35 Years of the Mercedes-Benz 124 Model Series

The Mercedes-Benz 124 model series inspires just as much today as it did at its premiere 35 years ago.

3 vehcicles lined up from the Mercedes-Benz 124 Model Series
Blue cabriolet from the Mercedes-Benz 124 Model Series driving with top down

The W124 sedan was presented for the first time on November 26, 1984 in Seville, Spain and the station wagon, coupe, sedan with a long wheelbase and cabriolet followed shortly thereafter. In 1993, the model series became the first generation of the upper executive segment of Mercedes-Benz to carry the E-Class name and thereby wrote itself into the long tradition of vehicles in this segment.

Sketch of Mercedes-Benz 124 Model Series

At the time, the 124-series presented an unprecedented technological leap in engine and body development in the upper executive segment of Mercedes-Benz. Consistent lightweight design and optimized aerodynamics resulted in increased fuel economy and improved performance. Excellent driving safety was guaranteed by the innovative multi-link rear suspension. Mercedes-Benz also played a pioneering role in terms of reduced exhaust emissions: from autumn 1986, all gasoline-engined models came with standard equipment exhaust gas emission control by a feedback-controlled three-way catalytic converter.

The history of the 124 model series already began at Mercedes-Benz when the “Stroke/8” sedans of the W114/115 model series were still in production. At the end of 1975, the company decided on a successor of the 123 model series that was to be introduced as an upper executive model in January 1976. The development process was also accompanied by a change of generations in leading positions of what was then Daimler-Benz AG. Plus, there were also significantly stricter regulations for consumption and emissions, particularly in the United States. Therefore, Mercedes-Benz developed new six-cylinder engines for the 124 model series along with a whole range of diesel engines, with four, five and six cylinders, with and without supercharging.

Clay sculting process of Mercedes-Benz 124 Model Series

Relation to the new compact segment

At the same time, Mercedes-Benz began with the design of the new compact sedans. The goal was a lighter and significantly more aerodynamically optimized vehicle compared to its predecessor, along with greatly increased safety. There are parallels in the technology and design between the future 124 model series and the new W201 compact segment, which was undergoing development at the same time and would be launched on the market two years ahead of the 124 series. The first project descriptions and ten plasticine models of the W124 were created in 1977 at a scale of 1:5 and a drag coefficient of Cd = 0.32 was aspired to in the specifications. In 1981, management decided on the final design with seven full-scale clay models.

Rendering of red Mercedes-Benz 124 Model Series going through wind testing

In order to comprehensively test the new generation of vehicles, Mercedes-Benz began a series of crash tests in 1982 and undertook extensive road tests with around 60 vehicles in various climate zones. The W124 was tested in the heat of Africa, on the high-speed course at Nardò in Italy, on the Sol y Nieve high road in Spain, over 11,000 ft. above sea level, in Canada and Scandinavia (Arjeplog) as well as in the Alps, amongst other places.

From November 26 to December 8, 1984, Mercedes-Benz finally introduced the new sedans to international journalists in the area of Seville. Vehicles ranging from the 200 D to 300 E models were available for test drives. The new vehicle concept was praised by the automotive media experts for the most stable passenger compartment in its class, higher efficiency and impressive Cd figures of 0.29 to 0.30 depending on the engine and equipment. Amongst the models with a gasoline engine, the 260 E and 300 E with the new six-cylinder M103 engines garnered the most interest.

White Mercedes-Benz 124 Model Series used as a taxi cab

Further development until the E-Class

The sedans of the 124 model series launched into market in 1985 with three diesel models (200 D, 250 D and 300 D), the Mercedes-Benz 200 with a 2-liter carburetor engine as well as four gasoline engine types with direct fuel injection (200 E, 230 E, 260 E and 300 E). The 124 model series was further developed over the following years and the model range was expanded.

From 1985, Mercedes-Benz offered the automatically engaging 4MATIC four-wheel drive for the six-cylinder 124 models. The new technology was a part of the Mercedes-Benz driving dynamics concept, which also included automatic locking differential (ASD) and acceleration skid control (ASR). The previous types with pre-chamber diesel engines were supplemented in 1987 with an exhaust turbocharger in the 300 D Turbo. From September 1986, all vehicles with gasoline engines included a controlled catalytic converter as standard.

The 124 model series is an exceptionally versatile generation of the upper executive segment of Mercedes-Benz: on the one hand, sedans and station wagons proved themselves worldwide as taxis and with the chassis being used for patient transport ambulances and hearses. On the other hand, the coupes and cabriolets set standards for sporty luxury in this vehicle segment. The 400 E and 500 E V8 versions as well as the E 60 AMG ultimately positioned the W124 in the realm of absolute high-performance vehicles of their time.

In June 1993, the 124 model series received the name E-Class as part of the new nomenclature. At the same time, the system of model designation was also changed. The 500 E became the E 500, for example, and the 200 D became the E 200 Diesel. Production of the sedans ended at the Sindelfingen plant in 1995 and in 1996 the manufacture of parts kits was also phased out. In eleven years, 2,213,167 sedans were built, resulting in a total of 2,737,860 vehicles of the 124 model series – making it the most successful E-Class by Mercedes-Benz.

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