W 124 (1984 to 1996)

The first E-Class:  124 series (1984 to 1996)

  • From 1993 the intermediate car range of Mercedes-Benz is called the E-Class
  • The 4MATIC arrives – all-wheel-drive culture on a Mercedes-Benz level
  • A four-seater cabriolet enriches the model line-up

In November 1984, Mercedes-Benz presented the eagerly awaited new saloon in the intermediate class. The new 124 series was launched with the 200 D, 250 D, 300 D, 200, 230 E, 260 E and 300 E models. In addition, the 200 E was built for export to Italy. This car family would be the first in the history of the Stuttgart brand to be called the E-Class. The successor to the 123 series was still being referred to as the “mid-size Mercedes class.” This reflected the era of the strategic model initiative in the Mercedes-Benz product range, which had seen the addition once again of a 190 model (W 201) in 1982. As a forerunner of the C-Class, however, this model was positioned beneath the E-Class in a market segment which Mercedes-Benz designated the compact class.The W 124 adopted elements of this young, sporty, compact automobile, but set standards all its own for design and engineering. There were parallels to the compact class, for instance, in the use of high-strength sheet steel and other weight-reducing materials. Despite lightweight design, the Mercedes engineers further improved vehicle safety, with the W 201 and W 126 S-Class serving as benchmarks. The passenger compartment of the 124 series excelled with high side-impact and rollover resistance and was provided with well thought-out deformation zones at front and rear ends. The criterion of the asymmetric frontal impact with 40 percent overlap at 55 km/h (34 mph) was now also met by the saloons of the intermediate range. In addition, potential contact zones were designed to yield on impact for the protection of pedestrians and cyclists.

Individualist with family styling features

The design of the W 124 showed a certain family likeness to the compact class. But on the whole the new model series presented itself with original independent design elements that served functional purposes. Bruno Sacco, Joseph Gallitzendörfer and Peter Pfeiffer were responsible for the design. The characteristic rear end, for example, which tapered towards the rear and was strongly rounded on the upper edges of the sides, had a particularly beneficial effect on wind resistance and was the product of wind tunnel testing. Such aerodynamic improvements distinctly reduced fuel consumption over the predecessor model. Two other typical design features are the trapezoidal boot lid, with rear edge pulled right down, and the slanting inside edges of the almost square taillights. This permitted a particularly low load sill for the large boot.

200 D

One design detail that is initially not very conspicuous, but nonetheless remarkably innovative, was the single-arm eccentric-sweep windscreen wiper. This wiped 86 percent of the windscreen – the largest swept area of any car in the world when the W 124 was introduced.  Owing to a lifting motion superimposed on the rotary motion, the upper corners of the windscreen could be wiped much more efficiently than with a conventional single-arm wiper. Electrically heated windscreen washer nozzles were standard equipment on all models in the series.

Single-arm eccentric-sweep windscreen wiper

The days of the distinct differences between powerful six-cylinder models and moderately powered four-cylinder variants came to an end in 1984. This was shown by the appointments of the W 124: The exteriors of all models in the series were virtually identical. The only differences concerned the silencer at the rear – the six-cylinder models had twin tailpipes, and the front apron, which featured louvre-like air inlet slots in the 300 D and models with air conditioners.

Chassis and engines

The familiar front and rear suspension designs from the C-Class ensured outstanding handling properties.  This was a shock absorber strut independent front suspension with anti-dive control, located by individual wishbones, and a multi-link independent rear suspension in which each rear wheel was located by five separate links.Many of the engines of the 124 series were newly developed by the engineers. For instance, the M 103 six-cylinder injection engines with 2.6 and three litres displacement in models 260 E (125 kW/170 hp) and 300 E (140 kW/190 hp) were completely new designs. All three compression-ignition engines of the 124 series were members of the new diesel engine generation. The OM 601 of the 200 D model (53 kW/72 hp) ran with the same output in the 190 D of the compact class. New engines in the 124 series were the five-cylinder OM 602 with 2.5-litre displacement in the 250 D (66 kW/90 hp) and the 3-litre six-cylinder OM 603 in the 300 D (80 kW/109 hp). The four-cylinder power plants of the Mercedes-Benz 200 (80 kW/109 hp) and 230 E (100 kW/136 hp) were engines from the preceding 123 series and belonged to the M 102 engine family, from which the engine of the 200 E also came.

1985:  The second station wagon generation

The history of the 124 series is characterised by a previously unattained variety of models, body shapes and innovations. The launch of the S 124 station wagon model in September 1985 at the Frankfurt International Motor Show (IAA) marked an important step. This second generation of sporty lifestyle station wagon from Mercedes-Benz conformed to a large extent to the engineering and styling of the saloons. Apart from a modified design of the rear end and resultant changes there were no differences to the body. The major components, brakes and suspension were merely adapted to the higher payload, but otherwise taken practically unchanged from the saloons. The station wagons featured a multi-link independent rear suspension, but now combined as standard with hydropneumatic level control and a shock absorber strut independent front suspension.

