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Discuss amongst yourselves: w116 safety vs. new cars

Started by michaeld, 20 November 2006, 11:38 PM


I'm sure this has been discussed before in the forum's history, but it hasn't been discussed lately.

Automotive safety.

Today's cars not only have front air bags, but (in high end models) side air bags as well.  High end cars also have a computer-controlled braking system that is pretty darned awesome to behold.

But have we truly built safer cars in the last 30 years?  I wonder.

In terms of safe cars relative to "old on old" (i.e. old cars hitting old cars) car crashes, or "new on new" car crashes, I have a feeling that new cars are safer (although the statistics have actually been pretty flat in terms of deadly accidents, which is attributed to the fact that drivers are more aggressive today).  When old cars smashed into each other, there was a lot of weight being thrown around.  But what about old on new (or vice versa) car crashes?

In the book, "Mercedes-Benz: the first hundred years," automotive industry safety analyst Ron Wakefield is quoted as saying, the "... W116 is a really substantive attack on the problem of automotive safety.  I consider the W116 the best combination  of active (accident avoiding) and passive (protection in a crash) safety yet devised for a production car."

Well, that was then, of course.  Still, there were a lot of modern safety features pioneered in the w116s.  Their structure had the "rigid passenger cell/deformable extremity" construction such that the front and rear ends of the car absorbed the forces of impacts while the passenger compartment remained undistorted and intact.  The passenger area was essentially a big energy-absorbing cell.

And of course, at over two tons in curb weight, w116s are heavier than anything on the road today outside of a full-sized truck.  Does having a lot of weight around you make you feel safer?

So, the question is, if you were going to get in a massive accident (you know, the kind where you poop your pants and don't even care?), what car would you rather be in - a w116 or a new car?

In terms of active safety, I don't believe there is any questiont that a high-end new car is a big improvement over the w116s.  They simply have a greater ability to maneuver w/ the aforementioned computer-controlled braking system and whatnot than do our w116s.

But what about passive safety (protection in a crash)?  Do air bags compensate for the lack of metal around you relative to older cars?

I used to have a 1970 Ford Galaxie 500, and she was a stout girl.  Some late model something or other backed into it in a parking lot.  My car had some paint on the bumper and a little dent in the rear quarterpanel.  The rear end of her car was messed up something fierce.  Ever since then, I've had some serious questions about how safe one of those plastic-aluminum bodies protecting me from harm.

And I'm not all that confident in air bags, either.  I just wonder if a balloon is going to save my rear in a horrible accident.  Now sure, I'm afraid of fire, and yes, I think that wind is caused by trees flapping.  And yes, I as a matter of fact, I do believe that the sun gradually eats the moon and then spits it back out.  So maybe it's no wonder that I don't fully trust air bags.  But still.  Did you know that the air bags quit doing their thingy over time, and that it's been found to be common for mechanics to steal the airbags for the gold or for resale unbeknownst to the car owners?  After watching that girl's late model crunch up like an accordian in the parking lot, I'm just more than a little uncertain if I want to place my life on an airbag that may not still even be in the darn car anymore!

So me, I prefer to have a LOT of metal around me than to have an airbag (or even two!) in a plasticized tin can.

Now, while I acknowledge that my humble little reflexes are no match for the computer-assisted braking system available on today's autos, I'd sure hate to do any brake work on one of those suckers (doing a brake job on an ABS system is nasty enough!).  There IS a trade-off to safety, or else we'd all be driving armoured cars or tanks.  I would like to have that system, but I believe I can compensate to a great extent in modern active safety features by practicing defensive driving.

So again, the question is, what car do you think you're safest in?  What car would you want to be in if you were going to get in a great big giant mother-of-all car wrecks?  New or old?


No question for me - a new S class Merc with better crumple zones, a miriad of air bags, better seats, head rests and seat belts (pre tensioners etc) by far.  Overall, the human body will be asked to absorb less energy in a new S Class (as the CAR will absorb more energy)  than a W116 in ANY accident and its THAT key issue that will save your life and reduce your injuries.  Pity they cost so damn much...
sigh....sitting back contemplating the next purchase..!


AMG69 and others,

Your post definitely counts as one point against my view.  That's okay.  I might very well be wrong.  After all, I framed my opinion in a single parking lot collision rather than after observing myriad crash tests or even after scrawling physics equations on a chalkboard.  I've never really thought too much about it since or come across any articles on the subject at hand.   

But your post actually enables me to better frame the question at issue.

Allow me to take your conclusion to an obvious ridiculous extreme to make the issue clear.  You are saying that the crumple zones and air bags maximize passenger safety and (more or less, anyway) that gross vehicle weight and heavier metal are relatively unimportant.

So you're driving in your new S-class going east, and I'm in my 58-ton M60 tank heading west.  We are both a little sleepy, and drift off into one another's lanes... and then BAM!  Head on collision.

