A new series of luxury sedans was officially launched in the market in 1972. The Mercedes Benz S-Class was unveiled with the release of the W116. The series then reigned as a flagship model for Benz for more than 50 years, with numerous generations of S-Class sedans and some coupe models called the SEC and later the S-Coupe. It has become a top-seller among luxury sedans in the world. The series has been known for its many innovations, including drivetrain technologies, safety systems, and interior features. It is an award-winning series that received various recognitions such as the J.D. Power Sales Satisfaction Index (1987-1990), Car of the Year by Wheels Magazine (1981-1999), and Safest Passenger Car of the Year by U.S. Highway Loss Data Institute (1988-1989). It was also named Best Luxury Car by What Car? (seven times) and Luxury Car of the Year by Fleet News (five times. From the first S-Class in the '70s, various incarnations came out over the years. Under the W116 were several versions, including the Mercedes Benz 450SEL.
1973-1980: The reign of the W116 and introduction of the 450SEL
A year after the W108/109 was launched, the development of the new S-Class generation started in 1966. The design of the new series was eventually finalized in 1969. The more modern design adopted new corporate styling at that time, which would be featured until 1993. The series was designed with a bit more masculine lines that complemented its elegant style and sporty look. The design quite resembled that of the R107 SL-Class roadster.
The W116, the first S-Class, was unveiled in 1972. Initially, it used two versions of the M110 engine, a straight-six engine with 2,746 cc displacement. Under this model was the 280S, featuring a Solex carburetor, and the 280SE with the Bosch D-Jetronic injection system. Also under the model range was the 350SE with an M116 engine, a V8 with 3,499 cc displacement. The lineup eventually included the 450SE and 450SEL. The Mercedes Benz 450 SEL had a 100mm longer body. Both models came equipped with the M117 engine, a V8 with 4,520 cc displacement.
In 1975, a high-performance version of the W116 was introduced. This was called the 450SEL 6.9. It was based on the W116 chassis long-wheelbase version. The limited-production high-performance model was the first production car to be equipped with an optional ABS system (an electronic four-wheel multi-channel anti-lock braking system) from 1978 onwards. It also featured a self-leveling hydropneumatic suspension and a larger engine. It was known as the 6.9, distinguishing it from the basic Mercedes Benz 450SEL model.
The W116 was available throughout Europe and other markets such as Asia, the Middle East, Australia, Africa, and the Americas. Production totaled to 473, 035 units. About 59,578 Mercedes Benz 450SEL sedans were built from 1973 to 1980. The first S-Class model was eventually replaced by the W126 S-Class.