25 years of the C-Class: From the Baby Benz to a bestseller

25 years of the C-Class: From the Baby Benz to a bestseller image

Text: / Photos: | posted May 17, 2007 00:00

Stuttgart -- 25 years ago, Mercedes-Benz introduced the Model 190 and laid the foundations for what has become the bestselling model series in the history of the brand: the C-Class. To date around six million C-Class Saloons, Estates and Sports Coupés have been delivered to customers. On March 31, 2007 the fourth generation of this bestselling Mercedes will appear in the showrooms of company-owned Mercedes sales outlets and dealerships throughout Europe to continue this success story. Around 60,000 orders have already been received for the Saloon.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the news that Mercedes-Benz was working on a new model series below the E-Class was a sensation, and gave rise to a great deal of speculation. Seldom before had the press reported so often and so exhaustively about a secret prototype as about the "compact" Mercedes-Benz, which soon became world-famous as the "Baby Benz" even before its launch.

The new car was the culmination of many years of deliberation for the Stuttgart brand. The compact Saloon met the wishes of car buyers, while offering Mercedes-Benz the opportunity to establish itself in a new market segment and gain additional customers. Moreover, there were increasing calls for more economical cars, and with the Model 190 Mercedes-Benz was able to demonstrate that its typically high standards of safety and comfort could also be realized in a more compact and economical model.

Accordingly the requirements confronting the development engineers were very stringent, as they needed to reconcile fuel consumption related criteria such as a low weight and good aerodynamics with Mercedes standards of occupant safety, handling stability, comfort and quality. The aim was to develop a true Mercedes-Benz which was 30 centimeters shorter, ten centimeters narrower and 280 kilograms lighter than the Mercedes medium range at the time (W 123), and which would consume an average of only 8.5 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers. The engineers were able to achieve their goal with the help of the latest development and calculation tools, as well as the use of newly developed lightweight materials. Accordingly the Mercedes-Benz 190 also became a technological trendsetter in automobile engineering.

Trailblazer for future-oriented technology and a new design idiom

The Saloon was well ahead of its time, with a safety concept that reflected the results of accident research and already took offset frontal collisions into account. Neither was any other car in this class able to offer an anti-lock braking system, bent tensioners and an airbag, which were available as optional equipment, in the early 1980s. The still unrivaled multi-link independent rear suspension celebrated its world debut in the Mercedes-Benz 190, as did the first high-strength steel alloys which combine minimal weight with maximum strength.

Mercedes-Benz also broke new ground with the Model 190 where design was concerned. The angular, trapezoid form of the bodyshell and unusually high rear end ensured plenty of attention. Mercedes-Benz later transferred these basic lines to other model series – making the "Baby Benz" the pioneer of a new design idiom which characterized saloons bearing the Mercedes star until the early 1990s.

The design concept also reflected the latest technical findings, for the high, tucked-in rear end enabled the engineers to lower the air resistance of the bodyshell considerably. The resulting drag coefficient of 0.33 was 25 percent below the average for all passenger cars at the time.

In this way intelligent lightweight construction and exemplary aerodynamics provided two important prerequisites for a favorable fuel consumption. The Mercedes-Benz 190 with the 66 kW/90 hp four-cylinder carburettor engine had a Euromix petrol consumption of 8.5 liters per 100 kilometers, while the 190 E (122 hp) with the first mechanically/electronically controlled fuel injection system was able to cover 100m kilometers on just 8.3 liters of petrol. In autumn 1983 Mercedes-Benz rounded off the engine range with a newly developed diesel unit. The 190 D (72 hp) was happy with 6.6 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers.

More than two decades later, there are still more than 23,000 examples of the "Baby Benz" on the roads

Many drivers still benefit from the technical perfection and high quality of this Mercedes Saloon to this day. Around 230,000 examples of the Mercedes-Benz 190 are still registered in Germany, and 23,290 that were first registered between 1983 and 1985 are still on the active list at the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA). This represents no less than around eight percent of the 190s first registered in that period. According to the KBA, only between 251 and 10,383 examples of other, comparable saloons registered from 1983 to 1985 are still on the active list.

Around 60,000 advance orders for the new C-Class

Like the Mercedes-Benz 190 introduced 25 years ago, the new C-Class sets new trends in design and technology. No other car in this vehicle class is able to offer Mercedes safety innovations such as the preventive occupant protection system PRE-SAFE® and the Intelligent Light System. The new C-Class also asserts its leading position in this market segment with the ADAPTIVE BRAKE system and the situation-related shock absorber control system of the AGILITY CONTROL package. There is a choice of four and six-cylinder engines generating up to 13 percent more output than before, while consuming up to six percent less fuel. Apart from the S-Class, the new C-Class is the only car worldwide to possess an official environmental certificate which confirms the environmentally compatible development of this Mercedes model.

Two weeks before the official market launch, around 60,000 male and female drivers in western Europe alone have already decided in favor of the new C-Class Saloon and placed an order.

Ambassador for a new Mercedes design idiom

A look back at 25 years of the C-Class also reveals parallels between the two Saloons in styling terms. Both represent something new for their time, and both have set design trends. Just as the trapezoid, "cut diamond" design of the Mercedes-Benz 190 paved the way for a future Mercedes design idiom in its time, the new C-Class is also an ambassador for a new design style. The emphasis here is on purity of form, with the designers following the rules of modern purism and reinterpreting them in a modern context. Owing to an interplay between tightly drawn lines and large, tranquil surfaces, the design expresses unruffled calm and power, and symbolizes the technical superiority of cars bearing the Mercedes star.

Mercedes-Benz first realized this new design idiom in the S-Class in 2005. The C-Class is yet another representative of these design lines, and therefore follows in the footsteps of the luxury models in the S and CL-Class – not as a copy, but as an individual and autonomous interpretation.

25 years ago, the Model 190 also marked a new styling departure with a redesign of the tradition-laden Mercedes radiator grille, which was no longer mounted but rather flush-fitted into the front end. In the new C-Class the radiator grille is likewise an important design feature with a high symbolic effect. This is because for the first time in a Saloon, Mercedes-Benz has used the radiator grille to position certain attributes even more unmistakably. With their three-dimensionally contoured radiator grille, the CLASSIC and ELEGANCE lines intentionally echo certain striking features of the S-Class to symbolize attributes such as solidity, power and luxury. In the AVANTGARDE line, the designers have opted for a visually even more striking radiator grille with wide louvres and a large, centrally located Mercedes star. This typical feature of the sporty Mercedes models underlines the dynamic, agile character of this model.