Your S-class is horrifically damaged, of course, because it is designed to crumple to protect you.  But the crumple zones worked wonders, and your air bags all deployed right on cue.  You get out without a scratch.  Late model automotive technology did its magic yet again.

Me?  I'm dead, of course.  After all, I didn't have any crumple zones or air bags in my tank.  How on earth could I have possibly survived?

Do you think that's what would happen?  Or would it be more like, I suddenly wake up in my M60 tank, wondering what that little bump was (actually my tank going over your new S class like a dead squirrel lying in the road).

Now, obviously, I kind of cheated here (just a little bit): I'm in my M60 instead of my w116.  But my point is this: weight and solid steel in sufficient quantities will beat crumple zones and air bags every single time.    The question is only, "just how much weight and steel do I need to beat your crumple zone and air bag?" 

Now, since my w116 does NOT weigh as much as the M60 tank in my example, it is possible that there are different winners if my w116 and your 2007 S class collide.  My heavier car might win in some crashes, and your crumple zones and air bags might win some others (As they say, "Some days, you get the bear; other days, the bear gets you").  But I would argue that if my vehicle weighs twice as much as yours, that has to count for something if we run into each other.

In any event, it would certainly be interesting to see crash test figures of new cars compared to older, heavier cars.  I doubt if they've ever been done, because the various relevant industries (automotive, government, insurance) would have nothing to gain from it.



Mike, I get your point. Perhaps a better example would be W116 at 60mph head on with a Hyundai Getz (not sure if they have them in USA but think Toyota Yaris but not as well built).  Now, there is a very very good question - which car would you prefer to be in? A small 2006 model with twin airbags and crumple zones weighing less than half the W116?  Hmmmmmmmmm.  I'd really love a Crash Experts opionion on that one (he'd cheat ofcourse and say neither). 

I'm sitting here thinking I'd rather be in my 6.9 looking at the oncoming Hyundai than the other way around!!!
sigh....sitting back contemplating the next purchase..!


Hi There AMG69,
                      I'm with you, I feel so much more secure in my 6.9 than just about any other car on the road. I recently purchased a nice 1979 280SE in Light Blue, this was a gift to a friends daughter as a first car. It cost less than a full service at a MB centre.
Its an absolute stunning car when seen driven by a beautiful young blond through everyday traffic. May the w116 live long and prosper.
Regards Robert.
116   1978 450SEL 6.9 #  4848
116   1979 450SEL  6.9 # 5884
116   1979 450SEL  6.9 # 6225  SOLD
116   1978 450SEL  6.9 # 5128  SOLD
116   1979 450SEL  6.9 # 5884  SOLD
116   1974 450SEL  DJet


Well guys (and girls in w116)   ;)
            The other day my BABY (1978 280se) was involved in an accident... with a C220 (2005) - 6 airbags.
The asphalt was a little wet... as you all know my model DOESN'T have ABS. So I came to a full stop in a few more meters than expected while travelling at 70km/h. (RED LIGHT MEANS STOOOOP!!!!   ;D )

So the ABS on the C220 worked... and he slammed in the back of my w116... did I mentioned I have trailer coupling?  :P
My baby has only a few scratches on the trailer coupling... but the POOR C220 got his face all smashed up... front grill and bumper, radiator, left lights and opening of the hood lead to the breaking of the indshield too.
Thanks to my headrest... I'm OK.
The other driver (thanks to his airbag) ended up with his nose full of blood.

I can't say wether the old or new cars are safer but as others said before me... I prefer being in my w116 (even if the other car is a new Mercedes)



Nutz, I love that video.  No idea what the narrative says apart from a few dates but I don't need to.  It's all eye candy.  I'd just love to have a go at that test track. And don't the engines look fantastic.

I've tried to respond to the question of the thread three times but a little inconvenience called work kept interrupting my long post.  Perhaps an omen to stop me dribbling waffle.  So I'll summarise and say generally, I'd rather be in a new s-class, but ultimately it's a measure of momentum and deceleration.  Depends what you're up against.  There's too many match ups to theorise about.  But basically, the SRS features of a new car and crumple zones can only protect the occupant from a given amount of deceleration.  I'm sure that value exists, has a proper name and is comparable between vehicles.  Bit if a W116 at 50mph collides with a presumably lighter newer s-class travelling at 50mph, the momentum of the W116 will be greater, pushing the newer car backwards, giving the occupant a few more negative G's to contend with and perhaps exceed the capablities of SRS etc to save the driver.

