Mercedes W 116: The four faces of the 1970s S-Class

Mercedes W 116: The four faces of the 1970s S-Class

“A better overall solution today is unimaginable,” announced a sales prospectus from 1972. Simplicity sounds different, but with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class it doesn’t get any smaller. S like to be confident? Yes, and rightly so: When the W 116 appeared 50 years ago, it was actually unmatched in terms of the number of properties it had.
There were basically four versions of the W 116. Starting with the sparsely decorated 280 S, followed by the vibrant bestselling 280 SE and 350 SE, finally ending with the 450 SEL 6.9, a mythically glorified displacement behemoth that only existed with a long wheelbase. But which 1970s S-Class suits you best? Let’s find out!

Base 280 S – underpowered due to

Axel Krumbach’s S-Class makes the W-116’s heart beat faster: first coat of paint in “icon gold metallic”, immaculate interior in “mahogany”, smells new car and 81,565 kilometers on time. Axel smiled understandingly as he handed us the keys. Because the nameplate is dead. A 280 S with a six-cylinder carburetor, which was considered lame and thirsty on the tables of regular German customers. But there are no signs of underpowering.

Double bumpers as the epitome of standard S-Class ratings, “Icon Gold” metallic paint for extra shine, which comes at a cost.


With a warm roar, the dual cams hit the service brake when automatic gear is engaged. A chrome-plated tin castle confidently parted a sea of ​​modern plastic cars in Stuttgart city traffic and then made the Swabian metropolis disappear in the rearview mirror. Connoisseurs appreciate the 280 S for its frugal charm.

Popular zero retailer with confidence. And as early as 1973, a trade journal declared that the entry-level model had “respectful driving performance”. Considering the 280 carburetor from zero to one hundred it took a blink of an eye longer than the injectors. At the latest when the second stage of the carburetor fires up and he slams his tenor against the injector which sounds meaningless, you know: you got it right!

Bestseller – 150,593 times satisfaction

The Japanese, who drive European cars, often decide against country-specific right-hand driving. The left drive is considered a status symbol, after all the W-116 blockbuster. Even the first Tokyo owners of our 280 SE wouldn’t want to do without this prestige detail. Buyers on the other hand prefer modesty, “mink on the inside”, and settle for a beige cab and avoid the grandeur of the outside.

Mercedes 280 SE (W 116)

In 1978, the foldable center armrest was on the options list with a rating of 151.20.


aluminum wheels? there isn’t any. Even the “high end equipment” with foamed door panels (425 marks) is missing. Although it doesn’t make cabbage fat anymore with expensive ingredients like window regulators, air conditioners or automatic systems.

The six-cylinder injection is a bit slim. Maybe it’s been in the Mercedes collection too long Classic. The emission control system of course also dampens his anger. After all, he couldn’t let go of Axel’s 280 S while climbing Alb. Nevertheless, it became clear why so many shoppers went to SE. Automatic shifting is gentle, hiding the engine’s inherent initial weakness with two overhead camshafts, which depend on speed. It runs very quietly up to 3500 rpm. And he doesn’t drink you badly: twelve liters is enough for 100 kilometers. At that time, Swabian master craftsmen were as happy as Mercedes fans in faraway Japan.

Middle – in the shadow of brother

The power of V8 You feel it right away, even if it’s just a “little one”. On starting, it sped away from the traffic light in a completely different way than the weaker six-cylinder engine. Only with its fuller sound and signature staccato design does the W-116’s sovereign driving experience truly seem complete. So what’s against the 350 SE? At best, there are 450 more relaxed and very relaxed on it. And with both eight cylinders you can definitely get under 20 liters.

Mercedes 350 SE (W 116)

The sunroof (1131.20 marks) is always electrically operated on the W 116.


At that time car testers hounded the 24 liter through the K-Jetronic only to find that the 350 SE’s driving performance was “not very attractive” for its price class and displacement. The BMW 3.0 Si with its 200 hp six-cylinder is two seconds faster from zero to one hundred and runs at 214 km/h. But even a light gas foot has to be prepared for something at the pump.

But 350 doesn’t disappoint. It looks vibrant and stretchy, and at high speeds it adds to the incredible performance. Only the automatic brakes soothe the sporty nature of the Benz. It will be a celebration to ride it in gear. And to spend 168 marks on the tachometer, which Mercedes itself charges extra for 450.

Coronation – “Six-nine” beats its own myth

Careful! This is the best car in the world: 450 SEL 6.9. At least then. The S-Class is celebrated as the best in all sedans. To date, Mercedes hasn’t put a bigger V8 in the car. And the number “Six Commanders” still sparked respectful murmurs from fans.
Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9 (W 116)

The extra wheelbase fully benefits the legroom.

Right? Let’s put it this way: The top model of the 116 series continues to impress even after more than four decades. Even the driver of the massive turbo-doped diesel has to stomp hard on it to keep up with the two-ton steamer down the highway.

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50 years of S-Class: four faces of the first generation

But now the legend himself beats the Benz bosses of the ’70s. Overly complex technology and expensive parts prices raise questions about the relationship between effort and results. His technical prowess comes at a high price. But the strongest of all 116 intermediate sprints quivered out of the arms casually bordering on arrogance. And Mercedes was silent, it even had 235 good things in it. Thanks to the constant deflection of springs, the hydropneumatic chassis solves the conflict of purpose between cuddly soft and cornering, but compared to the standard 116 it seems a little less damping.

Mercedes 280 S 280 SE 350 SE 450 SEL (W116)

Four very different W 116s. AUTO BILD congratulates you on your 50th birthday, S-Class!


The interior promises Bonn Republic comfort. When the heavy portal slides into the pivot lock and the velvet velvet lining caresses your back, you almost think the world is fine then. That’s not true in the context of our photo car history. The family of employer president Hanns Martin Schleyer wears 6.9 gray-blue. He was kidnapped and shot by terrorists while the vehicle was still being built in 1977.