The tradition of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has roots that extend back to the beginnings of the Mercedes brand in the early 20th century. One early and very telling example is the Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP presented in 1903. The Simplex 60 HP offered incredible luxury and also many technological breakthroughs which included a high-performance engine. The large-displacement four-cylinder unit came with overhead inlet valves and even a honeycomb radiator for better cooling. The Simplex 60 HP also came in a long wheelbase format to extend all the comfort to the passengers. At the same time it sported a low center of gravity for better handling. All this back in 1903!
The Mercedes Simplex 60HP was a large luxury sedan. It came with a sweeping design which was revolutionary at the time. It also featured a low center of gravity.
Although open touring cars were the most popular body type at this time, the more powerful models in particular were also offered as luxurious saloons. All this changed in the mid-1920s. In a time of increasing motorisation and traffic densities which the development of the road network was unable to match, safe driving characteristics, a comfortable interior and the best possible protection from wind, rain and dust became increasingly important. Saloon cars and Pullman models gradually prevailed over the open touring models.
Mercedes-Benz W 180W 128 model series Ponton Saloon was manufactured between 1954 to 1959. Seen here is a 220 S Saloon produced in 1957.
W 187 to the “Ponton Mercedes” (1951 to 1959)
In the post-war period, the direct lineage of the S-Class began with the six-cylinder Model 220 (W 187), with which Mercedes-Benz reentered the upper-class segment in 1951. In 1954 this was followed by a completely new model with the same designation. The new Model 220, also known internally as the 220 a (W 180), was the first Mercedes-Benz six-cylinder model of monocoque construction. Its modern, spacious “Ponton” body provided a previously unknown level of comfort. In 1956, with the introduction of the improved and more powerful Model 220 S, the letter S became a permanent fixture in the nomenclature of the Mercedes-Benz luxury class. 1958 saw the début of the 220 SE (W 128), a more powerful variant of the luxury class model by virtue of petrol injection.
The Mercedes-Benz 220 SE nicknamed the “Tailfin” was produced between 1959 to 1965. This one is a 1964 model.
The “Tailfin” to the high-performance saloon (1959 to 1972)
The “Tailfin” models 220, 220 S and 220 SE (W 111) introduced in 1959 derived their nickname from the guide fins on the rear wings. This was when the safety body with crumple zones and a rigid passenger cell conceived by Béla Barényi first entered series production. The top model in this series, the 300 SE (W 112) presented in 1961, featured an air suspension system and the automatic transmission newly developed by Mercedes-Benz as standard. In 1963 a long-wheelbase version of this model was introduced. The 100-millimetre longer wheelbase gave passengers in the rear a increased room which meant more comfort. In 1965 the saloons of the 108 and 109 series replaced the “Tailfin” models. These distinguished themselves with their elegant, timeless design and generously sized windows. As well as models with a conventional steel suspension, there were air-sprung variants (109 series) which were also available with a longer wheelbase. In 1968 the 300 SEL 6.3 was presented as a special highlight. The new top model in the series was equipped with the V8 engine of the Mercedes-Benz 600 (W 100).
If you thought the legacy of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class ends here then think again. These are just a handful of iconic Mercedes-Benz luxury sedans which paved the way for the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The legacy continued from the early 1900s and is rocking it even today.