1 Feb 1981
BACK in late 1979, when Mercedes-Benz unveiled the W126 S-class at the Frankfurt motor show, it represented everything the almost century-old maker knew about cars.
Its engineering depth ensured that it reigned supreme throughout the 1980s, seeing off two generations of BMW 7 Series, the all-new Jaguar XJ40 and Audi's flawed V8.
So much so, in fact, that it was the yardstick for Toyota when it developed the first Lexus, the LS400, in 1989 - and that was a decade after the S-class debut.
Initially a 125kW/233Nm 2.7-litre in-line six-cylinder engine mated to a four-speed automatic gearbox powered the entry-level 280SE, until 1986’s Series II update.
More convincing was the 145kW/295Nm 3.8-litre OHC V8 and four-speed auto combo, motivating the long-wheelbase 380SEL and – from August ’83 – 380SE until the ’86 upgrade.
From ’86 the W126 received new front and rear bumpers, revised side mouldings and other small detail changes, including suspension and steering revisions, to keep it competitive against newer rivals.
The range now read the 135kW/260Nm 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder 300SE and – from ’87 – the 300SEL, both with a four-speed automatic and a 155kW/317Nm 4.2-litre OHC V8 in the 420SEL and – from ’90 – the 420SE.
The range topper was the 560SEL, complete with a 182kW/400Nm 5.5-litre SOHC V8. Again all Mercedes of this period had a four-speed automatic gearbox.