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Evolution of MBz: the w108, the w116, and the w126.

Started by michaeld, 04 April 2006, 08:08 AM


Last month I wrote a post titled, "Which was Mercedes' best era? which - because of the many contributors - was very informative.  But I dare say I was also a bit overreaching in my choice of topic.  It's hard to look at a century's worth of cars and say, "This was the best one."

So I thought it might be interesting to narrow the focus of the topic down a bit.  And I also thought that, rather than focus on the abstract and subjective issue of "quality" it might be more beneficial to simply compare feature sets and performance.

The w116 emerged from the w108, and was eventually replaced by the w126.  It seems fair to say that each of these chassis had their place in the world, and each did things and solved problems that the other two chassis didn't.

I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast these cars.  What made the w108 great, and why did the w116 come along to replace it?  What issues did the w126 address that "improved" over the w116?  What did each respective chassis do better than - and not as well as - the other chassis?  That sort of thing.

It is a lot easier - as well as more objective - to talk about the w116 vs. the w108 and the w116 vs. the w126 (and even the w108 vs. the w126) than it is to discuss cars from completely different eras decades apart from one another.  The latter argument is entertaining, but it is also much more subjective.  Since I know some of you guys have two - or even all three - of the chassis (or at least did at one time or another), we could have some very concrete, objective evaluations and discussion.

As for me, I just kind of stumbled into my 116 and fell in love with it.  I know I love my 116, but I really don't know a whole lot about these other chassis that preceded and superceded the 116.  I'd like to learn.


Great question Michael and I look forward to the responses from some of our friends here. I'll need to do some reading and thinking before I can contribute as I have no direct experience with the 108 or 126...
1977 450SE [Brilliant Red]
2006 B200


From my viewpoint, taking into account the keyword 'quality' the W116 is a better 'quality' product thn the W126.

Having owned a W126 - 500SE - in 83 to 85 [buying it new] and being an owner of a W116 - 450SE - since 2000 I have experieinces with both cars.

The 450SE is a 1976 model and since coming into my posession it has had a fair bit of work carried out.  Initially there was a top end rebuild of the engine [bottom end was in good condition] and also new timing chains.  The gearbox was reconditioned and also had new self levelling shocks. Over the years I relaced the original starter motor and altenator.  The driver's door electric window actuator was also relaced.  Other small items have been relaced due to minor accidents or vandalism.  Another item was the relacement of the entire interior trim, originally I had brown velour trim, with a complete second hand leather trim interior.

In the two years of ownership of my brand new 500SE I has 4 window actuators replaced, the right hand top end replaced [due to a dropped valve] and a few other computer modules failed along the way.

Component quality let down the W126 in my opinion.

As for which car drives better, well of course its the W126.


Quote from: BAR on 04 April 2006, 05:32 PM
As for which car drives better, well of course its the W126.

In what way does the 125 drive better? I have never driven one?
1977 450SE [Brilliant Red]
2006 B200

s class

Question 1 : what did the W116 bring that the W108 didin't have :

The W116 brought in the following big improvements :

a) rear suspension.  the trailing arm arrangement gives more predictable handling and better ultimate performance than the old low pivot swing arm.

b) creature comforts.  Although central locking, aircon, electric windows etc were available on W108/109, they were more common-place fitments on W116. 

c) Modern styling.  Today the W108/109 looks like a classic.  The W116 almost passes as a car from recent times.  This is somewhat opinion-related since many will claim that the W108/109 is THE timeless classic S-class.

d) better automatic transmissions.  The torque converter systems used in the W116 are much smoother and have better driveablility

e) Safety.  The W116 is still virtually unparalleled in occupant safety.

f) rust proofing.  The W116, although rust prone my modern standards, it was a lot better than the W108. 

g) the M110 motor.  A brilliant, economical unit in euro form. 

h) diesels.  I'm not a diesel fan at all, but it must be stated that the W116 introduced the option of oil burning in S-class. 

Thats off the top of my head for now:

Question 1 corollary : What did the W116 loose that the W108 had?

a) Styling.  Many will cite the classic appearance of the W108.  But personally I love the W116. 

b) solidity.  In my opinion W108 and W116 are equally solid, but some may disagree.

