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Mercedes-Benz S-Class


1 Mar 1992

History will be kinder to the W140 than its critics were back in the day.

The W126's follow-up was the gargantuan but awesomely capable W140. With double-glazing, self-closing doors and boot, parking radar and advanced electronics for the suspension and brakes, it was also a breathtakingly technological machine.

But it was a car so out-of-step with the lean and mean recessional early-1990s that Mercedes rather too hastily abandoned its hallowed "over-engineering" policy for something a lot more pedestrian: making as much money as it could.

A decade on from that and the company is a very different entity to that it once was, with a brand that's been stretched woefully downmarket, undoing a previous century's hard work.

The base model 300SE used a new 170kW/310Nm 3.2-litre twin-cam 24-valve in-line six-cylinder engine, until Mercedes imposed its new – and far less confusing actually – naming alphanumerical naming policy. So it was now the S320.

Likewise the 225kW/410Nm 4.2-litre DOHC 32V V8 400SE and long-wheelbase 400SEL turned into the S420 and S420L (‘til January ’94) respectively, although outputs mysteriously dropped to 205kW and 400Nm with the name change.

It was also the same for the 500SEL and its 240kW/480Nm 5.0-litre DOHC 32V V8, detuned to become the 235kW/470Nm S500L.

At least it, along with the 290kW/570Nm 6.0-litre DOHC 48V V12 S600L (previously known as the 300kW/580Nm 600SEL) introduced a five-speed automatic gearbox, when all the other W140s made do with Mercedes’ own but ageing four-speed automatic.

There was a very minor attempt to make the S-class look slimmer and less imposing during a 1994 makeover.

But by then the public looked upon it as too conspicuous at a time when, with everybody talking about grunge alternative music and sensitive new-age males, the period was referred to as the “caring and sharing ‘90s”.

Tellingly a lot of the W140’s innards live on in the million-dollar Maybach 57 and 62...

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