(first posted 11/25/2015) With the exception of W124, this S-class is possibly the best car MB has ever produced.
This is the cover story of R&T’s 1980 February issue. The then-new W126 was introduced and the magazine published an in-depth article:
I had a ride in one some time ago- it’s still unbelievably modern for a car dating back almost thirty-five years. And comfortable. And (with the right power-plant) fast.
In my humble opinion, the W126 is the best-looking Mercedes sedan ever. Important-looking but with just enough aero touches to give it some sleekness.
Yep. Makes the current S class look like overpriced junk…which it is.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration.
The current S is a fine automobile. We’ve owned R107, W126, W124,R129, R230 and X204 over the past 35 years and have had significant seat time with the latest W222, we can fully say it is an amazing and complete car through and through.
Not to mention huge but sleekly gorgeous. As far as I’m concerned, the newer S classes are the most beautiful S class ever made.
I just loved my 86 420SEL…and the kids liked the enormous back seat. Excellent engineering, excellent driver’s car, amazing all around. It seems that prices are creeeping up, judging from the ones I see on CL locally…
I’ve always liked this generation Mercedes-Benz cars. I’d buy one for myself if I could find one in decent condition.
It is strange that R/T put this on the cover when it was just a driving impression of the euro model. Them saying that the 3.8 would match the 4.5 in the W116 proved optimistic. The hp was down from 180 to155 with emission controls. I also think the weights listed were optimistic. These reporters are supposed to get things right. Here the reporter got a fun sounding trip and his readers got marketing hyperbole.
In it’s later 420 and 560 form, the w126 turned into a fine car. The early one with the slow, unreliable 3.8 as the only American non diesel, not so much. You would not get the scoop on that from this article. Thanks R/T.
Very thoughtful post. How many hundreds of “reviews” were simply provided to car magazine “journalists” by car company advertising departments?
Just try to order a S-series in that kind of colour today and check out the look in the eye of the guy at the MB dealership.
I still have a full-line Mercedes-Benz brochure from 1986. The array of exterior colors and leather interiors is mind boggling compared to the ‘three shades of gray’ interiors available today and the limited number of exterior colors which they have the nerve to charge extra for unless it is white or black!
I remember talking to the general manager of a then new Mercedes-Benz dealership in the Houston area (around 2003 IIRC) and he said the W126 was “the quintessence of Mercedes-Benz automobiles.” Along with the W124, of which I have owned two, I would have to agree. Even the 300 SE, while so stoplight warrior, was capable of cruising comfortably in considerable excess of any speed limit in this country (U.S.) for hours on end.
My W126 of choice, if I could go back in time and buy brand new, would be the 1986 or 1987 300 SDL with the six cylinder turbocharged diesel. I like to think I would have the good sense to still be driving it 29 years later.
I suppose I don’t have my rose colored glasses on the latest S class comes available with 15 paint colors, 6 wheel designs, 17 leather color and quality choices and 5 different wood or granite trims. Our previous cars weren’t all that colorful at all with the exception of the R107 which was lapis blue. The W126 was smoked silver, W124 was black, W129 was silver, W230 was also silver and the X204 is a pewter.
Blinders aren’t a good substitute for rose tinted glasses. This is the current S class, color pallet, I kid you not…
Blinders you say? The color palette is grayed out unless you select one.
Sure, the colors aren’t as vibrant as offered by say, a Kia Soul, but a prospective owner can choose among 2greens, 2 blues, a red and a brown. All of which I personally find elegant and fitting for those that actually buy the cars.
My bad, must have unclicked it when I prt. scr.’d the screenshot, It’s not any less comical, just darker.
Elegant doesn’t equal 1 shade off from black to me. The “red” and “green” and “blue” look like colored metal flakes on a dark dark grey basecoat in person
I guess to each his own, I think their Lunar Blue or Emerald Green are both such lovely colors.
And the Emerald Green.
I was in Paris in late November 1979 and saw the then brand new W126 (of course in silver) on the street in front of the George V hotel – a very upscale locale in Paris. I liked the look a lot and was surprised because at the time I did not know a new S class was coming. Don’t remember which engine or which length the car was but I was certainly impressed and admired the car. And many months later I started seeing the cars in the US.
In February 1996 I drove a several years old one from Naples, FL to Rockford, IL. It was then an used car with lots of miles and a few nits to pick but the trip was fine and the car performed reliably as a Mercedes back then was expected to do.
Same thing happened to me, but in Brussels in the fall of 79; I was shocked for the same reason as well, I thought the W116 still looked quite fresh then. On the other hand it took me a while to start liking it.
I had the privilege of owning a 1989 300SE which was the subject of a CC article in 2012. The W126 is a timelessly handsome and elegant automobile that, in my opinion, still stands as the pinnacle of MBZ design and craftsmanship.
The W-126 chassis is a marvelous automobile if way too big IMO .
Mu Brother has two , an ’81 300SD and an ’87 300SDL , that’s the one with the new InLine 6 cylinder engine , we just replaced the original cylinder head and it’s a fine driver indeed .
Comparing the W-124 to any W-123 or W-126 means you don’t know much about Mercedes , they’re O.K. , nothing more .
Most W-126 gassers are being scrapped now due to high fuel use , no one wants a 12 MPG car no matter how nice it is , a sad thing .
Nate, please elaborate on the W 124/ W 123/ W 126 comparison. Having owned a total of 8 Mercedes-Benz from W111’s up through the current E-Class (W 212) I found my 1990’s era E320 to be as comfortable, reliable, and reasonably economical as any of the others.
