The transformation years A tenacious creative force powers the brand forward and establishes Mercedes-Benz South Africa as a major manufacturer of premium sector passion. The C-Class becomes proudly South African and spearheads a legacy of innovation and design.
Previous: Mercedes-Benz started sketching out this S-Class (W140) during the economic boom of the late Eighties, but by the time it launched in Geneva in 1991, the world was in the midst of the Nineties recession. As with all S-Classes it was brimming with new technology and at the top of the range was the new flagship 6.0 litre V12 versions: the 600 SEL and 600 SEC coupe. Left: Continued revisions improved the G-Wagen throughout its production cycle, culminated in a G 63 AMG with a biturbo eight-cylinder engine to complement the emotive appeal of its exterior. “The model upgrade and modifications have transformed this diamond into a priceless gem,” said Jürgen Hubbert, the DaimlerChrysler Board member responsible for the Mercedes-Benz Passenger Car Division at the time of the 463 series launch.
n one of the most epoch-making speechs ever
stringent safety and emissions requirements. Further
delivered in South Africa, President F.W. de Klerk
facelifts enhanced the cockpit and the outside, it was
lifted the ban on the ANC and announced that Nelson
immediately recognisable thanks to LED rear light
Mandela would be released as soon as possible ‘to
clusters. Following Mercedes-Benz tradition, a special
play an important part’ in ‘the dynamic evolution which
G-Class Popemobile was delivered to the Vatican.
is taking place in South Africa’. It was 1990 and the
Roadsters (R107) had rolled off the East London
South African perspective was changing. the
assembly line to a fond farewell, as it was the last SL to
463 series of the now classic and long running
be assembled in South Africa. But the new SL (R129)
Gelandewagen. Antilock brakes and three electronically
found immediate popularity with its defining wedge
engaged locking differentials made the now classic
shape, radiating taste and style. In addition to design
G-Class safer and more capable. In 1998, the same
quality of the highest calibre and maximum open-air
year of the merger of Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler -
motoring pleasure, this SL offered occupant protection
giving rise to DaimlerChrysler, a V8-powered G500
on an uncompromisingly high level. Under the direction
of engineer Karl-Heinz Baumann, a unique roll-over
bar system was created where in the event of a roll-
legislation made the G-Class increasingly challenging
over, a protective roll bar deployed within 0.3 seconds
to keep in production. After its 27th production
to create the most sophisticated safety for an open-top
year, the G-Class was again upgraded to meet the
vehicle. It featured, for the first time anywhere in the
Meanwhile, at the end of 1989 the last of the SL
Left: At the time the 500SL (R129) premiered, there was nothing else that could compare to the quality, purpose of construction, innovation and design. The kind of quality found in this SL is the enduring automotive equivalent of gold bullion. Still confident and self-assured now, a decade of tweaks in engines and facelifts altered the roadster’s visage up until the line was discontinued in 2001. The SL has always carried the three-pointed star proudly. Solid, technically brilliant, and consummately rewarding, these grand tourers are timeless.
world, an integral seat with a fully integrated three-point seat belt. The R129 also raised the bar when it came to its engine line-up – featuring units with up to twelve cylinders. Today, the car is considered somewhat of a bargain and certainly a future classic. In a shake up of the type nomenclature for MercedesBenz cars, the three-figure designations derived from the engine displacements were preceded by a letter, in this case, for the new C-Class (W202) the ‘C’, refer to the class to which the vehicle belonged. This era also saw the transformation of the brand from a technology-oriented business into a carmaker that was more responsive to what customers wanted, and the concept of different product lines defined the C-Class as a trendsetter. In September 1995, after only 22 months of production, 500,000 C-Class cars had come off assembly lines in South Africa and Germany. In nearly eleven years of production 1.9 million cars were manufactured. The C-Class became the highest-volume model series for 5
Left: The 1982, 190 and 190 E clearly showed the future of the entire brand. This car marked the start of the compact class, which subsequently brought fruit to future C-Class cars from 1993 onwards with the launch of the W202 series. All C-Class model series, including W203 and W204, shown here, have been manufactured at the East London plant to the same exacting standards as those in Germany. Below: Mercedes-Benz raised the bar on its â€˜Baby Benzâ€™ with the new C-Class sedan (W202). Bigger, stronger, safer, substantially roomier and far more refined than before, drivers also benefited from the measurably improved driving experience, brought about by the fresh new engines.
