The roots of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The most successful luxury-class series in the world.


The unique tradition of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class did not start with the Model 220 (W 187) in 1951, but has roots that go much further back – right to the origins of the Mercedes brand at the start of the 20th Century. One early and very telling example is the Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP presented in 1903. The brand’s top model at the time is a particularly spectacular exhibit in the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection: it is the elegant and luxurious touring car once owned by Emil Jellinek, who not only left his mark on and decisively influenced the early years of the Mercedes by giving it its name.

Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP. Studio photo (front right view) of the elegant and luxurious touring car personally owned by Emil Jellinek. The vehicle has belonged to the company’s vehicle collection since 1952 and has been on display at the Mercedes-Benz Museum for many years.

In the following years the product ranges of the Mercedes and Benz brands always included several executive and luxury class models. Even though open touring cars were by far the most frequent body form during this time, the more powerful models in particular were also available as luxurious saloons for the ultimate travelling comfort.

Chassis assembly line at the Mannheim plant, around 1929. The Mercedes-Benz Nürburg (W 08) is being produced.

This picture changed in the mid-1920s. In the light of increasing motorisation and traffic density, with which the development of the road network was unable to keep up, safe handling, a comfortable interior and the best possible protection from wind, rain and dust became increasingly important. Saloons and Pullman saloons gradually took over from the open touring cars. Important models in the executive and luxury class in this era included the supercharged, six-cylinder Mercedes 15/70/100 HP and 24/100/140 HP cars that appeared at the end of 1924. In 1926 Daimler-Benz AG emerged as a result of the merger between the previously separate companies founded by Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, and in 1928 the model range saw the addition of the Nürburg 460 (W 08) as the first Mercedes-Benz production car with an eight-cylinder engine. With continuous improvements thereafter, it remained in the model range until 1939, last known as the Model 500. From 1926 the entry-level segment in the Mercedes-Benz executive class was the six-cylinder 12/55 HP, which was developed further until the appearance of the Mercedes-Benz Mannheim 370 (W 10) in 1931. In 1933 this was followed by the Mercedes-Benz 290 (W 18) as a fundamentally new design, which was replaced by the Model 320 (W 142) in 1937.

Mercedes-Benz Nürburg 460 (W 08, 1928 to 1933). Studio photo (front right view) of a Pullman limousine built in 1929.

Mercedes-Benz 320 (W 142, 1937 to 1942). Studio photo (front right view) of a Pullman limousine built in 1939.

Flagship saloon cars

Alongside executive and luxury class models, Mercedes-Benz has always offered automobiles that go a considerable step further as well. These not only meet the highest expectations with respect to safety, comfort and style – in keeping with their status as the absolute flagship model, their exquisitely luxurious ambience and particularly generous spaciousness, they are above all tailored for personalities who also take the need or requirement for prestige into account in the choice of their vehicle. The Mercedes-Benz “Grand Mercedes” presented in 1930, also known as the Model 770 (W 07), was a model in this category. Powered by a large, supercharged eight-cylinder engine, the flagship model in the Mercedes-Benz model range served as an automotive statement above all for crowned and uncrowned heads of state as well as prominent personalities in industry and the financial world.

This armoured Pullman limousine 770 “Großer Mercedes” (Grand Mercedes) owned by Japanese Emperor Hirohito has multi-layer glazing for the side, rear and divider windows and an armouring of the roof and doors made of steel plates. Please also note the two additional headlights on top of the windscreen and the rear doors, which are adorned with the chrysanthemum symbol, the coat of arms of the Japanese Emperor.

The “Adenauer-Mercedes” (1951 to 1962)

In 1951, the Mercedes-Benz 300 was the largest and fastest series-produced car made in Germany. It soon became the most popular luxury car for kings, statesmen and industrial magnates. The 300 was nicknamed “Adenauer Mercedes” as the first German chancellor favours this model. The design was a mixture of traditional pre-war shapes and the modern “pontoon” shape. The vehicle shown in the picture can today be seen at the museum of German history, the “Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland” in Bonn.

