Mercedes-Benz’s introduction of the W116 in 1972 not only signaled the replacement of the previous W108/109 series, but also marked the beginning of the top-of-the-line “S Class” (Sonderklasse). This substantial sedan boasted muscular and imposing styling as well as a new chassis with a 112-inch wheelbase, four-wheel disc brakes, and all-around independent suspension that featured a unique twin control arm front suspension.
A range of engines was available upon introduction that included two different versions of the company’s familiar 2.8-liter inline-six: a 160-hp Solex- carbureted version for the 280S, and a 182-hp fuel-injected version for the 280SE. U.S. customers had to settle for emissions-equipped 120- and 142-hp versions of each car respectively, and both engines could be had with automatic or manual four-speed gearboxes. A 3.0-liter turbocharged 110-hp inline-five became available for economy-minded North American customers in the form of the 300SD in 1977, and this car was only available with a four-speed automatic transmission.
The W116 series represents a milestone in Mercedes history in pioneering many innovative safety features that have now become commonplace. Protected fuel tank placement, crumple zones, and carefully engineered interior padding were integrated in the design from the outset, and helped make the S-Class some of the safest cars on the road.
Slightly less than 275,000 examples of the six cylinder S-Class Mercedes-Benzes were produced from 1972 to 1980, and an additional 28,600 of the diesel 300SDs were built from 1977 to 1980. In spite of lackluster performance, these diesels have an especially enthusiastic like following due to smaller production numbers and characteristic diesel torque, reliability, and economy. The gas variants offer more spirited performance, yet they all offer roadholding and handling that, thanks to their high degree of suspension engineering, is confident and engaging. The materials and build quality of the S-Class makes these cars the automotive equivalent of the DC-3, adding further to the allure of these stately sedans.