle. Mercedes has some rear steer due to geometric effects, but they are generally not noticeable unless the car is being driven enthusiastically on uneven road surfaces. Both cars handle nicely. The Jaguar has an edge here. It also has more road-holding.

    In the 6.9 the driver is always aware there is something special up front. That engine has a presence. The Jaguar V-12 is silent unless at full-thottle and running at over 3,500 rpm. At that point it is very quiet, near silent but not quite. It has no vibration at all. None. Ever. It is turbine smooth. The Jaguar V-12 is cammy. There is a noticeable step into the power band as the revs rise. The Mercedes 6.9 has torque everywhere. Similar sensation with the 450, just not as much of it.

    Ride is obviously firmer in the Mercedes. Also, short sharp bumps can catch the suspension out (even though they are waaay softer the big Citroens do something similar). The Jaguar has brilliant ride characteristics. Especially noticeable is how good the low speed ride is. I have never experienced crash through on any of the Jaguars (XJ12 S-3, Sovereign S-3, Daimler Double Six S-2), not ever.

    Both Mercedes W116 (all) and Jaguar XJ4 (all) have steering which is quicker than the chassis (there is noticeable delay as the body settles into cornering after initial steering command). There is nothing unpredictable or wayward about either car.

    None of the Jaguars are anywhere near as reliable as the Mercedes. I’ve never had the engine or transmission out of the Mercedes due to mechanical issues or breakdown. Nor have I needed to take the differential out of the Mercedes for repair (although its probably running out of friction material by now, so the time for extraction is looming). Mercedes electrical systems are AOK. Jaguar’s systems are best not mentioned.

    Sound system fitted at the factory was waaaay better in the Mercedes.

    Jaguar is easier to modify for several reasons. One reason is that none of them are especially rare. Hence mucking around with them mechanically or structurally and making even drastic alterations is not going to take one on a guilt trip. Another reason is cost of parts and timely availability of parts. Yet another reason is that there are plenty of areas which can be improved. For example….

    Jaguar has oil leak issues. One of the worst sinners is the V-12’s under-size PCV vent which leads to the inevitability of a rear main seal failure. All the issues are solvable with the right modifications. Mercedes has a dry sump in the 6.9. It never leaks. Ever.

    And on it goes. They are so very different. Both are the better for it.

    1. The 6.9 was not set up for drag strip acceleration from stand still.
      Mercedes had complaints from 6.3 customers about lack of acceleration at speeds beyond 200 kph (if I remember correctly the 6.3 had a top speed of about 215 kph) and as a result the 6,9 was geared for a much higher top speed with less acceleration when going slow.

  3. Good morning Eóin and thanks for celebrating the 50th birthday of the W116. It really was a tour de force in technical terms.

    Regarding the styling, I always thought it was a handsome and imposing car, but one thing troubled me and it’s evident to a greater or lesser extent in all the photos of the front and rear of the car in your piece. I’m referring to the alignment of the double-stacked front and rear bumpers. The quarter-bumpers front and rear never appeared to be truly parallel with the main bumpers beneath them. I remember noticing this even in Mercedes-Benz publicity photos when the car was launched. (This is not the sort of thing that troubles most eleven year-old boys, I know!). It meant that the cars always looked as though they had been involved in a low-speed shunt with another vehicle.

    It’s a shame Mercedes-Benz couldn’t have come up with a neater solution to integrate the side rubbing strip with the bumpers. Even ignoring the misalignment issue, the double bumpers always looked a bit clumsy and heavy-handed, and the quarter-bumpers were of marginal additional value. That said, at least buyers in Europe were spared from this monstrosity:

    1. AMG – tasteless as ever – provided W116s with single bumpers which look somewhat ’empty’

    2. Hi Dave. If they were a little deeper and mounted a bit higher, they would be perfect!

    3. That view from rear looks very similar -perhaps too similar -to the R/C 107.

  4. Hi Dave

    The 6.9 can haze its tyres in the dry from stand still. It’s geared just fine since were it any shorter you’d have to modulate the throttle pedal carefully when accelerating away from rest. In the wet it’d definitely be a bit of a handful. Most people can’t deal with that sort of thing very well. The car is safer for them since its gearing causes it to hook up early. Besides, this car has an image of conservatism.

    If you wanted to have the 6.9 really wake up from stand still and you had the skill, then fit a regular 450SEL rear ratio set. I have one of those just in case. It might be fun one day. Still, burning rubber and enabling circle work wouldn’t really fit with the image/personality of the car.

    Like the 450SEL 6.9, the 300SEL 6.3 is capable of breaking tyre traction from standstill. In this case the tyres act as a mechanical fuse. If you fit this car with stickier tyres you’ll wreck the diff. Don’t ask how I know!

    1. The 6.3 had a top speed of 215 kph and needed about 6.5 seconds from standstill to 100kph – numbers close to a 911 at that time.
      The 6.9 reached nearly 240 kph but needed close to eight seconds to 100 kph.

