The E-Class is 40 years old


Published on January 27th, 2016 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez


The E-Class is 40 years old

At its launch in January 1976, the Mercedes-Benz 123 model series offered a persuasive combination of elegance and multiple technical innovations. The saloon was the first model to become available. The range was expanded a year later by the Coupé and, for the first time, an Estate model. Over the course of the next ten years almost 2.7 million vehicles were built, among them also long-wheelbase saloons and chassis for special bodies. The era of the 123 model series marks a particularly successful chapter in the success story of the E-Class, as the intermediate model from Mercedes-Benz was called from 1993 onwards. The new E-Class of 2016 continues this success story.
The new intermediate-class saloon was presented by Mercedes-Benz to the specialist media between 22 and 28 January 1976 at the Paul Ricard Circuit in southern France. A train specially chartered for the purpose from the Deutsche Bundesbahn, the German Federal Railway, transported the fleet of test and demonstration vehicles from Stuttgart to France: no fewer than 33 variously appointed and equipped vehicles from the 123 series thus made their public debut to the motoring media under the Mediterranean sun. The response from the media was consistently positive – for the car’s engineering as well as for its design. And their verdict was confirmed by the customers, too: the first year’s production sold out completely shortly after the launch of the W 123, with early second-hand models often selling for their original price within that first year of production.
The design of the 123 model series points to the future. In technical terms through its numerous innovations in the field of vehicle safety and in aesthetic terms through its styling, which took its cues from the then current 116-series S-Class and the R/C 107 SL models. Evidence of this is seen, for example, in the horizontally positioned headlamps in place of the vertically mounted lighting units that had previously been the convention. The W 123 was also impressive for its high standard of workmanship, functionality and wide range of engines. Even at the premiere in the south of France Mercedes-Benz was able to introduce nine different models, from the 200 D to the 280 E, with a broad spectrum of equipment and appointments.
One of the priorities during the development of the 123 series was to improve safety for the car’s occupants. The engineering designers were already, for instance, thinking about the integration of airbags, which then became an optional extra for the 123 model series from 1982 on. Passive safety was enhanced in particular by the combination of an even more robust passenger cell and large crumple zones. Stronger struts in the doors ensured better protection in the event of an impact. In addition, the safety steering shaft invented by Béla Barényi and patented in 1963 made its debut as a complete system in the W 123.
Among the technical solutions adopted by the W 123 from the S-Class was the double-wishbone front suspension with a zero scrub radius, while many of the engine variants offered when the model series was launched stemmed from the previous series, the W 114/W 115 (“Stroke/8”). New in the W 123 was the 2.5-litre six-cylinder M 123 engine in the 250 model (95 kW/129 hp). From 1978 on Mercedes-Benz would go on to undertake a thorough revision of the engine range in its intermediate class. New arrivals included the five-cylinder turbocharged OM 617 engine in the 300 D Turbodiesel of 1981 (92 kW/125 hp), which was only available in Germany as an Estate.
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