I'm ultimately in control of and accountable for what I collide with whilst driving my W116.  The thing that scares me is what others do that I can't control.  I don't like SRS though.  I'd rather sell off the side curtains, pre-tensioneers and dash and steering wheel airbags in our other car and buy another w116 with the money.  A bit contradictory to what I've said above, but what the hey. I don't plan on crashing anytime soon ::)

Sorry to hear about your bingle Andrew.  Unbelievable that your car was undamaged.  Oh yeah, glad you weren't hurt either 8) 
1973 350SE, my first & fave


Quote from: oscar on 21 November 2006, 11:40 AM
Nutz, I love that video.  No idea what the narrative says apart from a few dates but I don't need to.

They said;

Der MERCEDES-BENZ W116 wurde 1972 eingeführt und verschiedene Modelle wie 280.350.450 und die Sicherheit 6.9.Passenger Zellen hatte.............. :D ;)


Good posts, these.  Frankly, "safety" ought to be a significant idea amongst w116 owners, and a selling point for our cars.

I'm glad my "tank analogy" seemed to help my case, especially amongst you who lovingly call your w116 "a tank."

One thing I noticed is that all of you (esp. AMG69 and Oscar) invoke ridiculously expensive cars in their argument that they would prefer the newer car to a w116 in a crash.

They may very well be right.  But let me come back to "ridiculously expensive."

I could rephrase my question as follows: "If you were going to get in a horrible accident today, would you rather be in your w116 or a new car you could afford?"

As for me, that would mean either my w116 or a dinky little car w/ one airbag and no computer-assisted braking.  I'm simply not going to buy a car that costs much over $20,000.  Could I buy such a car that would protect me better than my w116?

Styria said something wise in another thread (re: the w116 article).  He said that he had come to believe that a lot of the hype regarding the latest car models was essentially just a bunch of marketing flatulence designed to sell cars, and that every new car article made it sound like, "And now we have finally arrived at perfection...".  I seriously question if new car safety features really are enough to overcome the structural weaknesses in new car construction.

Here's my version of "conspiracy theory": the government wants to have more fuel-efficent cars, so it definitely would not want to pitch the wisdom of "greater weight equals greater safety."  The insurance industry does not want to back the claim that "heavier = safer" because it would create a "weight war" that would ultimately create MORE danger and BIGGER collisions - and therefore BIGGER payouts.  The auto industry does not want to build bigger cars because metal is expensive and would undercut their profits.  And there you have it: a perfect storm behind the notion of creating underweight cars and claiming they are safer than ever.  [Remember, just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't really out to get me! :P].

Our w116s - as I wrote in my first post to this thread - were considered the safest cars in the world during their production run.  Man, that's really something.  I am frankly amazed that I could ever afford anything that was ever "the finest in the world" in any category.  W116s pioneered some of the remarkable safety features considered in this post - including crumple zones, ABS brakes, seat belt technology, and a mind-bogglingly marvelous accident-avoiding suspension for such a big car (and again, did I say the word, "BIG"?).

I could frrankly care less what other people think about my w116 (although every compliment on it goes into my little memory-treasure-vault).  But I tell you, these really are amazing automobiles.  And I truly feel safe in my w116 cocoon.


Quote from: Nutz on 21 November 2006, 02:09 PM
They said;

Der MERCEDES-BENZ W116 wurde 1972 eingeführt und verschiedene Modelle wie 280.350.450 und die Sicherheit 6.9.Passenger Zellen hatte.............. :D ;)

Yoo sink dat is farny..........HOGAN!!!

Hi michaeld, I only picked the new s-class because you picked an M60, thinking on the hypothetical lines.  (please tell me you don't own one ;) ) It stemmed also from a point that I didn't post in a previous attempt regarding all the passive and active measures, the SRS and radar and crash avoidance systems etc of the new s-class whereby I wanted to say something like;  with a bit of help from accurate road mapping and GPS, if everbody drove the new s-class and hit the auto pilot button, crashes would be a thing of the past.

Seeing the W116 crash tests in the video nutz posted, it's amazing that from my novice perspective, they crumble the same way the newer cars do. Front and rear ends squished, cabin ok. (I just wish they'd removed the chrome first). 

Mmmm, weight is good.  Why should I downsize to save someone else? In the real world on the highways, who's most important? It's you, ie me.  Not the person in the other car.  As I said, I can avoid crashes caused by me, I can't control poor decision making of others.  Naturally a heavier car will win.  For safety, why would you go light.   
1973 350SE, my first & fave


Car safety is one of those black sciences with just too many variables to determine which is best.

For a car crashing into something solid and immovable, a newer car with better crumple zones would certainly be better. Lighter, thinner metal that can bend more easily in a planned way makes better crumple zones.

In the situation of a car crashing into something less solid and moveable, a more rigid and heavier car would be better, at the expense of the other object.

Two solid, immovable objects colliding will result in a disaster.

An analogy; is a full body metal suit of armour safer than wrapping yourself in bubble wrap?

