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Tradition: Setting trends for many decades

Apr 12, 2006
  • From the "Pontoon" Mercedes to the twin-headlamp face
  • Always the innovative leader in safety and ride comfort
  • Leader in the modern estate car segment since 1977
E-Class – although the designation for the Mercedes model series has only officially existed since 1993, the origins of the series, which has always combined outstanding comfort and the greatest reliability with the highest safety and innovative technology, go back over six decades.
In other words, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a series with a long heritage.
It was on September 8, 1953 that Dr. Fritz Könecke, the Chairman of Daimler-Benz AG, presented the new Mercedes-Benz 180 and thereby laid the foundation stone for a model series now known as the E-Class. In 1953 this saloon entered a social scene in which kidney-shaped tables and petticoats were becoming the height of fashion, and Daimler-Benz was no less courageous in addressing the future with its new model. There was a perceptible, sharp intake of breath in the motoring world, for the Mercedes-Benz 180 was a complete departure from the styling of the 1930s: continuous side walls without free-standing wings formed a self-supporting body, though this had already been expected of the world’s most tradition-laden car manufacturer. Indeed Daimler-Benz had long realised that "producing automobiles is not just a matter of technical advances, but equally depends on constant changes in popular taste", as its Chairman emphasised at the time.
There were also technical reasons for the new body design. The unitary body, which was still combined with a frame/floor system, gave the vehicle more torsional rigidity than the preceding model 170 S, while also saving considerable weight. Another technical highlight was the double-wishbone front suspension, which was for the first time mounted on a front subframe which also carried the engine and transmission for much easier repairs. The car was powered by a four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 1.8 litres and 52 hp, which have the model 180 a maximum speed of 126 km/h.
It was already a part of the Mercedes philosophy to incorporate technical advances into series production as quickly as possible. Accordingly the engineers already replaced the dual-joint swing axle with the more up-to-date single-joint design with a low pivoting point in September 1955, producing a further, significant improvement in the already very good handling characteristics.
In May 1956 the successful model 180 was joined by the Mercedes-Benz 190. Although externally practically identical with the exception of more chrome trim, the main difference was the 75 hp four-cylinder with an overhead camshaft adopted from the 190 SL Roadster. In September 1957 the Mercedes-Benz 180 was also equipped with this new engine, though only with an output of 65 hp. By way of compensation it was given a slightly wider radiator grille and the larger rear lights which also characterised the first model 190.
Neither should the diesel be forgotten. Spring 1954 saw the introduction of the model 180 D with 40 hp, which was joined by three further output variants in autumn 1955. Their reliability and durability had already become so legendary that Mercedes diesels became the taxi model of preference – as they still are today. From October 1958 the model 190 was therefore also offered as a diesel variant. The engineers had developed the power unit of the 190 D from the petrol engine – with an overhead camshaft as an unusual feature in a diesel, an output of 50 hp and a maximum speed of up to 125 km/h.
1961 to 1968: a Mercedes-Benz with "tailfins"
The public had already become accustomed to the "Pontoon’s" successor before it was presented at the International Motor Show (IAA) in September 1961 – or at least to two thirds of it. Looking rearwards from the windscreen, the new model resembled the large Mercedes models in the S-Class, which had already been launched two years before. The only external differences were the 14.5-centimetre shorter front end and the round headlamps.
It was mainly the rear end that caused a sensation, for the saloons in both the premium class and the new medium class sported a typically transatlantic styling feature - tailfins. Their sharp yet discreet contours effectively underlined the trapezoidal lines of the bodywork.
In technical terms the new medium-class saloon delivered what was expected of a car bearing the Mercedes star on its bonnet. 80 hp accelerated the Mercedes-Benz 190 c to 150 km/h. Two months later the petrol model was followed by the 190 Dc, whose diesel engine powered this model from zero to 100 km/h in 29 seconds and gave it a maximum speed of 130 km/h – an extraordinary performance for a diesel in those days. Indeed the diesel variant of the "tailfin" proved to be a bestseller, for in 1965 almost two thirds of buyers opted for the diesel version of the model 190.
From August 1962 the model 190 also became available with an in-house four-speed automatic transmission, and one year later Mercedes-Benz added disc brakes to the front wheels and equipped the model with two separate brake circuits. In 1965, in time for the International Motor Show in Frankfurt/Main, the engine was given a larger displacement, more output (95 hp), a five-bearing crankshaft and above all a new model designation: from then on, the medium-class model was called the Mercedes-Benz 200. Externally this second edition featured additional lighting units containing the foglamps, parking lights and indicators beneath the headlamps, as well as trapezoidal rear light clusters.
1968 to 1976: into the seventies with the "Stroke 8"
The new Mercedes model appeared in January 1968, and is still commonly known as the "Stroke 8" to this day. This has its origin in the model designation, which initially extended from the 200 D/8 to the 250/8. The unusual "/8" suffix, which unintentionally became a nickname for this model series, was originally intended to indicate the year of introduction. This was necessary to distinguish the "new-generation" models, i.e. the "Stroke 8", from their predecessors bearing the same name.
Be that as it may, the "Stroke 8" was unmistakable. It was not only fully in keeping with the times in technical and stylistic terms, but even slightly ahead of them. The old swing axle had been replaced by a modern diagonal swing axle, while many saw a certain Mediterranean flair in its external lines. Despite its compact dimensions it still offered generous space in the interior.