I’d sure like to know what I “don’t know” about Mercedes-Benz. I know the W124s introduced some new technologies that gave a bit of trouble on occasion, common bus electrical system being one, and there were some head gasket problems with the M104 engine. But didn’t the 3.8 liter V8 in the early U. S. spec W126s also have problems with its single row timing chain?
I certainly wouldn’t want to make a sweeping judgment against someone who liked the car, or even the engine, based on that. It would be childish to do so.
Heckflosse Jim ;
Call me childish then .
You’re correct , the early 3.8 engines used a worthless single row timing chain that failed often .
The electrical issues you mention are why many W-124’s are scrapped with perfect paint and upholstery whilst battered old W-111’s W-123’s and W-126’s are still making their daily rounds .
The W-124 is nice but it’s a small car , even the older Mercedes weren’t so cramped inside .
if you drive them , you’d understand this .
I must second this, from direct experience. My friend had a red W124 that was cherry, minus all of the wiring, and we went looking all over the place, junkyard to junkyard trying to find a doner with good harnesses, but every last one we found was crumbling apart. He eventually just traded the car away to someone for a favor rather than shell out on new. Wiring is just such a ridiculous wear item to have, I toil in 80s-90s Fords and pillage their wiring for all sorts of projects, and it’s almost always perfect under the convoluted loom unless there was a fire.
W126s are seemingly bulletproof in comparison, maybe not a sweeping truth i suppose(I imagine Mercedes used the same biodegradable wiring in it the W124 had at some point, right???) but I see them way more often even in the land of salt and they just hold up. Same goes for the W123s, which tend to look more rough but still manage.
I’m not sure I agree that the W124 is too small though, the W123 didn’t seem any bigger inside to me, nor does it seem small compared to anything midsized today. Really minus the electrical issues I can’t find any fault in the W124 at all, other than subjective preferences(I found it too aero, the W126 was the perfect blend to my eye). W201s OTOH…
The wiring insulation problem in the W124 is only on the last two years, as MB went to a new material as part of some EU regulation for being easier to recycle or such. The bulk of the W124 series (pre 1992) does not have this problem, as it has traditional insulation.
The W124 is not smaller inside than the W123; I’m thinking Nate has mixed it up with the W210 (190 series).
Oh, that makes sense, I believe my friend’s was a 92. The cars we found at the junkyards I’m not sure of, the connectors were crumbling on them so we assumed the rest of the wiring was just as bad.
Scrapping a perfectly good, clean, and usable W126 just because it’s a tad thirsty is sacrilege. With all the Clinton / Bush II-era behemoth SUVs I still see lumbering around, the W126s deserve equal consideration.
” Scrapping a perfectly good, clean, and usable W126 just because it’s a tad thirsty is sacrilege. With all the Clinton / Bush II-era behemoth SUVs I still see lumbering around, the W126s deserve equal consideration.” .
Just so .
The facts remain however ; no matter how much you alls may love them , old Luxury Cars are fairly worthless after 10 years .
Paulie is prolly right and I am thinking of the W-210’s .
I hate seeing those grand old cars crushed with so many good RUST FREE parts on them .
It’s just sad is all. There’s so many old luxury cars that justify their steep depreciation – many are unreliable, unfashionable after a styling cycle, or just not that good – but W126s still look like the definitive Mercedes, still hold up like tanks, are reasonably reliable for what they are and even parts aren’t difficult to get. I mean never question seeing a 80s-90s BMW 7 series at a junkyard, I know it’ll be a basketcase, W126s though… I bet 90% of the ones sitting at pick n pull yards right now would need no more than a battery and fluids and be able to drive right out the gates. And from my experience still have a nicer interior than the car you drove in with.
A $100K car used and only worth maybe $5K, still has repair costs of a 100K car. But someone with a $5K car can’t afford the repair bills on a $100K car. Unless they’re an enthusiast who does it themselves. But the average Joe or Jill sees a nice looking once premium car, thinks $5K is a steal and gets bitten the first time anything goes wrong. The defrost doesn’t work. No big deal, right? Unless the climate control computer needs to be replaced along with a vent actuator motor or two that requires dash removal. For a $3500 bill. (theoretical, I don’t know this chassis, just premium German cars)
You’re -so- right Mike ! .
Many people see me pulling up in my forty year old Mercedes and say “man ! I _GOTTA_ get me one of those !” then wonder why I say _DON’T_ ! you’ll regret it .
My brother almost never washed his two W126’s and relies upon me to keep them going, they’re still chugging away , marvelous if HUGE cars .
I’d not have an S-Klasse free, I’ve turned down several .
If anyone is interested in a classic Merc, check this site: http://alltime-stars.com/
“Engineered like no other car in the world” – that was Mercedes’ advertising slogan back then, and these cars really looked like “the car of the future” when I first saw a 500SEL pass in front of my school in mid-1980 when I lived in England. Its license plate was JET 49, and its owner had just purchased it to replace a Lotus Eclat. As sophisticated as the newer models are, I have always loved the W126 and think it is the best looking of all the S-Classes ever produced.
With standard velour seats. On a Benz…now you can even get economy cars with leather interiors; exclusivity is gone.
I’d rather have the velour anyway.
It seemed like most of these in the US before ~1985 were diesels. A neighbor had a lemon E class that they finally gave him full credit on an S. As he was an OBGYN, reliability was important.