      I remember a trip in the 6.9 blasting down the fast lane at considerable speed and listening to the Becker radio featuring a right wing politician fantasising about ‘radicalinskys’ taking over the country…

  5. For 6.9 the 0-60mph dash is around 7 1/2 seconds. It is possible to get it down to 7.2 seconds. That’s about as good as it gets for a standard car. Hand-shifting the transmission does not really help much. Everything depends on how well the car hooks up after launch. Ideally it chirps the tyres and then goes. Be careful though. You can hurt the diff if you aren’t. Never let it spin up one side only.

    Where the car really shines is in its feeling of solidity and dependability. Each detail seems so deliberate, thought through and carefully executed. It is a shame Mercedes forgot how to do right.

    The car has a completely different feeling from any of the XJ4 models. They are not directly comparable and are best considered as coming from a different category.

    The Becker is good. Best to leave it right where it is and find some Phillips audio cassettes to feed it.

    ….‘radicalinskys’? Did that fast lane happen to be in Germany?

  6. I realise I haven’t listened to ‘Swoon’ for ages. Must dig it out again.

    1. Jonathan: I think you’ll find it stands up rather well. A bit like the W116 really.

  7. I think some people were a little harsh on the W116 S-Class, on the basis that how you see it depends where you’ve come from.

    My own experience was a comparison with my family’s Citroën CX, which was the polar opposite to this S-Class. The S-Class impressed the heck out of me with its feeling of quality and refinement. I’d still go for the W126 model as the ultimate, though.

    I guess at the time, M-B would still have been producing the 600; however, it’s hardly a car for ‘civilians’.

    Here’s a launch video for the S-Class showing its development.

    1. The W116 had to fit in the Mercedes world design-wise and conceptually.
      It followed the elegant but old fashioned W108/109, sat aside the pompous W100 and had the modernist but austere W114/115 at its side.

      The W116 was quite fitting in this environment.
      And at least it was good enough to become the W126 after a rework which hade it last nearly twenty years.
      And show me any other car whose manufacturer spent hundreds of hours in the wind tunnel to find a solution for directing rain water away from the side windows.

    2. Curiously, Car and Driver in their 1973 report, criticised this rain gutter feature, saying it contributed notably to wind noise. They reportedly removed them and found the noise level dropped significantly. There appears to have been a difference in perceptions in the US, even from an enthusiast publication like C & D, who would have been fairly receptive to European product. Certainly, the likes of Mercedes-Benz was held in something less than awe, whereas I suspect that the W116 had a lot of British and European carmakers very much on the back foot. Imagine attempting to rival that level of engineering craft and sheer rigour?

    3. If you want to see how this raingutter should not be done look no further than a BMW E23 with its black plastic strip crudely fixed to the wing with self tappers.

      Up to the W114/115 Mercedes had used much of its engineering talent to find ways around their design flaws like hydro pneumatic balance sprints for swing axles. With the W116 they fully exploited their potential for the first time and achieved a remarkable result.

    4. Thanks for sharing the video, Charles. Unfortunately I can’t watch it now, but it’s on my ‘play it later’ list.

  8. That was enjoyable to peruse. Am I the only one unable to fully endorse the question mark over the car´s styling? For me its entirely sui generis. It still looks fantastic and beyond fashion. In a way they never needed to make another big saloon after this. Like the wonderful Toyota Century it is car born as an archetype. I imagine the designers were a small group who in comparison with today, lived in a village and who conceived of this without the intensity of awareness that I think cramps contemporary designers and engineers.

    1. I love it, but I don’t think it has the well-balanced restraint of a W123, to my eyes.

      I want to buy a Fintail, in black, and wear a polo-neck jumper and an eye patch.

    2. I agree with you, Richard about the W116, but I feel similar about the W126. I’m also quite fond of the Century.

    3. I think the W126 was and remains the definitive S-Class:

      The W140 was an amazing engineering achievement, but just too much, somehow. Every S-Class since has been ephemeral and forgettable.

  9. W116’s lead designer was Frenchman Gérard Cardiet, by the way, working under Friedrich Geiger/Karl Wilfert. One must remember in this context, however, that MB design in those days was a particularly collaborative effort, meaning no Mercedes model’s shape can be attributed to a single designer in straightforward fashion.

  10. Eóin, delightful words, thank you.

    Dave and J T, some very valid points and arguments. Again, many thanks.

    Daniel, I’m ok with the double bumper theme. I think it lends the car class but I’m with you on the 126 being more coherent and correct. I saw a W222 at lunchtime in ubiquitous black which did little for me apart from gasping at its size.

    Charles, excellent video. Great to see 1970’s technology at its best. I loved watching the old computers punching out the data strips. And how did the fellow keep his fingers with that band saw so close? Health and safety? Pah!

    One wonders if the test people ever read or reacted to the magazines negative comments?

    Prefab Sprout and Swoon. Played it on the way home from work, first time in ages. Whilst not an overall favourite, Mr MacAloon rarely brought out a dud. Bit like Mercedes’ from that era.

