Mercedes 500 SEL (W 126) in the test

Hans-Dieter Seufert
Mercedes 500 SEL (W 126) in the test
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A is the star As we stretch towards the horizon and the first rays of the sun turn the dawn gray of the sky, we are already on our way for a few of the quiet little hours of the early day. Long enough to find the kind of peace that only arises from the security that gives you the certainty that you will arrive unconditionally and safely. And which makes it possible to dare to answer big questions: Should everything have been better in the past, how grand must the best of the past be in today? There is only one way to find out. And that leads to Lahr. In the Mercedes 500 SEL W 126.

Although the tradition of the 'old in the test' by no means requires it, there is also a reason for the S-Class of the W 126 series to appear here. It celebrated its premiere in 1979 at the IAA, in other words in a good earlier that actually dates back 40 years. In 1980, in the first test of the W 126, we assessed it critically as 'the best car in the world'. Well, we didn't have it smaller back then.

But seldom has a car been ahead of its time than the Mercedes 500 SEL W 126. From the start, there was the ABS introduced in the W 116, and a driver airbag from 1981 and front passenger seat belt tensioners. Yes, at the time it was the safest car ever, with a body and crash structure that even coped with the newly fashionable risk of an offset crash - the one with 40 to 50 percent overlap. To do this, the technicians optimized the aerodynamics right up to the run of the rain gutter and recessed windshield wipers to cW=0.36, reduced the weight by up to 300 kilograms compared to the old S, and demolished the style of the body and interior.

Hans-Dieter Seufert
It was the safest car ever, With a body and crash structure that even hides the newly fashionable risk of an offset crash - the one with 40 to 50 percent overlap.

The 126 remained in production for twelve years, only a facelift in September 1985 interrupted the constant running of the assembly line in Sindelfingen. With 818,036 units, it is still considered the most successful model in the S-class, but also the luxury class. So we wanted to plan the anniversary test early. So bravely call Mercedes-Benz Classic and don't let yourself be taken by surprise:

'Hal ...'
'Seb, you again?'
'Um, so me ...'
'You just had the G-model for the 'old man in the test'.'
'Yes, but ...'
'Sure: now the 126.'
'Could we ... '
' I thought. We have three to choose from: an early 500 SEL, a medium 300 SE and a late 560 SEL. Which one, when? '
' Um, pfff ... 500 SEL? Autumn? '
' You can get it. See you then. '

S is all gold that glitters

So we get the lapis blue metallic-colored Mercedes 500 SEL on one Summer Monday that got lost in an autumn week. It is a 1982 model, the basic version of which cost 63,845 marks at the time. All optional equipment is listed on the data card - a long, rather continuous series of numbers ranging from 410 (electric sunroof, 1,316.45 DM) to 877 (reading lights in the rear, 113 DM). Strangely enough, it does not include the headrests in the rear (that would have been the 430 for 186.45 DM - with such rousing detailed knowledge you can really bring momentum back to flagging small talk at Christmas parties). In any case, the Mercedes 500 SEL with extras cost 86,625.80 DM - a high, nevertheless reasonable price for a vehicle that has been at the top for 37 years.

Hans-Dieter Seufert
The 500 SEL costs 86,625.80 DM with extras - a high one , nevertheless a reasonable price for a vehicle that has been at the forefront for 37 yearsis.

Because after the Mercedes 600 was sold out in 1981, the Mercedes 500 SEL is the elite model, parked in front of the Chancellery and Villa Hammerschmidt - the S - Class of Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker with the most casual license plate in the republic: 0-1. You get very envious over there in the Chancellor's bungalow, where you can't keep up with the extras 'front seat reinforced right' (35.03 DM) and 'additional longitudinal adjustment front seat right' (107.35 DM) in terms of casualness.

Yikes, the Lahr exit. We just had half the way to go. How quickly the future becomes the past if you think around in the past. Turn, refuel, wash, then over to the airport, straight to the box and straight to the scales. It shows 1,721 kilos for the 5,135 millimeter long SEL - that's how much an E 200 weighs today.

We wire the electronics. But before we go out, we take the inside measurements. There is a lot to measure inside, after all, the Mercedes 500 SEL extends 14 centimeters in the wheelbase to 3.07 meters. Therefore, not only are the rear doors longer by the same amount, but also the handles in the rear, which gives them prospects for a second career as a shower towel holder.

Hans -Dieter Seufert
On the crumple back seat, the seating area extends to a spacious 83 centimeters.

On the crumple back seat, the seating area extends to a spacious 83 centimeters. The drivers are also undisturbed, but accommodated in a businesslike atmosphere. Everything clearly and easily accessible on the large steering wheel. Ignition, selector lever through the zigzag backdrop to D, foot off the brake pedal, the Mercedes 500 SEL rolls on. The V8 thunders just above its reduced idle speed of 500 rpm. Like the increased compression, the power reduction from 240 to 231 hp and the longer rear axle ratio, it is one of the measures of the 'Mercedes-Benz Energy Concept 1981', which does not exactly demand unbearable cuts in performance, speed or comfort from the top ten thousand to increase efficiency.

Because of the lower weight, the five-liter even exceeds the vehemence of the nominalmuch stronger 450 SEL 6.9. Even now that we have gently recorded noise levels, the Mercedes 500 SEL proves the power from the abyss of displacement. With a force of 405 Newton meters, the four-speed automatic system, which is not overstaffed anyway, normally shifts into second gear for starting, it only shifts to L in first. Just like now, what the traction reserves demand, followed by an acceleration cable that could once batter the self-image of sports cars. At the start, the starting torque stabilization supports the rear axle against dipping, then the SEL dashes off, reaching 100 km /h in 8.5 seconds, 160 km /h in 20.7 seconds. More impressive than the values ​​is the casualness in which the Mercedes 500 SEL accelerates. True power is shown in never creating the impression that you really have to exhaust it.

Hans-Dieter Seufert
The Mercedes 500 SEL W 126 also manages the braking effortlessly, it decelerates the high speed a lot.

The 500 also manages the braking effortlessly, decelerating the high speed a lot. The driving dynamics tests, on the other hand, are a little more demanding - especially for a car that is used to giving a clear direction. The Mercedes 500 SEL curves around the pylons in the slalom with a stately side slope and high safety. Nevertheless, he knows how to avoid even more immoral hectic with his feedback-chaste steering. This is translated so indirectly that you simply cannot crank the crank at a faster pace.

Anyone who expects handling to become more dynamic thanks to the optional hydropneumatic suspension can wait for it as well as for a real improvement in suspension comfort. Because the oil-air suspension responds surprisingly clumsily to short bumps. It swings away long waves better, but without ever displacing the impression that the 3,310.90 DM would have been better invested differently back then. Balanced roughly in gold, since then it would have become 4,873 euros.

This would counter-finance part of the fuel expenses. Because now, after we've packed up and are back at the gas station, there is a considerable gargleLots of premium gasoline in the tank. But you can't afford to be stingy when it comes to driving a Mercedes 500 SEL.

There is peace over all the peaks

So it starts, just a bit the highway. Then, as always, overland. Today with the sunroof wide open. Oh, the Oppenauer Steige is currently closed. Well, then we'll climb the Black Forest over the Hochstraße. The roads don't have much to oppose the force of the engine in terms of incline. The fir tops stroboscopes over the deep, glossy paintwork of the bonnet, when it just gently stretches up after turning. Now the automatic allows the V8 to turn higher and more demanding, without ever significantly utilizing its reserves.

After a short while, the Mercedes 500 SEL reached the top of the mountain. He never left that of power. The good of the past, it just keeps getting better.


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