The new model also featured a number of much-admired innovations, including the so-called "clap-hands" windscreen wipers, recessed switches in a padded dashboard, a foot-operated parking brake and the multi-function control stalk, which was recognised as a trailblazing achievement by the motoring world. To cap the euphoric response of the specialist world to its handling characteristics, the "Stroke 8" went on to gain an outstanding reputation for well thought-out perfection, and it was seen as technically almost unbeatable. In addition Daimler-Benz offered a choice of engines previously unprecedented in the medium class: the model known internally as the W 115 was initially available with a four-cylinder petrol or diesel power unit, while the visually almost identical model 114 was equipped with a six-cylinder petrol engine. From 1974 the world’s first five-cylinder diesel engine caused a sensation in the "Stroke 8" series, its 80 hp making this model the most powerful diesel passenger car.
Dr. Joachim Zahn, the Chairman of the Daimler-Benz Executive Board, stated that "This product range consisting of 15 models is the start of a new chapter in the development of our company." He particularly referred to further improvements in passive and active safety – a development field in which Mercedes automobiles had always taken a leading role. Indeed, the models in the "Stroke 8" series incorporated all the trailblazing safety features which Daimler-Benz had developed over decades of pioneering work: the safety bodyshell, safety door locks, interior appointments designed to reduce secondary injuries in an accident and the safety steering column, to name but a few. The model facelift in autumn 1973 added dirt-deflecting side windows and rear lights, front head restraints and inertia-reel seat belts.
1976 to 1985: wedge-shaped body contours in the Mercedes medium class
Before the last examples of the "Stroke 8" had left the production lines, Mercedes-Benz presented its successor, known internally as the W 123, in January 1976. Externally this had grown by 45 millimetres in length and 16 millimetres in width. The classic Mercedes-Benz radiator grille had a flatter appearance, and was framed by round twin headlamps sharing a single lens – or horizontal, rectangular headlamps in the case of the top-of-the-range models 280 and 280 E.
The were initially nine variants in the new model series: four diesel and five petrol saloons. Under the skin Mercedes engineers had incorporated futher innovations for even more passive safety: they moved the fuel tank to a protected location above the rear axle, thereby creating long crumple zones for the entire rear end. They also dispensed with the previous front subframe, providing a larger deformation zone in this area too.
As a third body variant in addition to the 123-series Saloon and Coupé, Mercedes-Benz presented an Estate model with a "T" on the boot lid at the International Motor Show in 1977. The product specialists explained that this suffix stood for "Tourism and Transport", thereby ushering in a new trend in the development of estate cars. The Mercedes-Benz rid the estate car of its image as a "commercial vehicle", while its high-quality appointments also made it interesting for very demanding customers. Exactly 28 years ago, the E-Class Estate was therefore the trendsetter for this successful car species.
1985 to 1995: a fresh start in design and technology
New styling, a new body, new axles, new engines, a 30-percent reduction in drag area and less weight – in brief terms, these were the major attributes of the new Mercedes medium class presented in December 1984. In fact the new series (W 124) had been redesigned from the ground up: high-strength steel panels made it lighter and helped to reduce the fuel consumption by up to 20 percent. The optimised forked-member body structure reduced the risk of injury to the occupants in the event of an offset frontal impact. The automatic locking differential (ASD), acceleration skid control (ASR) and 4MATIC four-wheel drive had their debut in the W 124.
All this effort paid off. After all, the models in the upper medium class were the mainstay of the passenger car business for Daimler-Benz. Accordingly there were rapid additions to the model range: the Estate model was presented at the International Motor Show in 1985, while two Coupé models were launched in March 1987.
There were also considerable advances in drive technology. 1989 saw the start of the "Diesel Initiative 89", with revised power units which reduced particulate emissions by 40 percent. Four years later Mercedes-Benz introduced four-valve technology for the diesel as a world first, including exhaust gas recirculation and an oxidising catalytic converter as standard. At the same time new petrol engines with four-valve technology and fully electronic engine management with non-distributor high-voltage ignition and the databus (CAN bus) were realised. Another far-reaching decision was made in 1993: from then on, the upper medium-class by Mercedes-Benz was called the "E-Class".
1995 to 2001: twin headlamps to symbolise a new brand image
"New Eyes" was the slogan with which the new E-Class was launched on a Europe-wide basis on June 23, 1995. Four elliptical headlamps made for a completely new and dynamic face and attracted a great deal of attention. However, the new E-Class also came with the sensational coefficient of air resistance of Cd=0.27, featured more than 30 technical innovations, included a particularly extensive range of standard appointments and offered exemplary occupant safety. This was not only ensured by large deformation zones in the front and rear ends, for Mercedes-Benz was also the first automobile manufacturer to install belt force limiters and sidebags as standard. The E-Class also gave its customers more personal scope than ever before: for more individuality this model series offered a choice of three different design and equipment lines for the first time -- CLASSIC, ELEGANCE and AVANTGARDE.
The new V6-engines installed from the beginning of 1997 were 25 percent lighter than the previous in-line six-cylinder units. Like their three-valve technology and phased twin-spark ignition, the world’s first use of light-alloy cylinder liners with a particularly low-friction surface made a lower fuel consumption possible. In June 1998 the diesel models in the E-Class – henceforth known as the E 200 CDI and E 220 CDI – were enhanced with new CDI diesel power units with common-rail direct injection and turbocharging. Following the model facelift in July 1999, which introduced more than 1800 further improvements, the E-Class was equipped with the Electronic Stability Program ESP® as standard to reduce the danger of skidding significantly. Equipped with the new 4MATIC, the E-Class was now able to dispense with conventional locking differentials because the system applied brake pressure to spinning wheels until they had regained their traction.
One year after its world debut the E-Class, which was the first to introduce the four-headlamp face and had successfully achieved a prime position in this market segment by virtue of numerous technical innovations, became available as an Estate with a large load compartment with set new standards.
The seventh-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class has been well on course since spring 2002. At the beginning of 2003 it was followed by the attractive Estate, which likewise excels with technological exclusivity at the highest level.