“The Greatest” — it’s a title which carries with it great responsibility, and one that should neither be applied nor accepted lightly. Yet for some cars, proclaiming them as the greatest comes with relatively little difficulty. Yet, the Mercedes-Benz W124 series, Mercedes’ midsize range of vehicles from 1985 to 1996 and the first to be referred to as the E-Class beginning in as a 1994 model, is a car that this title comes easily to.
Of course, I’m certain many people will beg to differ, as in its over century-long history, Mercedes-Benz has produced many truly great vehicles, including the W124’s immediate W123 and W114 predecessors. Yet it’s important to address what is meant by “greatness”, a rather broad term. To me personally, greatness in an automobile is something that can only come with experience. Greatness is cumulative of both a car’s actual strengths and positive virtues that are evident at its launch, as well as its longevity and how it holds up over time.
At least in the past half-century, the Mercedes that instantly comes to mind as best exemplifying these qualities is the W124. From its introduction, it was an instant success and industry benchmark. It signified a new styling era for Mercedes, bringing with it numerous engineering, technology, and safety advancements to its class and the industry as a whole.
The W124 also quickly earned a reputation for strong build quality, reliability, and ultimately, long-term durability. This is something best exemplified by this near-pristine and completely rust-free featured daily driver, and the fact that W124s have been known to go over one million miles, including ones abused for much of their lives in taxi service. Unlike following Mercedes, which were much more technologically complex with far more electronics, the more “analogue” W124 proved easy to service and maintain, aiding to a generally longer life than Mercedes debuting in the 1990s and early-2000s.
While it may not be the most exciting, glamorous, or iconic Mercedes of all time, the W124 was a well-balanced, understated classy, dependable car that in my honest opinion best signifies what greatness is in an automobile and above all, in a Mercedes-Benz. Calling it the greatest of all Mercedes is a bold move, but as someone who often holds back, when I do make a claim such as this, I truly mean it from my heart. As Gottlieb Daimler said, “The Best Or Nothing”, and the W124 is truly the greatest among the best.
Photographed: Newbury Street, Back Bay, Boston, Massachusetts – March 2018
1986 Mercedes-Benz 300E (COAL)