Mercedes-Benz S Class
On the road

Special class

Regularly touted by automotive journalists as “the best car in the world” due to its comfort, refinement, engineering and safety innovations, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class golden anniversary this year.

The specs

Model: Mercedes-Benz S-Class W116

Engine: 3.5 litre M116 V8

Claim to fame: European Car of the Year 1974

This year marks 50 years since the launch of the Mercedes-Benz W116, the first model to be officially designated S-Class, a badge which has since become synonymous with automotive luxury, comfort, safety and innovation. There were large Mercedes-Benz luxury saloons, coupes and convertibles before the W116 of course, with Mercedes-Benz itself using the term internally as far back as the 220 (W187) of 1951, but the W116 has the distinction of being the first to wear the ‘S’ for ‘Sonderklasse’ badge, representing peak luxury in the German car maker’s passenger-car range.

In production from 1972 to 1979 the W116 introduced such safety innovations as a strengthened body structure with more stable security passenger cell; crumple zones front and rear; padded dashboard; steering wheel with impact absorber; and in 1978 it became the first vehicle in the world to debut modern anti-lock brakes. Technology transfer from the S-Class to other Mercedes-Benz models has been a constant throughout its history, up to and including the current seventh-generation W223.

Mercedes-Benz S Class dashboard

Credit: Mercedes-Benz AG - Mercedes-Benz Classic Communications

Mercedes-Benz S Class

Credit: Mercedes-Benz AG - Mercedes-Benz Classic Communications

Included on the long list of now mainstream S-Class safety and technology firsts are seatbelt pretensioners and driver’s airbag (W126, 1979), electronic stability program and side airbags (W140, 1996), adaptive cruise control and adaptive air suspension (W220 1998), blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning (W221 2005), and networked Intelligent Drive systems (W222, 2013).

As safe as the W116 was for its time, it also boasted an impressive combination of luxury features including air-conditioning, power steering, four-wheel vacuum-assisted disc brakes, AM/FM stereo, power windows, a central vacuum locking system for the doors and boot, and radial tyres. The striking, Friedrich Geiger penned design, characterised by strong lines, squat grille, rectangular headlamps, generous glasshouse and wraparound tail lights, would set the template for subsequent Mercedes-Benz models right up until the early 1990s.