Left: Mercedes-Benz ownership has long served as the emblem of privilege, with the brilliant star out front pointing the way to some adventure or another, turning heads and inspiring emotions. The C-Class brought that emotion to a wider population at a price that was fiercely competitive. A faster and more powerful supercharged version, successfully used in the SLK roadster, eventually supplanted the base model as the C230 Kompressor. In 1998 the C-class received it’s first major overhaul. This included the new AMG influenced front, side and rear body skirts that were color coded to match the body, new wheels, and an all new interior.
the brand. The C220 CDI launched four years later and was the first Mercedes-Benz with a direct-injection diesel engine based on common rail technology- setting new standards in fuel consumption and emissions- and played a crucial role in the ongoing development of passenger-car diesel engines. Development work on the third generation S-Class (W140) began back in 1981 and it was Olivier Boulay’s elegant
Originally planned for launch in 1989, it was delayed to allow development work for a mighty V12 engine and an up-rated braking system. It made its public debut in March 1991, with the graceful coupe following in October 1992. It immediately set the standard in the luxury class. This S-Class pioneered innovations like double glazed side windows and power-assisted closing for doors and boot lid. In 1996, the coupé models became the CL-Class. Mercedes-Benz sold 406,710 9
Left & Below: Like its predecessor, the S-Class unveiled in 1990 (W140) was the first ‘next generation’ model to feature the new design that went more than skin deep. Introducing innovations such as double-pane window glazing, self-closing doors and boot lid, electric windows that would lower back down if they encountered an obstruction and a heating system which would carry on emitting warm air even after the engine was turned off. The S-Class tells a story that still fascinates today.
of the sedans and 26,022 coupés. Work soon began on improvements and in March 1994, updated models were unveiled at the Geneva Auto Salon. In keeping with all S-Class launches, several new safety innovations were introduced which have since become
engaged during emergency manoeuvres to boost braking power to maximum and ESP, which uses onboard computers to improve the vehicles handling response during difficult driving conditions. More than 90 per cent of all S-Class vehicles are exported and the South African models assembled at the East London plant were no different. Werner Breitschwerdt, then Chief Developer in Sindelfingen and later Chief Engineer, focused on reducing weight and aerodynamic drag. As with the transition from the ‘ponton’ (W180) to the ‘tailfin’ (W111), the changeover from the previous S-Class (W116) model to the newer S-Class (W140) improved aerodynamics. 11
Innovation has always been the key to success for a car manufacturer and is set to become even more important in future. Without the courage to search for new ideas, there would be no motorcar; and without innovation, there would be no progress.
Previous: Forward looking and a head-turning new take. Like the headlamps, the rear lamps are regarded as typical stylistic elements of models with a sporty character. The tail lamp covers extend in a wedge shape into the flanks of the body, a design first used in this, the 1996 SLK and then in the S-Class and the top-of-the-range CL coupé. Right: Few cars have stood the test of time quite like Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The executive saloon has cemented the brand’s reputation for solid build quality and top-notch refinement. The redesigned four-eyed face of the E-Class became the symbol of a new brand image.
The Mid-ninties was a time of tumultuous change
a successor to the hugely successful W124 E-Class,
in South Africa. Desmond Tutu was appointed the
which had an 11-year production run, the switch to rack
chairperson of a 17 member Truth and Reconciliation
and pinion steering made the car better to drive than
Commission and the country hosted and won the Rugby
its predecessor. In 1997, cars also benefited from a
World Cup, which the first major sporting event to take
change to V6 engines, with better economy and more
place following the end of apartheid. Following their
power. A facelift in 1999 improved ride and handling.
victory, Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok jersey
Drawing upon the rich heritage of the SL, Mercedes-
and cap, presented the Webb Ellis Cup to Francois
Benz created a brand new variant in 1996 aimed at
Pienaar, the South African team captain.
wooing a much younger customer to the brand. The design,
SLK (R170) stands for ‘sportlich’ (sporty), ‘leicht’ (light)
performance, and the emergance of digital media,
and ‘kurz’ (short). It caused a sensation with its electric
‘Vario’ roof made of steel and it flew off showroom
freshly launched second generation E-Class (W210)
floors. Two fixed roll bars behind the seats guaranteed
at their East London plant. Its clear-cut front end with
the occupant’s safety. The SLK was the first Mercedes-
four elliptic headlights and a coupe-like rear attracted
Benz passenger-car to rely on the tire sealant TIREFIT
plenty of attention. Very few cars have stood the test
and was delivered without a conventional spare wheel.
