Mercedes-Benz History: Mercedes-Benz S-Class 140 Series 1991-1998

The Mercedes 140 Series S-Class was the First series-produced twelve-cylinder passenger car engine from Mercedes-Benz

by  John Clark  | 

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The 140 series S-Class Saloons gave a clear message when they were introduced in 1991 at the Geneva Motor Show – their size and design lent them an imposing appearance, combined with highest comfort and lavish interior spaciousness. All of these features are an appropriate fit for a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and yet the model was continuoulsly attacked by critics upon its release. Naysayers complained it had turned out too big, which brought disadvantages in everyday use, and on top of that was out of step with the times.

Such opinions were voiced mainly in Europe., in the USA or in Asia, for example, many customers took exactly the opposite view. For them, the 140 series was an S-Class in exactly the right format – precisely because of its impressive appearance, which to them was simply befitting of a vehicle in which the world’s successful, wealthy and political leaders could either drive themselves or be driven. This divergence of opinions was to accompany the saloons of the 140 model series from that point on, and the successor series launched in 1998, the 220, turned out rather more discreet. Nevertheless, the 140 series received a great deal of praise from all sides. In 1991, for example, the trade magazine Auto, Motor und Sport, Germany, went as far as to write: “It would not be wrong here to describe this as the world’s finest car – any less would be to do Mercedes an injustice.”

The world’s finest car – that is quite a claim. But it is one Mercedes-Benz and its predecessor brands have been living up to since the beginnings of the automobile. For the 140 series the engineers and designers addressed the task with the greatest dedication. Leaving aside the sheer dimensions of the body, one has to give great credit to the stylists under the supervision of chief designer Bruno Sacco: what they drafted was a luxury-class saloon with clear lines that unmistakably established its connection with brand history, yet at the same time delivered a statement for the 1990s and were almost timeless in character. Almost twenty years on, a 140 series S-Class is still an extremely handsome car.

The high standard applied to the vehicle was reflected in all details. For instance, the interior, so lavishly appointed, simultaneously demonstrated the restraint desired by the majority of S-Class customers. Spaciousness and features made the time spent in a 140 series S-Class an absolute enjoyment. That was also true of the driver’s seating position: perfectly equipped, it made even extremely long journeys exceedingly pleasurable.

The suspension also played a part in this. The engineers used all their resourcefulness and skill to design it: not only was travel in the saloon extremely safe on any road surface, it was also extremely comfortably. In addition to excellent springing, the body was decoupled from audible and otherwise perceptible vibrations. And although the 140 series S-Class was a big car, customers and motor journalists all over the world nevertheless praised it for its road manners – it was fleet-footed and able to negotiate even winding country roads impeccably at speed.

Typical of the great effort invested by Mercedes-Benz in this vehicle, for example, was the double insulated glazing, which benefited safety and comfort in several ways: avoidance of fogging (condensation) and icing, enhanced thermal insulation, enhanced insulation against external sources of noise, better flow of air around the vehicle and prevention of wind noises caused by window seals. Never before had car windows been so meticulously designed.

The high safety standard already attained in the previous series was clearly raised further by numerous measures. For example, the body structure of the 140 series afforded still more protection in all types of accidents. A number of details – solutions designed to take the sharpness out of potential points of contact – served the protection of other road users as well. The braking system was state-of-the-art, delivering optimum deceleration values. From 1995 onwards the Electronic Stability Program ESP® was additionally available, initially for the eight-cylinder S-Class model and later for all models with automatic transmission. In the S 600 it was standard equipment. After December 1996 all models additionally featured the Brake Assist BAS, which optimally increased braking power under emergency braking and shortened the stopping distance.

As was customary in the S-Class, six- and eight-cylinder engines were available to power the car – from 1991 on there was even a twelve-cylinder power plant. This unit epitomised the art of engine making, but the other units too enabled a mobility ideally suited to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. All were fitted as standard with an emission control system featuring a closed-loop catalytic converter, and consequently satisfied comprehensive environmental standards.

At the same time these engines were symbols of the longevity of the 140 series – they, and, of course, the entire vehicle, were designed for very high mileages and thus for years and years of use. That made the 140 series S-Class well suited for use as a modern classic: anyone who buys one today, acquires a vehicle built to meet the highest requirements. In that sense it is part of the remarkable tradition of the luxury-class saloons of the Mercedes-Benz brand, which together with its predecessor brands goes back to the beginnings of the automobile.

Mercedes-Benz’s excellent spare parts supply has helped maintain a modern classic: almost every part can be procured through a Mercedes-Benz dealer and the company’s own ordering system; delivery is usually made overnight. Some authorised service shops have even been designated Classic Partners, possessing outstanding competence in handling older vehicles. And particularly where young classics are concerned, all Mercedes-Benz company-owned sales and service outlets and partners boast the same high levels of expertise as ever. Not for nothing does the slogan “Service for a lifetime” apply to all vehicles of the brand.

Production Figures for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Saloon 140 Series (1991-1998)

Models Internal designation Production period: preproduction to end Number of units
300 SD/S 350 Turbodiesel W 140 D 35 A 1990 – 1996 20,518
S 300 Turbodiesel W 140 D 30 LA 1995 – 1998 7583
300 SE 2.8/S 280 W 140 E 28 1992 – 1998 22,784
300 SE/S 320 W 140 E 32 1990 – 1998 98,095
300 SEL/S 320 long-wheelbase V 140 E 32 1990 – 1998 85,346
400 SE/S 420 W 140 E 42 1990 – 1998 14,277
400 SEL/S 420 long-wheelbase V 140 E 42 1990 – 1998 35,191
500 SE/S 500 W 140 E 50 1990 – 1998 21,942
500 SEL/S 500 long-wheelbase V 140 E 50 1990 – 2000 65,065
600 SE/S 600 W 140 E 60 1990 – 1998 3399
600 SEL/S 600 long-wheelbase V 140 E 60 1990 – 2000 32,517
Total 406,717

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Mercedes-Benz History: Mercedes-Benz S-Class 140 Series 1991-1998
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