The engineers also incorporated the safety standards of the saloons into the station wagon models as far as possible. The latest findings of safety research were applied to the development of the rear body overhang, a particularly critical area where station wagon cars are concerned. One example of this was the fuel tank, which in the station wagon was mounted for structural reasons under the vehicle floor. It was given a special shape with sloping stop faces on the tank upper side and the vehicle floor. This ensured that in a rear-end crash involving deformation of the side members the tank would be pushed downwards and away and be held by check straps so that it would not come in contact with the roadway.

Very many common engines

300 TD Turbo Station Wagon

300 TD Turbo Station Wagon

The close relationship between saloon and station wagon was also evident in the engines. The original station wagon range comprised eight models whose engines were all used in the saloons, with one exception:  the engineers developed the 105 kW (143 hp) OM 603 A, the 3-litre six-cylinder turbodiesel of the 300 TD TURBO, from the saloon’s naturally aspirated engine.  In a modified form the turbocharged compression-ignition engine was also used in the S-Class export model, the 300 SDL. On the other hand, the 2.6-litre petrol engine and the 3-litre naturally aspirated diesel engine of the saloon were not in the station wagon version’s engine line-up at its debut.

Partially bodied chassis

Partially bodied chassis

Partially bodied chassis

As was usual for decades in the intermediate range of Mercedes-Benz, the 124 model series also was available as a partially bodied chassis. These were made into ambulances, station wagons or other special body versions by domestic and foreign bodybuilders. One innovation, however, was that for the first time these chassis were based on the station wagons and were manufactured with them in Bremen. Along with the standard-wheelbase versions, available as 250 D and 230 E, additionally there was again a long-wheelbase version offered as the 250 D, 230 E and 260 E models.

Ambulance with body by Binz

Ambulance bodies on these chassis originated mainly at Binz in Lorch, Miesen in Bonn and Visser in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. The best-known manufacturers of 124-based hearses were bodybuilders Pollmann in Bremen, Rappold in Wülfrath, Stolle in Hanover and Welsch in Mayen.

1985:  4MATIC is all-wheel drive culture at Mercedes-Benz level


Simultaneously with the station wagon models, Stuttgart introduced the automatically engaged 4MATIC four-wheel drive as part of their “Mercedes-Benz Driving Dynamics Concept.” This all-wheel-drive system was available for the six-cylinder models of series 124. Along with the complex control electronics, 4MATIC comprised an additional complete front-wheel drive with transfer case and differential; for space reasons, the latter is integrated into the oil sump in the engine compartment.

4MATIC front axle view

The great technical complexity of this perfected traction system was reflected in the selling price:  the 260 E 4MATIC, 300 E 4MATIC, 300 TE 4MATIC, 300 D 4MATIC and 300 TD TURBO 4MATIC, delivery of which began in 1987, cost almost DM 12,000 more than their rear-wheel-drive counterparts. In addition to the automatically engaged 4MATIC four-wheel drive, the “Mercedes-Benz Driving Dynamics Concept” included the automatic locking differential (ASD) and the anti-skid control (ASR). So in this package Mercedes-Benz offered three graduated automatic electronic driving dynamics system, all of which used signals from the anti-lock braking system.

1986:  Catalytic converter as standard on all Mercedes carsMercedes-Benz T-Model, 300 TE (S 124)

As early as September 1985, a closed-loop emission control system with three-way catalytic converter was available as an optional extra on all petrol-engined models of the series except the carburettor-equipped 200 model. Alternatively a so-called catalyst retrofit version was available, in which the vehicle was provided without catalytic converter and oxygen sensor, but with multifunctional mixture preparation and ignition system (MF system). This permitted retrofitting a vehicle with a closed-loop catalytic converter at any time and without any problems. This arrangement gave the customer the greatest possible flexibility in determining the time of conversion.  In the 1980s that was a considerable advantage as the supply of unleaded fuel was not yet guaranteed everywhere. The six-cylinder models were delivered in the catalyst retrofit version as standard. Their output was slightly reduced by the change to the MF system. In the 230 E the catalyst retrofit option was initially only available as an extra.

US version 300 E from 1991

From September 1986 onwards, the carburettor model was also available with emission control system.  At that point the closed-loop catalytic converter became standard equipment for all Mercedes-Benz passenger car models with petrol engines. The retrofit vehicles were now only available as an optional extra (with an appropriate reduction in price). This offer was discontinued in August 1989.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email