Mercedes-Benz W126

Mercedes-Benz W126
Mercedes-Benz W126
1987–1992 Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL (W126) sedan (Australia)
Manufacturer Mercedes-Benz (Daimler-Benz)
Production 1979–1993 (sedan)
1981–1992 (coupé)
Assembly Germany: Sindelfingen
South Africa: East London
Predecessor Mercedes-Benz W116 (sedan)
Mercedes-Benz C107 (coupé)
Successor Mercedes-Benz W140
Class Full-size luxury car
Grand tourer
Body style 2-door coupé
4-door sedan
Layout FR layout
Engine Straight-5
3.0 L OM617 diesel
2.6 L M103
2.8 L M110
3.0 L M103
3.5 L OM603 diesel
3.8 L M116
4.2 L M116
5.0 L M117
5.6 L M117
Transmission 4-speed automatic
4-speed manual
5-speed manual
Designer Bruno Sacco

The Mercedes-Benz W126 is a series of flagship vehicles manufactured by German automotive marque Mercedes-Benz. Premiering in September 1979 as the successor to the earlier W116 line, the W126 was the second generation of the Mercedes-Benz flagship to officially bear the S-Class name referring to Sonderklasse or "special class." The W126 was initially offered in straight-6, V8, and turbo diesel sedan models. In September 1981, 2-door coupé versions of the W126 were introduced. Compared to its predecessor, the W126 was more aerodynamic, fuel efficient, capacious, and powerfully engined. The W126 S-Class debuted a new Mercedes-Benz design style which was subsequently used on other vehicles in the company's lineup. The W126 line also introduced many Mercedes-Benz safety innovations, including the first airbag supplemental restraint systems, seatbelt pretensioners, and traction control.[1]

The W126 had a twelve-year production run between 1979 and 1991, the longest of any S-Class generation since the flagship models were first built in the mid-1950s.[1][2]



Following the debut of the 1970s generation W116 (which also included the flagship Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9), Mercedes-Benz began plans for the next-generation S-Class model in October 1973. Codenamed "project W126,"[1] the project had specific goals: an improved ride, better handling, and improved fuel efficiency.[2] These improvements were aimed at helping retain the S-Class' market leadership as the world's best-selling prestige luxury sedan.[1] Following the 1970s oil crisis, Mercedes-Benz had made fuel efficiency an especially pertinent goal (named "Energy Program"),[3] even in the large V8 engined versions of the S-Class.

In terms of the body design, the objective of the W126 design team, led by Mercedes-Benz's Bruno Sacco, was to produce a car that was sleeker and more aerodynamic than the previous model. The application of lighter materials and alloys combined with thorough wind tunnel testing to reduce overall drag meant the car consumed about 10% less fuel than its predecessor.[2] The maximum speed was also increased (250 km/h in the most powerful model).[1]

After six years of development, the W126 was formally introduced at the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (International Motor Show, or IAA) in Frankfurt on September 1979. The initial lineup featured seven models in standard (SE, SD) and long (SEL, SDL) wheelbase sedan body styles: the 280 SE/SEL, 380 SE/SEL, 500 SE/SEL and 300 SD. Technically, the long-wheelbase (SEL) variants were codenamed V126, but this was not popularly known.[1] In 1981, the coupé version (SEC) of the W126 S-Class premiered at the IAA with the 500 SEC model. In 1981, Wheels Magazine selected the W126 model 380 SE as its Car of the Year.[4]

Four years after the introduction of the fuel-efficiency "Energy Program," the model range had been reworked completely. In September 1985, again at the IAA in Frankfurt, the reworked model range was reintroduced. Apart from visual changes to the bumpers, side covers and alloys, the changes made to the available collection of engine variants was most visible. Two newly constructed 6-cylinder engines and new 4.2 and 5.6 litre V8's were added, and other engines were further upgraded.

The W126 generation was replaced by the W140 in 1991, although a satellite factory in South Africa is known to have continued production until 1994. The different body styles of the W126 S-Class achieved a combined sales total of 892,123 units (818,063 sedans and 74,060 coupés), making the W126 the most popular S-Class ever produced.