Question 2 : what did the W126 bring that the W116 didin't have :

The W126 brought in the following big improvements :

a) creature comforts - great many of them, although there could be reliability issues. 

b) economy - the new generation engines especially the 3.0, 5.0 gen 2, 5.6 set new standards for economy in this class

c) timeless styling.  The W126 really does still look modern - even to image conscious females. 

d) rust resistance.  The imperviousness to rust of the W126 is a remarkable improvement over the W108 and W116.

e) better balance.  The new generation alloy engines were lighter, improving chassis balance. 

Question 2 corollary : What did the W126 loose that the W116 had?

a) solidity/reliability etc - call it what you will, the W108/109 and W116 were hewn from solid granite.  No merc since then is. 

b) driver confidence.  OK this is controversial.  Its my personal feeling.  I have driven the following W126's : 300SE, 500SE, 560SEC, 560SEL.  I have always found the hanling does not inspire confidince to throw the car around quite like a well sorted W116 can.

c) exclusivity - what!? you say - well, no 6.3 or 6.9.  PLus the W126 sold in such great numbers that you see them everywhere. 

OK then my 3c worth.

Ryan in South Africa. 

[color=blue]'76 6.9 Euro[/color], [color=red]'78 6.9 AMG[/color], '80 280SE, [color=brown]'74 350SE[/color], [color=black]'82 500SEL euro full hydro, '83 500SEL euro full hydro [/color], '81 500SL


Wow, S class's post is a keeper!  Great job on that one!  I'm looking forward to 450SE's upcoming contribution.

BTW, you don't have to have ever driven all three cars to venture an opinion here.  This is a discussion that anyone who reads the specs or even simply looks at pics of the cars can discuss intelligently.  I for one would like to read up on the 108s and 126s to get a better sense of what led up to the 116 and what followed from it.  During the 60's and 70's, the only way you could really tell one Mercedes model from another was often to look at the number/letter combination on the trunk: they were really cut out of the same mold.  And while one chassis did visually differ a bit from another, there was a profound family resemblance [I think the 108s are just plain beautiful; and I for one like driving their direct descendant).

Read up on these Benzes, and tell us what you learn!

John Hubertz

Hmmmmm.  On the rock-solid reliability, I'm short on first hand experience with the 116.  I do know that the 5 126s I drove last year had a very common litany of complaints - sunroofs, windows, front suspensions and climate controls being the primary issues.

I did recently post the concept of the 116 as the perfect alternate car on my Mark VIII club site, and got back quite a flurry of horror stories on 116 reliability and issues too expensive to justify repair.  Front suspension, fuel pumps, and top-end engine being the most common - with USA climate control being mentioned as well.

So... I'm a bit skittish, but have high hopes.  I must say my worry is that my MB experience may begin to parallel my Volkswagen days, with cars that are quite unreliable but inspire loyalty nonetheless.  Time will tell.

I'm not sure on the styling - the 126s are quite lovely in long-wheelbase and SEC variants - my favorites being the 300 and 350SDL and the vaunted Euro motor 500 SEC. 

However, the common problems with windows and suspensions and sunroofs - especially those sunroofs, as they are almost unrepairable, made me look toward the 116.  That and price.  A top-condition 300SDL or 560SEL still brings way over $6000 even for a good deal, and an SEC can easily top $10,000.

The 116 is a bit less.... distinctively old-school OR distinctively 80's modern....  a bit of a middle-child.

(I better include this one, since there are some new members) - my favorite 116 custom....

But I'm drawn to it in certain colors, and think it is beginning to age well.  Frankly, the 126 is probably best for "looks", because the 108/109 just looks frumpy from the rear.

So, I remain optimistic, and excited.  2 weeks from Friday - this car is coming HOME!

John Hubertz
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
(Hunter S. Thompson) 

1977 450SEL (Max Headroom)
[img width=68 height=73][url=""][/url][/img]


This in reference to John Hubertz's post above.

I'd like to see the link on your Mark VIII post re: w116s.  It would make for interesting reading.

I've never heard the w116's top end criticized in my readings, but I can tell you that I was a little dismayed when I crawled under my car with a grease gun only to find no Zerc fittings to grease! :-[  My front end was rebuilt six years and 6,000 miles ago at a cost of over $3,000 - and still no Zerc fittings.  It is a dreadful mistake not to have lubrication points in any car, IMHO.  I wonder whether 108s and 126s have them.

