The Sunday Mail
AUGUST has always been a beautiful month. During this month that we have gracefully passed we remember our fallen heroes who sacrificed all to bring us the freedom and political stability that we enjoy as a nation today.
Same goes for the automotive industry. There are important dates that some of us just can’t forget.
I have never been good with anniversaries. If you want to disappoint a woman, just forget her birthday or your wedding anniversary. Eish!
August is a very important month for one of the world’s finest automobile brands — Mercedes-Benz.
There is one car that has made the German car manufacturer’s flagship sedan, the S-Class, what we have come to know it as today and this is none other than the W140. It defined the S-class and broke all known conventional rules of engineering and design at the time.
For Mercedes-Benz, it was not just about thinking outside the box but kicking the box away altogether.
The Mercedes W140 is known as the last Merc to be over-engineered and is also known as a legend.
The W140 began rolling off the production line in August. They numbered in excess of 400 000 before the model had to pave way for a newer model.
It is, today, one of those cars that you can still buy if you are a car collector. It is truly a classic. As we grow older, we develop wrinkles and diseases that come with age, but with this Mercedes-Benz, as it has grown with age, it is still one of the most reliable luxury sedans to come out of Mercedes-Benz.
Thanks to the celebrated “surprise” from Toyota’s luxury division, Lexus, the LS400 caused a stir and shook the automobile industry.
It is the unveiling of the LS400 by the Japanese that saw most car manufacturers going back to the drawing board and re-thinking on the future of their brands, and Mercedes-Benz was no exception. The debut of the LS400 on to the global arena made the Germans go all out to build one of the finest and “controversial” sedans they ever built to date.
So controversial was the W140 with its size that it was heavily and mercilessly attacked by the motoring paparazzi as being too big for parking lots and unusually huge and bulky for a luxury sedan.
The truth is that this sedan is way bigger than its competition in length, width and height. However, despite the criticism, the W140 was enthusiastically received in some countries like the United States of America that have no problem with “big” cars.
This was, still is and will always be “the everything S-Class”.
It was again way bigger than its competition with its engineering prowess. Engineered like no other.
This is one S-Class that pioneered innovations such as air suspension technology that you find in its predecessor models and has been perfected as airmatic suspension whose shock absorbers cost you US$2 500 each in the event that you needed to replace one.
US$2 500 for a shock absorber? Yes, enough to buy one small car from Japan.
I know some people when they see one driving a W140 S-Class they are tempted to brush it aside as “old school”, but I can tell you that this is one very solid model that Mercedes-Benz ever built and can take on any later model Mercedes-Benz.
Make no mistake on that one. This is one sedan that cost Mercedes-Benz over US$1 billion to develop and funny enough it cost Toyota a similar amount to develop the Lexus LS400.
The W140 is to date still revered as the “immortal” Mercedes. Trust me, it ain’t easy to run down this one.
This is the first production vehicle to feature double glazed windows which some people that I have met refer to as “bullet proof” windows.
I am not a ballistics expert but what I can surely confirm is that it is not easy to shatter the windows of a W140 with a foreign object.
However, the whole idea behind those “thick” windows was to insulate the car from outside noise and make the passenger cabin as quiet as possible.
The W140 introduced suction doors or self-closing doors and trunk lid. With this car, Mercedes-Benz found the winning formula.
The W140 also pioneered electric folding mirrors which would fold for easy manoeuvring given its size. It pioneered the Parktronic system and the dual climate control for Mercedes-Benz cars.
A few years after its debut, Mercedes-Benz re-named the W140. Initial models like 500 SE (for the short wheel base version) and 500 SEL (for the longer wheelbase versions) were later changed to simply S500 with SE or SEL being dropped.
This is when the S-Class, as we have come to know it today, was “born”.
The W140 is the Mercedes that defined luxury and performance.
I had a rare opportunity to drive a S320 W140 and words cannot fully describe the experience. This car is huge and spacious for big and tall people alike. There is plenty of legroom in the rear for rear passengers and that really got me asking myself why one would really want the long wheelbase version of this legend?
The smoothness of this engine, the seamless transmission of the gearbox to the “sofa like” big front seats and the ambience of the W140 really got me asking myself what Mercedes-Benz was thinking building such a car back then in 1991?
I have always fancied the S600 version of the W140. The day I win the lotto! You just have to drive one and tell me if you can write a 200-word essay on your experience with the W140. Forgive me for making mention of the late Princess of Wales, Princess Diana, again this week, not that I am insensitive but l am just trying to drive a point home.
Princess Diana died in a car crash, and that car was a W140 Mercedes.
This accident brought the credibility of the W140s safety features into question.
The car pioneered a host of safety Mercedes-Benz technologically advanced safety features such as Brake Assist and ESP (Electronic Stability Programme), features that have made Mercedes-Benz S-Class the car that it is today.
The safety of a Mercedes-Benz has never been questionable, but the W140 bore the brunt of it all after Princess Diana’s fatal crash.
Mercedes-Benz defended its product and at the end of it all, everyone was convinced that driver intoxication, high speed and failure by passengers in the car to wear seat belts, except for a bodyguard who survived the crash because he had his seat belt on, led to the Princess of Wales being killed, not necessarily that the product (the W140) was not worth its salt.
Future Mercedes-Benz S-Class models were further designed with more enhanced security features to prove critics wrong on Mercedes-Benz’s flagship sedan- the S Class.
Those that have owned the W140 have never wanted to let go of it because they know what the car means to the S-Class model line and what it means to the Mercedes-Benz brand.
This is one Mercedes-Benz that will always be the reference point for the S-Class and the defining moment of the Mercedes-Benz brand.
The W140 is the first and the last Mercedes-Benz to be engineered.
Rolling off the production line for the market on 6 August 1991, it therefore makes the month very special for the Mercedes-Benz brand and its flagship sedan — the S-Class.
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