of time quite like the E-Class and the new model
Made in the Bremen plant like its bigger brother, the
cemented their reputation for rugged build quality,
SL, initially the SLK was available with a 2.0-litre
stylish looks and unparalleled refinement. Launched as
4-cylinder unit from the C- and E-Class and an SLK 230
Right: Designed to go head-to-head with the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3, Mercedes has made three generations of compact SLK roadster since its 1996 debut. First was the R170, which ran from 1996 to 2004. This was succeeded by the 2004 R171 and 2011’s R172. Below: Driving a roadster is a wonderful emotional experience. Many sounds and smells come alive with the top down and the sun shining, awakening intensive and joyous feelings. Ever since the launch of the first SLK in 1996, the vario-roof has converted the roadster into a coupé with a fixed roof at the touch of a button, and in just a few seconds. Since then, Mercedes-Benz engineers have constantly refined the vario-roof even further and maintained the SLK’s pioneering role in this technology.
Right: Mercedes-Benz stunned the world in 1997, by introducing A-class to the world. Rivaling the Volkswagen Golf in the mainstream market, the car was typified by its innovative design and packaging and a revolutionary ‘sandwich floorpan’ structure. Pictured is the second generation A-class (W169), launched in 2004 with its confidence inspiring cornering stability.
Kompressor with the supercharged 2.3-litre 4-cylinder
place on the market provided they are well thought-out
and genuinely focused on future needs.
Whilst Mercedes-Benz has been known for luxury
The W201 model series established the Mercedes-
and upper mid-range classes, there is a long history
Benz compact class in 1982, and the new A-Class
of producing more reasonably priced ‘downsized’
(W168) of 1997 took it a consistent step further.
models too. But the Chairman of the supervisory board,
Following a major facelift in 2001, it became a small
Wilfried Guth, said in 1997: “The birth of the idea that
family favorite comprising different body variants – a
smaller cars can also be built, and that Daimler can
concept which was continued in a modified form in the
enter another market segment with them, was a very,
successor model series, the W169 of 2004.
very laborious and very slow process.”
Following the introduction of its AA Vision concept
Happily, the vision for a car with very small external
study, an all-wheel drive recreational vehicle anticipated
dimensions imbued with the values of the Mercedes-
the design features of the future M-Class. Construction
Benz brand finally materialised in September 1993 with
of a Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, USA between
the concept ‘Vision A 93’, a front-wheel drive car featured
1995 and 1997 gave rise to a series production model of
an innovative body design and ‘sandwich principle’ in
the M-Class (W164), culminating in a major milestone
which the engine, transmission, petrol tank and axles
in the Mercedes-Benz product drive. Combining the
were located below the passenger compartment. A
comfort and safety of a saloon car with the all-terrain
1994 concept ‘Studie A’ further developed the theme,
mobility of an off roader to create a Sport Utility Vehicle
leading to the 1997 A-Class (W168). The new compact
(SUV), the demand initially outstripped supply for this
model proved that unusual concepts always find a
permanent four-wheel drive SUV.
Right: Overall, more than 570,000 units of the first M-Class generation were built in Tuscaloosa, in the United States. Between 1999 and 2002, another 77,100 M-Class units for the European market were produced at Magna Steyr in Graz/Austria. Today, the M-Class is sold in 135 countries around the world. Below: Before the M-Class was launched, producers of the film â€˜The Lost World: Jurassic Parkâ€™ used two pre-production models to promote the impending launch of the vehicle. The front-end treatment, with the raked headlamps and the prominent Mercedes-Benz star, was distinctive and cutting-edge while at the same time being recognizable as belonging to a Mercedes-Benz.
The relentless march of innovation for the S-Class continued, when, in 1998, at the Paris Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz launched the new S-Class (W220). S-Class
between innovative ideas and an organic shaping and the 1998 S-Class continued the tradition by including stylistic elements that helped to continue a kinship of shape. Advanced V6 and V8 engines fitted saved between 12 and 17 percent on fuel consumption, depending predecessor
comparison with the previous model, it featured over 30 technical innovations. Key design enhancements included the DISTRONIC autonomous intelligent cruise control, navigation system with integrated congestion warning and automatic cylinder shut-off in the V8 engine of the S 500 - providing a dramatic impact on fuel consumption without compromising on dynamics. Mercedes-Benz also offered exceptionally sporty topof-the-line versions with V8 and V12 engines of the 21
Right: Weight-saving measures made the car 300 kg lighter than its predecessor. As a result, the limousine could use smaller engines to achieve the same performance. For example, the new S320 was as fast as the outgoing S420, while S500 was faster than the old S600. Below: Less is more. The 1998 S class (W220) was the first of the model series not assembled in East London. It had somewhat smaller exterior dimensions but offered more interior space than its predecessor. Steve Martinâ€™s design demonstrated a significantly different stylistic mindset, with both exterior lines and an interior design that express elegance and modernity. The selection of fine materials like wood, aluminum and leather are an important elements of style which define the quality and character of the car.