After the Second World War, Mercedes-Benz reentered the top-class segment. The Model 300 (W 186) had its debut in 1951, together with the Model 220 (W 187), at the first International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt/ Main. When it made its appearance, the new Mercedes-Benz flagship model was the fastest German production car, with a top speed of 160 km/h. At the same time the “Three-hundred” was the first prestige limousine from post-war German production, and like no other model it stood for the return of Germany to the international stage. Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer received one of the first examples as his official car in December 1951, and always had himself chauffeured in the Model 300 thereafter. Accordingly the top model was soon nicknamed the “Adenauer Mercedes”. In 1957 the Model 300 was thoroughly revised and given the in-house designation 300 d (W 189). The “d” stood for the fourth version (after the 300, 300 b and 300 c). A higher engine output was ensured by petrol injection, and for the first time this was no longer direct injection, but manifold injection. The longer wheelbase and spacious bodyshell enhanced comfort, as did the optional power steering or the air conditioning system – both of them features that were by no means the norm at the time. The air conditioning, called a “cooling system” at the time, was priced at an extra 3500 DM – at the end of the 1950s a complete Volkswagen “Beetle” cost only a little more.

The Mercedes-Benz 300 (W 186 II) type and its newly designed three-litre six-cylinder engine M 186 with overhead camshaft and 115 hp/85 kW output are a sensation at the IAA International Motor Show in April 1951 in Frankfurt (Main). Hermann Ahrens’ design adeptly integrates stylistic elements of the pre-and post-war period into its bodywork, thus preventing a visual shock for the mostly conservative clientèle. Ahrens’ penultimate creation in the passenger car segment is well received; customers are enthusiastic. Only the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer would have liked to have had it somewhat bigger, so later he receives one of the first versions with the ten centimetre longer wheelbase. Technically, the 300 is also a mix of tradition and modernity. The X-oval tube frame goes back to a pre-war construction. For the front axle, Daimler-Benz utilises the trapezoidal-link design it invented in 1933; for the rear axle, the well-known double-joint swing axle with coil springs. One special feature is its electrically switchable torsion bar spring, which has a balancing effect at full load by relieving the coil spring, guaranteeing the suspension comfort of a normally loaded vehicle.

legendary The Model 600 (1963 to 1981)

One and a half years after the last “Three-hundred” left the Sindelfingen plant in March 1963, a new flagship model from Mercedes-Benz had its debut at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt. The Model 600 (W 100) was superlative in every respect: Its 6.3-litre V8 engine allowed very respectable performance figures and a top speed of more than 200 km/h. The greatest possible ride comfort was ensured by an air suspension system, an automatic transmission from in-house production and power steering. Unrivalled comfort hydraulics allowed adjustment of the front seats and rear bench seat, opening and closing of the doors, the boot lid and the optional sliding sunroof, and opening and closing of the side windows. The five to six-seater version with the normal wheelbase of 3200 millimetres was mainly ordered by very discerning private customers. In addition Mercedes-Benz offered a seven to eight-seater version with a 700-millimetre longer wheelbase, which was above all used as a state und prestige limousine. This was also available in a Landaulet version. In June 1981 the last of a total of 2677 examples of this legendary luxury saloon was produced and handed over at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen. It was driven directly to Untertürkheim, where it was assigned a place of honour in the company’s vehicle collection.

Exquisite and luxurious: Mercedes-Maybach

A good 20 years later, Daimler once again occupied this segment. From 2002 to 2012, this high-end luxury saloon – the Maybach 57 and Maybach 62 – was built to the individual wishes of its demanding customers in the custom shop in Sindelfingen. Since 2014 the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class (X 222 series) has continued this strong tradition into the future. It combines the very latest technology, for which the S-Class has always been known, with the luxury of a classic chauffeur-driven saloon of the utmost refinement.

The Mercedes-Maybach S-Class is 200 mm longer than the S-Class with a long wheelbase (V 222). This above all benefits the passengers in the rear. They are seated on two individual Executive seats, where they can enjoy the comfort of the world’s quietest series production saloon. In 2015 Mercedes-Maybach presented a second model, the 6.5-metre long S-Class Pullman with an opposed seating arrangement behind the glass partition, a more than 100-millimetre greater vehicle height and a wheelbase of 4418 millimetres. With further vehicles such as the Mercedes-Maybach 6 study (2016) and the Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet study (2017), as well as the G 650 Landaulet (2017), Mercedes-Maybach continues to stand for cars with extraordinarily luxurious concepts that go even beyond the S-Class.

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