I would much prefer to avoid an accident than be involved in one and new cars tend to have better safety features (although these are often negated by the more reckless driving). I don't think anyone that has experienced or seen safety features such as ABS and ESP can say that a car without them is safer.

What makes our cars so safe is the way the car is able to remain in the control of the driver. One of the design goals of our cars is the relaxed driving style they encourage. Our cars are not rockets (although can perform exceptionally well when required) and don't promote speeding dangerously. Being large and heavy cars, they tend to feel less agile than smaller, lighter cars which can reduce a drivers enthusiasm well before the limits of the car are reached. Furthermore, the drivers of older cars tend to be more reserved with their driving too.
1977 450SE [Brilliant Red]
2006 B200


I heard if you prefer wrapping yourself in bubble wrap to body armor, it meant you were probably gay. ;D

The other night on the news they were providing the results of the latest insurance industry crash tests, and showing the obvious footage of cars crashing into blocks and blocks into cars.  It occurred to me then to wonder whether any tests involved BIGGER blocks.  Mforcer's point is a good one: a lighter-weight car can perform well in the industry crash test, but quite poorly when a larger vehicle smites it.  This might well lead to the phenomenon of "building a car to pass the crash test" rather than building the safest car (analogous to studying to pass the multiple choice test rather than studying to truly learn).

And, yes, there seems to be no question that newer cars have superior handling characteristics that enable active (avoiding a crash) crash characteristics.  I acknowledged that fact in my first thread, and so focused on an actual collision situation.  And, yes, this handling improvement is often turned against the driver because they abuse the superior handling characteristics by driving faster, more aggressively, and more erratically (not to mention rudely) than they otherwise might have.

Mforcer's analogy leads to another: would you rather be a fast, lightweight boxer able to duck and weave, or a physically powerful boxer able to take and give a big wallop?  (If this analogy holds for autos the way it does for boxing, then light cars DO NOT want to get hit by bigger cars any more than bantam weights want to get in the ring with heavyweights).

And I also very much agree with Mforcer's last point; that w116 drivers are probably older and more mellow than many new car drivers.  In my own case, I have found that I have "slowed down" quite a bit since beginning to drive my 450SEL.  This is for three reasons: 1) to reduce fuel consumption; 2) I realized that driving 90 mph on the freeway - although it actually got me there faster - "felt" like it took longer because I was so paranoid all the time about being popped for speeding; 3) I really enjoy driving my car, and literally feel myself calm down when I get in and shut the door for a drive.  W116s are sooo relaxing to drive.

And with Nutz, I say, oh yeah!  A traffic accident is like a barroom brawl: I don't want to get in one, but if I do, I want to be the unbloodied one walking away rather than the bloody one lying on the pavement.


Sometimes the dumbest thing one can do is state that a "consensus" has emerged, but, reading through these posts, I think one has.

Newer cars, w/ all the features Styria mentions - PLUS being considerably lighter - give them greater active (accident averting) capability.  Our cars handle great considering that they are enormous, 1970's era cars.  But they don't hold a candle to the new offerings.  Your best chance of not being where a crash is or would have been is to drive a newer car.  We w116 drivers needs take Styria's advice and drive sensibly. 

BTW, the statistics are not showing fewer accidents (that would be the case if new cars' avoidance-features were actually averting accidents).  We are seeing as many or more than ever.  People are dumber, crazier, and more aggressive than ever, and it shows on the road as much as anywhere.

But if you're going to be in a bad crash, it sounds like a great many (though maybe not all) of you would rather be in the solid, heavy, safety-engineered w116, saying, in effect, "I'll take an extra 1500 plus pounds over the airbags, thank you."  Our bodies were designed to crumple, but the fact remains that they are heavier, more solid, and better built than new car bodies.

I had a good friend look over my car after I bought it.  The funny thing is, the thing he most oohed and ahhed over was the door pillars, noting the solid vault-like construction.  He looked at those door pillars and said, "Boy that's a well-built car."  He drives a 1 ton diesel pickup truck because he likes heavy, solid, durable things, and he found a soul-mate in my 450SEL.

One other point that needs to be said: the most precious cargo is often in the rear of a car - our children.  Very few cars have airbags for the rear passengers, and none offer the same protection for rear passengers as they do the front.  So here's another discussion question: in a bad accident, what car do you want your kid sitting in?


Quote from: michaeld on 25 November 2006, 03:30 PM
One other point that needs to be said: the most precious cargo is often in the rear of a car - our children.  Very few cars have airbags for the rear passengers, and none offer the same protection for rear passengers as they do the front.  So here's another discussion question: in a bad accident, what car do you want your kid sitting in?

The rear seat passengers already have an 'air bag'... the front seat itself. The other things that rear passengers should have include side air bags and better seat belts like the front passengers benefit from.
1977 450SE [Brilliant Red]
2006 B200