Right: The new CL was an impressive four-seater and a highpoint in the brand’s design history – with its four-eyed front, side lines rising steeply towards the rear and spoiler-like bootlid edge protruding over the triangular tail lights. Featuring a world first at its launch, the Active Body Control (ABC) suspension system revolutionized its ride. “At the wheel of the CL, it’s like driving two different cars both at the same time: a sports car and a luxury limousine,” the CL brochure from 1999 said. The company brochures at the launch summed the car up. “When you are back on the ground after a trip in the CL Coupé, it’s as if you were awakened from a beautiful dream.”
S-Class, optimised by AMG, in the form of the S 63 AMG and S 65 AMG In 1999, the Mercedes-Benz Award for South African Art and Culture was established to give young people in the field of art, jazz, sculpture, choreography, photography, poetry, art projects in public spaces and fashion design their first international exposure. It was fitting, then, that a stylish new family member, the CL coupe (C215), was launched locally. It featured for the first time as standard the innovative suspension system Active Body Control (ABC), which represented a hitherto unachieved optimum balance of sportiness and comfort. A system based on signals from sensors and using special hydraulic cylinders on the axles, ABC compensated almost entirely for any rolling and pitching motion of the body when moving off, cornering or braking. Two engines were available: The CL 600 had the twelve-cylinder unit and the CL 500 the V8 engine. 25
Right: The term C-Class has long meant more to Mercedes-Benz than just a successful sedan. The W203 saw the series develop into a complete model family and also provided other Mercedes cars with a solid technical foundation. Although the four ‘eyes’ are still identifiable, the design of the new C-Class has seen the oval headlamps merge into harmonious units. The and fenders pick up this rounded finish and continue it backwards in sweeping curves, forming elegant sheet-steel sculptures. Recycled materials and natural materials such as wool, cotton, coconut, wood and other cellulose fibers helped create a recycling potential of over 85 percent by weight.
In 2002, a 5.5 litre supercharged AMG V8 engine
the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class was launched in
found its way into the CL 55 AMG and in 2003
2000. After a major factory refurbishment project the
performance was raised again with the CL 65 AMG,
East London plant, which included the construction of
which generated a giddy 1000 Nm of torque. The
a new paint shop, body shop and ancillary facilities,
special fascination of the car was characterised by the
unique effortlessness of driving- a rarely encountered
C-Class locally. It supplied all right hand drive markets
perfection. 47,984 Coupés had been sold by the time
as well as producing a number of left hand drive
the model was replaced in 2006
variants, predominantly for the North American market
The C-Class firmly established itself as the darling
in September of that year. The East London plant was
of discerning buyers and by 2000 it had become one of
one of the three factories building the car, the others
the main pillars of the brands’ passenger car business
being Bremen and Sindelfingen in Germany.
and had fully developed into a complete model family
The third generation was characterised by a sporty
that provided their other cars with a solid technical
design and a whole raft of technical innovations.
foundation. The C-Class was, and still is the highest-
Available in sedan or estate and powered by petrol or
volume model series and is of huge importance to the
diesel engines, as well as AMG performance variants,
brand in general, and to South Africa in particular.
the C-Class came in three trim levels: Classic,
After about four years of development, in which
Elegance or Avantgarde.
Standard equipment of the
dynamism and driving pleasure were core goals, and
C-Class included technical innovations that were
a total investment of more than 1.36 billion Euros,
previously only available in its flagship models: window
Right: A pronounced wedge-shaped body and powerful shoulders defines the character of the C-Class. Never before has the company produced such a pyrotechnic display of major technical innovations in such a short time. ESP®, windowbags, 3 valves per cylinder with dual ignition, Brake Assist, seat belt force limiters, COMAND, LINGUATRONIC, and adaptive airbags are just some of the milestones that enetered full-scale production. Each of these innovations provides greater safety, increased comfort and lower fuel consumption, all combined with greater driving pleasure.