Mercedes-Benz 500 SE sedan

The W126 S-Class premiered the next generation of Mercedes-Benz car styling, which came to dominate the lineup in the 1980s. Because the appearance differed from the rest of the Mercedes-Benz fleet at that time, some people did not appreciate the design at its debut.[3] Compared to its predecessor, the W116, the new model had a sleeker, lower profile look, with more aerodynamic qualities than before (drag coefficient of Cd 0.36 for the sedans, 0.34 for the coupés).[1] For the first time, a Mercedes-Benz sedan was not equipped with traditional chrome bumpers; polyurethane deformable bumpers were used, and visually aligned with body panels.[2]

The interior featured pleated leather on the doors on later cars and woodgrain trim on the center console and across the dash, and a simplified layout with symmetrically placed buttons.


The W126 series (named in accordance to their engine size) initially included the 280, 300, 380, and 500 series models. Following the first S-Class mid-cycle refresh, the W126 series included 260, 300, 350, 420, 500, and 560 models. Variants included SE (standard wheelbase), SEL (long-wheelbase), SEC (coupé), and diesel models (SD / SDL).

Mercedes-Benz W126 SE (standard wheelbase version)
Mercedes-Benz W126 SEL (long-wheelbase version)
Mercedes-Benz W126 SEC (coupe)
Years Model Chassis Engine Market Built
1979–1985 280 S W126.021 M110.924 2.8L I6 carburetor N/A in US 42,996
1979–1985 280 SE W126.022 M110.987 2.8L I6 N/A in US 133,955
1979–1985 380 SE W126.032 M116.963 3.8L V8 58,239
1979–1985 500 SE W126.036 M117.963 5.0L V8 N/A in US & AU 33,418 (79-91)
1980–1985 280 SEL W126.023 M110.987 2.8L I6 N/A in US 20,655
1980–1985 300 SD W126.120 OM617.951 3.0L I5 US & CA only 78,725
1980–1985 380 SEL W126.033 M116.963 3.8L V8 27,014
1980–1985 500 SEL W126.037 M117.963 5.0L V8 72,733 (80-91)
1980–1985 500 SEC W126.044 M117.963 5.0L V8 30,184 (80-91)
1981–1985 380 SEC W126.043 M116.963 3.8L V8 11,267
1985–1991 260 SE W126.020 M103.941 2.6L I6 N/A in US & AU 20,836
1985–1991 300 SE W126.024 M103.981 3.0L I6 105,422
1985–1991 420 SE W126.034 M116.965 4.2L V8 N/A in US 13,996
1985–1991 420 SEL W126.035 M116.965 4.2L V8 74,017
1985–1991 420 SEC W126.046 M116.965 4.2L V8 N/A in US 3,680
1985–1991 500 SE W126.036 M117.965 5.0L V8 N/A in US
1985–1991 500 SEL W126.037 M117.965 5.0L V8 N/A in US
1985–1991 500 SEC W126.044 M117.965 5.0L V8 N/A in US
1985–1991 560 SEL W126.039 M117.968 5.6L V8 75,071
1985–1991 560 SEC W126.045 M117.968 5.6L V8 28,929
1985–1993 300 SEL W126.025 M103.981 3.0L I6 40,956
1986–1987 300 SDL W126.125 OM603.961 3.0L I6 US & CA Only 13,830
1988–1991 560 SE W126.038 M117.968 5.6L V8 N/A in US & AU 1,251
1991 350 SD W126.134 OM603.97 3.5L I6 US & CA Only 2,066
1990–1991 350 SDL W126.135 OM603.97 3.5L I6 US & CA Only 2,925
Saloon Total[5] 818,105
Coupe Total[5] 74,060

Dimensions and weight

Body style Wheelbase Length Width Height Curb weight
Sedan (short-wheelbase) 2,935 mm (115.6 in) 5,020 mm (197.6 in) 1,820 mm (71.7 in) 1,437 mm (56.6 in) 1,640 kg (3,616 lb)
Sedan (long-wheelbase) 3,070 mm (120.9 in) 5,160 mm (203.1 in) 1,820 mm (71.7 in) 1,441 mm (56.7 in) 1,670 kg (3,682 lb)
Coupe 2,850 mm (112.2 in) 4,910 mm (193.3 in) 1,828 mm (72.0 in) 1,406 mm (55.4 in) 1,610 kg (3,549 lb)