Design Notes: 1991 Mercedes-Benz S-ClassSpace, time and energy

Those three guidelines were expressed in geometrical forms–cubes, spheres and pyramids–which inspired the third generation of S-Class, according to statements made by Mr. Juergen Hubbert. Mr. Hubbert was a member of Mercedes-Benz’s board in charge of passenger car design when the 1991 flagship was redesigned.

There was more than a decade between the W126 S-Class, introduced in 1979, and the 1991 W140 successor which wasn’t introduced until part way into that same year. While it gained scads of refinement, to me its slab-sided, two-dimensional appearance was a bounding leap backwards on the design front.

Let’s take a look at some pictures that document the styling progression of the most expensive volume production sedan of its time.

1,100 people, 9 million working hours
Mercedes was serious about their top model, from what I’ve read no expense was spared. Further motivating their work was BMW’s heavyweight contender 7-Series that could be had with how many cylinders? 12.

1991 Mercedes-Benz early styling sketch (1982-1984)But Mercedes wasn’t asleep at the helm, you can bet your bottom Deutsche Mark on that.

Some designers reportedly were eager to start on the next shape shortly after the previous generation was released for 1979. The sketch above right and those below were drawn between 1982 and 1984.

[For this post, there is no gallery section; each of the photos can be clicked to see a larger version.]

1991 Mercedes-Benz early styling sketch (1982-1984)

1991 Mercedes-Benz early styling sketch (1982-1984)1991 Mercedes-Benz early styling sketch (1982-1984)

The next six pictures are of 1/5th scale models that were completed between 1982 and 1985. There was a total of twenty made.

1991 Mercedes-Benz early scale model (1982-1985)1991 Mercedes-Benz early scale model (1982-1985)

The previous two are very 1980s-European looking, sort of funky for American tastes I’d think. The bubble-car look was no doubt a result of some aero-related aspiration; some of these models made it as far as a wind tunnel for testing.

These next two are my personal favorites of the six. The one directly below looks not only better than the 1991 but I think even better than its 1999 follow-up act as well. The angles and various proportions are phenomenal. I see a design in which straight lines and arcs blend harmoniously, no styling element is incomplete, every detail seems choreographed.

A real shame they didn’t pursue this model.

1991 Mercedes-Benz early scale model (1982-1985)

I think the next one is a good runner-up but for entirely different reasons. I happen to be a fan of very formal and upright designs for luxury sedans; I think some of GM’s 1980s formal designs still look elegant.

Anyway, this version struck me in the same way. I like the upright angles used for the doors and rear window.

1991 Mercedes-Benz early scale model (1982-1985)

Here are two more of the twenty small-scale models that were made.

1991 Mercedes-Benz early scale model (1982-1985)1991 Mercedes-Benz early scale model (1982-1985)

Continue to page 2, below.

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