Saturday, June 24, 2017
The Mercedes Benz W124 - Future Proof car of the 1980s and 1990s
The Fasting month of Ramadhan is a time where things slow down a bit. A lot actually. So I have had some time to ponder on things which are slightly trivial like the car above. Again the Mercedes-Benz W124 has popped into my head. First produced in the 1980s and continued till the mid to late 1990s the car is an icon of German engineering. It is also an icon of mine as it is the first premium sedan that I drove way back in the early 1990s.
That was a 260E. It did enthrall me with its smooth straight-six engine and of course its upright grille and badge. It was also so cleanly designed that to this day it still looks quite contemporary. But today I am here to put another argument on how future proof this car is. I know I have spoken of this classic many times before but this time, it's about using the car circa 2017.
Let's take the wikipedia explanation on the safety features of the W124:
Some main innovations of the W124 series were related to occupant safety. Derived from the Mercedes 190 (W201), with which the W124 shares the basic layout, its likewise angular body was designed to withstand an offset-crash in a concrete barrier at some 35mph (56km/h) without serious harm to the occupants and a largely undamaged passenger cabin, a windshield that stays in place and doors easily opened without special recovery tools. This crash-test configuration became the base for the Euro-NCAP procedure currently being the standard crash-test configuration in the EU. Unlike Euro-NCAP, Mercedes required the body of the W124 to withstand an offset impact from the front and from the rear.
The W124 also featured a driver's side airbag (optional in Europe, later standard in the USA), height-adjustable seat belts with electronic-mechanical pre-tensioners (standard) for both front passengers, rear seat belts which automatically adapted to the size of the passengers (standard), pedals that were moved inversely in a frontal impact (away from the drivers feet and in the direction of the bulkhead separating the cabin from the engine) and door arm rests with deformable elements designed to reduce abdominal injury risk resulting from a side impact.
The dashboard made of impact-absorbing, artificial foam was reinforced with a thin aluminium layer which effectively prevented hoses, valves, housings and other components from heating and engine from penetrating through the dashboard inside the passenger cabin in a severe impact. The passenger glove box also featured a defined point of rupture, which considerably reduced the probability of front passenger injuries.
Apart from the Mercedes 190, the W124 was the first serially manufactured car in history to see widespread use of light-weight high-strength steels, which today are a standard in car design.
From late 1988 on, the W124 was one of the first cars available with a passenger's side front-airbag as an option, initially only in Europe, and from 1990 onwards in North America.
So you see, it is because of the W124 Euro-NCAP is what is it today and if you have read the first paragraph of the wikipedia summary, you'd note that the W124 can withstand an offset crash test on both ends. The first of its kind and it was only in the mid-2000s I believe that Euro-NCAP started featuring these sort of tests to cars.
A lot of people say that by now the W124 would not be as highly rated as some small hatchbacks. I agree, but if you had bought the last batch, post 1993 and especially the 1995 run off model which was called the 'Masterpiece. series in a few countries it would have a driver's side airbag as standard equipment. This piece of safety equipment could save your life (even if you have not opted to change it after the recommended 15 year lifespan of the Mercedes airbag). I believe the propellant or charge used to ignite the airbag should have some energy left for a good decade or so after the expiry date. I blame my reasoning on some Russian rocket scientist who I met sometime earlier who used to check Russian made missiles as his job. It also could be that Russian made products are robust. But so it a W124.
Then it also used a lot of high tensile steel like modern cars. It was also built to last. Like a bank vault. Yet it had deformable crash structures and everything we take for granted in modern cars. ABS brakes were also standard (some imported models like the 300E-24 had traction control) as was a multi-link suspension which meant that the car was mighty stable at high speeds. The only drawback is the slightly slow recirculating ball steering system. But if you just want the steering to turn, it is pretty darn smooth.
So this car engineering-wise is really as solid as a bank vault to this day. Drive one sedately with modern tyres on it and it could be the future proof classic car for the masses. Add a better audio system with a infotainment screen (the fold away type as there is no double DIN slot in the W124) and it can play modern USB stuff. Add an external GPS nav unit and you can drive almost anywhere.
This old car is actually that good you know. If you bought the E280 or the 300E models it could easily keep up with modern traffic in terms of mid range pull. The only issue is road tax. This is a good car for the commute to work trip or as a spare family car. But why spare family car you may ask? Because you may want more airbags that a newer car has. There are some things this old girl has to concede to you know.
Here is a review I did on a 1990 200E.