The Mercedes S-Class W140, the third generation of the Stuttgart flagship, turns 30 and is the perfect example of how much the automotive world has changed over these three decades. The gestation of its technical development is already the hallmark of an era that no longer exists: that of attention to quality and engineering at all costs.
The W140 project, in fact, was deliberated in 1982 to be ready in 1989, but during this period it underwent several modifications and delays due to competition. BMW first – with the 1987 7 Series – and Lexus later – with the 1989 LS400 – challenged Mercedes’ leadership in the limousine segment. An affront that could not be tolerated by the German leaders and that caused adjustments (with consequent delays) in the course of work and in the end even the job of project manager Wolfgang Peter. Development costs appear to have exceeded a million marks.
Thus the W140 was unveiled at the 1991 Geneva Motor Show, with the express purpose of flexing its muscles to competitors and making it clear who was in charge. Compared to the previous S-Class, however, it had lost much of its aesthetic elegance, in favor of an ostentatious opulence that never convinced Bruno Sacco. The Italian designer who headed the Mercedes style from 1975 to 1999 had decided on a much lighter and more streamlined line, but was bypassed by the engineering department. Department that reigned supreme at the time and to which we owe the use of the first Can-Bus system for the management of electronics in the automotive industry, but also the design of the new V12, created precisely to contrast the twelve-cylinder of the new 7 Series .
This engine deserves a separate discussion, given that it is the first V12 built by Mercedes after the war and that ended up under the hood of several other cars, including the first Pagani Zonda.
The W140 was available with 6, 8 and 12 cylinder engines, with powers ranging between 231 and 408 HP and in two wheelbase variants, the normal one and the 10 cm extended one of the SEL versions, which increased the total length from 5 , 11 to 5.21 meters. This Sonderklasse (special class) also represented the pinnacle of technology and safety of its period.
There were precautions such as the double glazing, the electric windows with emergency opening, the antennas that protruded from the rear fenders to facilitate parking (the sensors had yet to arrive), the power-assisted closing of the doors and the luggage compartment, the dual climate control system. zone and tri-zone as optional. But there were also options such as velvet upholstery and marble inserts, or electric seats with front and rear memory, and with variable conformation of the lateral backrests. As for safety, front airbags, ABS and traction control were standard. By the end of production, in 1998, the W140 had been produced and sold in over 430,000 units.