bags, adaptive airbags for driver and front passenger, Headlamp Assist, the multifunction steering wheel and fibre optics made it a technological trailblazer in its market segment. Never before had the company produced such a pyrotechnic display of major design and quality innovations in such a short time. ESP®, window bags, 3 valves per cylinder with dual ignition, Brake Assist, seat belt force limiters, COMAND, LINGUATRONIC, and adaptive airbags are just some of the milestones that entered full-scale production at Mercedes-Benz. Each of these innovations provided greater safety, increased comfort and lower fuel consumption, all combined with greater driving pleasure. Although Germany is the biggest market for the C-Class, accounting for more than 30% of global sales, since the introduction of the C-Class (W203) model into South Africa, in 2000, more than 72 750 C-Class vehicles were sold locally, of which the sedan accounted for more than 65 000 units, the estate more than 1 150 units and the Sports Coupé more than 6 600 units. It 29
Right: The architects of fashion. In a stylish synthesis of tradition and modernity and a testament to how the legend grew, the striking design details of the new SL (R230) united tradition and future. For instance, the air vents in the front wings took up a typical feature of the 300 SL from the 1950s. Also the narrow, wing-like profile on these side vents – called ‘fins’ – is reminiscent of the legendary sports car. The SL 55 AMG was used in 2001 and 2002 as the official Safety Car in Formula 1 and the SL 65 AMG was the most torquey roadster in the world, and in 2008 and 2009 the R 230 once again took on the role of the Formula 1 Safety Car – this time as the SL 63 AMG, with its handmade, ’one man – one engine’ developing a maximum torque of 1,200 newton metres.
remained a bestseller in the range, with more than two
and 700 Nm and was the fastest four-door car in the
million units selling worldwide since the launch of the
lineup at the time, being quicker than the C32 AMG
series and was the best-selling C-Class in the history
and S55 AMG, and was verified by the Guinness Book
of the company. In many countries around the world,
of Records as the fastest saloon car in the world at
the C-Class obtained an average share of just under
the time. After four years in production and around a
20% in its comparable segment and a conquest rate of
million vehicles sold, 2006 saw the arrival of a facelift
about 40% in many countries.
of the E-Class with new body styling and a raft of safety
The introduction in 2002 of the eighth generation of
innovations, which included PRE-SAFE®, Intelligent
the brand’s intermediate range E-Class (W211) opened
Light System, NECK-PRO head restraints and adaptive
a brand new chapter. The development program for the
brake lights, making it the safest car in its class.
car commenced in 1997, with the final designs chosen
in 1999. The 48 month development period required
predecessors, the new SL (R230) could carry its hardtop
an investment of €2 billion. Pilot production went into
with it all the time. The roof, known as the Vario roof,
testing in the summer of 2001, culminating in a debut
could open or shut within 16 seconds just by pressing
at the Brussels Motor Show in January 2002.
a button transforming the two-seater roadster into a
Locally, the E-Class has been the number one
weatherproof coupé or vice versa. Versatility had never
limousine of choice with successful business executives
looked so stylish and thanks to its active suspension
and entrepreneurs, winning an average of 59 percent
system, Active Body Control, it offered state-of-the
of the segment with the nearest competitor taking 25
art electronic control systems and optimised occupant
protection - a perfect balancing act between comfort
The E55 AMG version was tuned to develop 350 kW
and sportiness to set new benchmarks.
Right: The E-Class is traditionally one of the main pillars of the product range, setting new standards in the fields of vehicle safety, comfort and driving dynamics. They included the new four-link suspension and a multi-link independent rear suspension mostly made of aluminium. Even today there is a number of older E-Class vehicles still in good condition and in daily use, due to their outstanding quality and durability. Below: The 2002 E-Class was shown in the 2002 movie Men in Black II, featuring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith.
South Africa has for some time been one of the top selling AMG countries and in a ‘first’ for South Africa, Mercedes-Benz South Africa hosted the world premier of the SL 65 AMG Black Series (R230) in 2008 at the Johannesburg International Motor Show. Praised for its sensational appearance, motorsport engineering and lightweight design, it exuded total exclusivity with its AMG 6.0 litre V12 biturbo engine. This highperformance coupé thoroughbred opened up new drive dynamic vistas to sports car enthusiasts. Imbued with a huge reserve of performance thanks to its maximum output of 493 kW and 1 000Nm, it guaranteed super sports car level performance. In its appearance, the SL 65 AMG Black Series is reminiscent of the evocative AMG racing cars, such as the fabulously successful DTM C-Class.