The first official Mercedes-Benz S Class was the W 116 series launched in 1972 to replace the W 108/109 series, the range initially included just three models, the 280 S, 280 SE and 350 SE, they were later joined by the 450 SE and 450 SEL models.
The S-Class name is derived from the German Sonderklasse which means Special Class and the level of finish offered in these luxury cars certainly put them in a special class. But S could just as easily stand for 'Safety' give the amount of attention Mercedes-Benz spent on ensuring the safety of driver and passengers. The double-wishbone front axle developed from the experimental C 111 was fitted to all S-class models and offered zero-offset steering and anti-dive control giving measurable dynamic handling improvements. A stiffened body and roof frame along with strengthened pillars and other reinforced zones provided excellent occupant protection as did padded dash, deformable switches and other impact absorption devices. In addition the fuel tank was placed above the rear axle for protection in case of collision and from 1978 an anti-lock brake system was fitted.
The series was notable for one model in particular - with a whopping 6.9L engine the 450 SEL 6.9 was the largest post-war passenger car engine and from when it was introduced in 1975 until the end of production in 1980 arguably the best car late 1970s money could buy and you needed plenty of money to buy one at twice the price of a Jaguar XJ12. This huge car managed an impressive 0-60mph in 7.3sec and the self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension offered exceptional handling but at just 16mpg you need plenty of cash to run one.
Production of the first W116 S Class series finished in 1980 when was replaced by the W 123 series.