  11. My best friend’s father had one of these in the early 1990s. Which was appropriate because he held some sort of senior engineering role within a big German industrial outfit. I think he liked to tinker with his W116.

    When his dad was away on business my friend sometimes used to drive us around in the big Merc. I remember wafting along in this imperious barge with its spartan interior that not surprisingly looked like it was from the 1970s. I really wish I’d paid closer attention.

    His dad’s other project car was an old VW Beetle. He fitted electric seats to it that sometimes used to get stuck whilst being adjusted. It’s not easy to get out of a car when you’re forced to lean forward at a 45 degrees angle…

  12. In Australia, one of the minor controversies (there were several major ones) of the leftish Whitlam government elected in 1972 after 23 years of conservative rule was their replacement of the stately black 1960s Prime Ministerial Bentley S3 with a white 450 SEL. As a car-mad child, this made more of an impression than their many social reforms, the SEL seemed very dashing. It was in turn replaced by an Australian made Ford LTD which the subsequent Prime Minister (car mad Lancia fan Malcolm Fraser) reviewed the LTD for Wheels magazine – quite a fun read – https://www.whichcar.com.au/features/ford-ltd-prime-ministerial-material.

  13. I thought that this was a fascinating passage from a Mercedes text on the W116.

    “So the man at the wheel has to be alert and must concentrate; he must not be distracted by unimportant details; nor must he find himself inhibited by immature engineering; he must control and steer his car with a quick eye and a sure touch.

    Everything possible has been done in the S-class to minimise distracting influences, to keep the driver alert so that he can do the right thing at the right time.

    It starts with an instrument panel that is absolutely functional. The driver’s seat is not an aeroplane cockpit because the car should not be thought of as an aircraft, and because the wrong environment can lead to the wrong sort of behaviour.

    One factor in keeping alert and aware is the ability to see all four corners of the car. Another is having switches and controls with which the driver can familiarise himself in a few minutes. In a Mercedes-Benz they are positioned logically – where they belong – they are easy to see and cannot be confused one with another and there are no more of them that the driver really needs.”

    Compare and contrast to the modern era. Progress, you say?

    Oh well, at least we have Sensual Purity.

    1. I think they were earnest…

      …but I don’t see anything revolutionary here, I also don’t see a hazard light switch, and I know where I prefer the handbrake to be located, and so on. Please correct me though.

      Is “not an aeroplane cockpit” a sideways dig at the impeccable ergonomics and similarly high quality polymers found in the Saab 99? Which reminds me, I don’t see a control for the heated seats either. Hrmf!

    2. “I don’t see anything revolutionary here” Doh! the auto-transmission gate, of course. Anything else?

    3. More thoughtfully, I think the “aeroplane” comment might have been aimed at Crewe, not Trollhättan. And they had every right to be that proud. I’ll withdraw my objection.

    4. If I recall correctly the early W116’s had a column gear selector.

    5. A column gear shift was an option for all W116s with automatic gearbox except for the 6.9 and the turbo diesel.

      The handbrake in reality was foot operated and the handle in the dashboard was the release – like in a Citroen DS. This was universal Benz practice except for the W201, some Benzes had pull out handbrakes under the dashboard in right hand drive configuration and the foot operated mechanism with left hand drive.
      Cars with heated seats had orange illuminated switches next to the gear lever.

  14. The W116 followed the R107 in using the ‘trademark’ Mercedes Benz ribbed tail lights. Of course in a 70s Mercedes Benz, they couldn’t just be a styling feature they had to have a practical effect. The ribs are there to capture the coriolis effect of air moving over them. This increases the velocity of the air and thus reduces the pressure on the air flowing over the ribs, causing dust, mud, salt or other dirt to be deposited on the rib outer edge and not in the grooves between the ribs. Thus the grooves stay clean and light through the lens is visible, not obscured. The result seen here on an Australian car.

    At the time many other manufacturers copied the ribbing on tail lights but no-one copied it properly, as the proper dimensions and spacing of the ribbing had been patented.

    Some people claim that the decline in Mercedes Benz design quality tracks the decline in use of the ribbed lights on their cars. A proposition I find hard to argue with.

  15. Hand operated park brakes are a neat way to clear space between the driver and front passenger. I had one in my XM and had no problem doing hill-starts. I am not especially dexterous (ask anyone who challenges me to tennis or even catching a thrown object). For a hill start you have the parking brake on, you move the gear to first, disengage the clutch until it bites, add some extra throttle and (with your right hand), pull the release lever and the car stays in position until you add more throttle until the car moves forward. I think it´s easier than having your gear arm working the gear lever and the console-mounted hand brake.

    1. My early modern day Volvo’s had handbrake lever between the driver’s seat and the door.

      I believe it is/was another neat way of providing meaningful space between front seats occupants.

      Of course getting to move forward from stand still at uphill point is trickier. Lucky for me all of them were automatic gearbox…

      Well, those were the days of cable-operated park brake….

  16. Magnificent post
    Magnificent comments

    All this regarding a vehicle I never found aesthetically appealing, inside or out… same about the W123

    There is always someone who spoils the party 🤣

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