John also points out something about "buy it now" costs, and yes, it seems that 116s are the "price bargain" of the batch today.  A halfway decent example of a 108 or a 126 is going for far more than a 116; personally I think that 116s have been labeled as "smog-law-era cars from the 70's" and ignored.  Our gain, I say.


Quote from: michaeld on 06 April 2006, 11:46 AM... lubrication points ... I wonder whether 108s and 126s have them.

Heaps of 'em on my 108 (and 111, 112)! More nipples than on a sow!
[img width=340 height=138][url=""][/url][/img]


Hi fellows

I am going to try to answer this in a different way. I am not going to state what I like but give technical facts and  what most people NOW think about these cars, here I go :

W108 - tech facts : the LAST classic Mercedes, complicated and virtually ancient - the king pins and the horizontal spring on the low pivot swing axle can be found in a 1934 Mercedes 500K !!! but the W109 with air suspension is incredibly taught on the road.
Impressions : this is classic, beautiful car, with much more personality than the W116/W126...and just look at the wood around the window frames !

W116 - tech facts : a HUGE leap in technology, more refined but looser road behavior (compared to a W109) much simpler to maintain - the birth of the modern S class cars...
Impressions : handsome, nice car but with americanized looks : too much chrome, the option list is much too long for a car of this price, plastic interior makes one cry compared to a W108.

W126 - tech facts : a small technical evolution over the W116, lighter, more economical engines that don't last as long as the W116 iron block engines
Impressions : handsome, cleaned-up look that is ultimately rather plain looking and while the plastics looks better, the stuff has found its way everywhere (!) minimal chrome with a decent option list and improved standard fitments - a Europeanized American car

W140 - an ugly, slab-sided, sinister looking car with bunkered thick windows...oh...OK this model is not on our list....


Paris, France


A note for Michaeld

If you like using a grease gun, get yourself a W108 in fact if you like intensive maintenance as a weekend physical therapy for an office job weekly stress get a W109 !!!
The best is the 300SEL with the M189 - the M-100 is too reliable (nothing to do on it) but the M189 (ahhhhhhh!!!!) with its distributor caps only made by goblins on February 29th hence the dreadfull cost...

A 300SD W116 is just a plain bore compared to the greaser W108/W109  :D


Paris, France

s class


THanks for that post.  I have a lot of experience with W116 and W126, and I agree completeley with what you say.  Very well put.  The W108 I don't know so well, but agree that the W116 is technically a huge impovement.  I have never driven a W109 but your comments about handling make me very interested in it. 

OK I confess, I drive a W140 and I know them well.  I agree it is very sinister looking, but that appeals to me.  I also consider the W116 sinister/menacing, while the W126 is a lot softer - possibly that is one of the reasons it sold so well. 

I can tell you this - the W140 is a super huge massive technical improvement over the W126.  As you said, the W126 is really just a facelifted W116, and suspension-wise the W116 and W126 are nearly identical.  So by today's standards, that trailing arm rear suspension used on W114/W115/W116/R107/C107/W126/C126 since 1968 is a little old.

The W140's multilink arrangement is just brilliant.  Now remember I am a very slow to change conservative traditionalist.  So for me to give that kind of praise - well - it must be good. 

OK I accept that it is generally agreed that reliability has been on the decline, particularly since the mid 1990's, and I won't disagree.  As much as I love the W140, it has zillions of very complex gizmos - like fly-by-wire throttle, with an electronic actuator on the throttle body that only lasts 100 000 to 150 000km or so and costs like US$1,000 to replace.  The maintenance on the W140 is hideous.  It will make a wealthy man cry.  I am blessed to have a friend with full Bosch diagnostics computer so I can interrogate my car.  The W140 has something like 150 servo motors for the electrically operated headrests, seats, automatic door closing, reverse antennae -the list is endless.  And they all can (and eventually do) go wrong.  Aaar-gg-eh. 

My W140 is a 500SEL and the performance is spectacular.  The quadcam V8 throws the 2200kg weight off the start-line such that its a mach for much lighter stuff like 330i BMW.  It is huge fun.  A real wolf in sheep's clothing. 

