50 Years of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The S-Class is probably the signature model for Mercedes-Benz.   Personally it’s what I think of when I think of the brand.   When I think Porsche, I think rear engined sports cars.   When I think of BMW its sports saloons with an inline six.   For Mercedes-Benz, it’s the S-Class.    Throughout the years the company has seen other halo models come and go, such as the 300SL Gullwing and the 600.   But the S-Class has always been that statement of what the best car they could make that would actually sell.

The S-Class was officially launched in 1972 with the introduction of the W116.   2022 is 50 years since that launch, and also 50 years since the founding of the Mercedes-Benz club of NSW.   With both of those anniversaries in mind, the Club held a special event to commemorate the S Class.   Of course, holding an event like that begs the question, what is the definition of an S-Class?   The W116 did not open up a new category for Mercedes-Benz like the W201 did.   It was a continuation of a series of models in their range.


In most years, the S Class (or predecessor) consisted of a four door saloon and a coupe.   Occasionally, there was a cabriolet as well.    The Mercedes-Benz archive lists the following models for the S Class and its predecessors.   They trace the lineage back to 1951.

GenerationYearsTypeYearsType# in Club
SaloonCoupe & Cabriolet*
1st1951 - 1955W187 - 2201953 - 1955W187 - 220 *
1951 - 1951W188 - 300S & 300Sc *
2nd1954 - 1959W180, W105, W128 - Six Cylinder Ponton1956 - 1960W180, W128 220S & 220S *All Ponton: 39
3rd1959 - 1968W111, W1121961 - 1971W111, W112 *W111: 48
1965- 1972W108, W109W108: 49
W109: 17
4th (1st)1972 - 1980W1161971 - 1981C107 SLCW116: 68
5th (2nd)1979 - 1992W1261981 - 1991C126W/C126: 134
6th (3rd)1991 - 1998W1401992 - 1998C140 (CL from 96)W/C140: 17
7th (4th)1998 - 2005W2201999 - 2006C215 (CL)W220: 10
8th (5th)2005 - 2013W2212006 - 2014C216 (CL)
9th (6th)2013 - 2020W2222014 - 2020C217 *W222: 7
10th (7th)2020 -W223N/ADiscontinued

The inclusion of the W188 models is surprising to me.    It makes sense to me not to include the models that sat above the S-Class like the Adenauers, 600, Maybach etc, so why include the two door derivatives?  It just seems inconsistent.   Some will question the inclusion of the C107 SLC models.   While they were based on the SL, they were clearly meant to fit the two door S-Class spot in the range.   The same goes for when the two door cars were branded as CL’s in later years.

Based on this list, the MBCNSW had a great representation of the range on display.   The club tried hard to get cars that are rarely seen at events to come along and did a pretty good job.   In reviewing the number of cars in the club, I’m actually surprised how well represented some of the older models are.   The survival rate of cars like the Pontons and W111’s is pretty good.

It was hard for me to choose which car to bring to this event.   In the end, given the impetus for the event was 50 years of the W116, I decided I needed to finally get the W116 280SE I have been fixing up on the road and at a club event.   Despite finishing at 1AM the night before, I managed to get the car prepared, and ready enough for this event.   This was only my 3rd time driving the car and the first more than a few kilometers from where I live.    While I have more work to do, I was impressed with how the car went.

It was also interesting to look at the model mix of the W116s on display.    There were 11 cars, and I managed to catch the model of 10 of them.    There was not a single D-Jet or carburettor car on display.   All the cars were from 1976-1980 and most of them were 450’s with 3 SELs and 2 SEs.  In addition there were two 6.9s, a pair of 280SEs and a 280SEL.     This trend was mirrored in the W126 models were most cars on display were second generation – with the 420SEL being the most popular.    However at least on the W126 side there were a few very nice series 1 models in attendance.    The story was pretty similar on the W108 models with most of the cars being late production.    It’s clear that the later cars with larger engines are favored by buyers and more likely to be saved.

I really enjoyed the day.   My ideal Mercedes garage is a two and four door model from each of my favourite generations (60s, 70s and 80s).

In past year, the S-Class has been the cornerstone of the brand.   Today, the company sells far more SUVs than they do cars, but the S-Class is still king of the hill.   I wonder for how much longer?  Not sure they would even make it if it wasn’t for the Chinese market.

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