Sorry.  This is really getting O.T. - but since we are talking S-class lineage. 

[color=blue]'76 6.9 Euro[/color], [color=red]'78 6.9 AMG[/color], '80 280SE, [color=brown]'74 350SE[/color], [color=black]'82 500SEL euro full hydro, '83 500SEL euro full hydro [/color], '81 500SL


A couple of very interesting points emerge from the above posts that I thought I'd bring out.

First of all, Denis brings out the fact that the 108s/109s featured a superior "old world" build quality, examples of which were an abundance of wood trim, and a lack of plastics.  As Denis describes it, this old world quality has been on the decline since the 108s/109s, with the 116s having more than the 126s, and on and on.  It would be interesting (if my term "old world build quality" is appropriate) to see/hear about more examples of the old world quality that the pre-116 cars possessed.

The second element is the advent of "maintenance-free" mechanical systems that we (apparently) begin to see in the 116s.  "Maintenance-free" has been on the dramatic increase since the 116s.

Now, it is this "maintenance-free" aspect that Denis was indirectly commenting on when he said
Quote from: Denis on 07 April 2006, 06:21 AM
If you like using a grease gun, get yourself a W108 in fact if you like intensive maintenance as a weekend physical therapy for an office job weekly stress get a W109 !!!
The best is the 300SEL with the M189 - the M-100 is too reliable (nothing to do on it) but the M189 (ahhhhhhh!!!!) with its distributor caps only made by goblins on February 29th hence the dreaful cost...
This is a significant factor to me.  No, I do not carry a grease gun around in my pocket, ready to whip it out at any moment, but I believe in routine maintenance as a means of acheiving maximum life and minimum long-term cost out of cars.  Perhaps I'm wrong, but it is my belief that one could get a lot more life out of a Zerc-fitted suspension by periodically using a grease gun than to passively wait for a "sealed" system to self-destruct.

At the same time, there IS something good to say about systems that require less maintenance than those that require more.  There's a balance, isn't there?  And the same goes for "technological improvements," which in my thinking need to be genuinely reliable and long-lasting in order to qualify as "improvements."  But this is coming from a guy who would actually prefer to roll up his own windows and adjust his own seat (thanks but no thanks to the 150 servos in your w140 seats, Ryan!).

The 116 offers some "old world" benefits, such as an iron blocks and solid body construction such as we've never seen in any cars since, while also (as Denis points out) offering a technological leap over the 108s/109s (such as a truly modern suspension).  If so, the 116 is a "bridge" between the "old world" 108s and the "modern" 126s.

John Hubertz

Out of curiosity, wouldn't it be possible to fit grease zerts into the ball joints etc of 116s?  I'm sure going to find out....
John Hubertz
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
(Hunter S. Thompson) 

1977 450SEL (Max Headroom)
[img width=68 height=73][url=""][/url][/img]


Newer cars just drive better as the come along. The W108 is such a sweet car, I love mine, its quick! the car feels lighter then the W116 and almost as quick as my 6.9. I'm sure its faster then most US spec 450SEL's beause its lighter and more powerful.

The 6.9 feels more solid and a lot quieter. I does not have as much character as the W108 and certainly doesn't turn heads as much. But I love it. I love it most for the fact that it's such a street sleeper. I love driving on the highway and blasting past morons who occupy lanes that they shouldn't be occupying, in so called modern performance cars (and they just thought they got beaten by a Mercedes Diesel).

Make no mistake, the newer Mercedes Benz cars do just about everything better then their predecessors. Its a fact of life. Mercedes Benz brings cars out that are way ahead of their time. This is why they can afford to bring a car out every 7 years (11 years in the case of the W126). In 7-11 years, technology moves forward. My W210 has a 32valve v8, 5 speed automatic and is flawless. It beats any other car that I have driven including a W140 and the outgoing S430. It doesn't have as much character as my W116 or my W108 but it is an amazing car.

I'm here because I like the way that the Older Mercedes Benz cars look and drive, they still drive better then most modern cars. I am not knocking the cars, I love them. But progress is progress and while some companies get it wrong with the styling (like with the W140), they rarely make a car that is worse to drive.
With best regards

Dallas, TX USA.