In fact, it goes all the way back to the early 1900s, a time when the Mercedes brand wasn't even in existence.
Since then, however, the reputation of the brand for offering high-end vehicles with an emphasis on luxury, comfort and safety has been firmly established.
It could be said that the S Class’ roots stretch right back to the very origins of the Mercedes brand, with a car known as the 1904 Simplex 60hp.
It was built by Daimler, on behalf of Emil Jellinek, who was helping to sell Daimler models to customers in France. The Austrian businessman required that his latest vehicle be much more luxurious than previous Simplex models, as he intended to use it to promote the new concept of holiday road trips to wealthy industrialists in Europe.
The 1904 Simplex 60hp was much bigger and more powerful than the vehicles of its time, coming with an enclosed section for the driver, leather trim on all its seats, and polished metals around the cabin. Thus, Daimler’s first 'sonder' vehicle (the German word for special), which the “S” in S Class is derived, could be considered Jellinek’s car.
Jellinek was already a long-time customer of Daimler, though his previous cars weren’t very luxurious and many were used for racing. He would sell these to wealthy individuals in France, using his daughter’s name, Mercedes, as the brand.
Emil Jellinek and daughter Mercedes
Daimler would continue to do business with Jellinek for several more years. Eventually, Daimler decided to use the Mercedes name for its own cars, and when Daimler merged with Karl Benz's Benz & Cie. in 1926, the “Mercedes-Benz” brand name born.
It was around this time that the next flagship sedan from the newly merged German automaker was launched. That vehicle was the W08 series Mercedes-Benz Nürburg of 1928.
This was Mercedes’ first eight-cylinder model, and as you may have guessed its name was derived from the legendary Nürburgring circuit where it was extensively tested, just like modern Mercedes vehicles. The Mercedes Nürburg is significant as it was one of the first vehicles to not only be luxurious, but also fast.
It was also during the time of the Mercedes Nürburg that customers, due to ever more powerful engines and increasing volumes of traffic, were seeking vehicles that had optimal handling, safety and protection against the elements. This led to the increasing popularity of high-end, flagship sedans.
W08 Mercedes-Benz Nürburg (1928 to 1933)
W186/W189 Mercedes-Benz 300 (1951 to 1962)
It was also unique in that this was the first Mercedes flagship to feature a wider wheelbase than regular models, as well as its signature ‘Ponton’ shape, giving it impressive interior room. New technologies introduced with this generation of Mercedes flagship sedans included air conditioning, air suspension and a passenger safety cell with front and rear crumple zones.
The 300 was also the first official state vehicle produced in Germany after the war and therefore represents, like no other model, Germany’s return to the international stage. The German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was given one of the first examples of this model in December 1951 and, from then on, he would be driven around in nothing other than a type 300. Consequently, the car became popularly known as the ‘Adenauer Mercedes’.
Moving on, we arrive at the generation of Mercedes flagship sedans that included the 1965 Mercedes-Benz 220SE Convertible honored in the movie The Hangover. This model was part of the W111 and W112 series, which was made famous by its fintail design. Owing to their function as a parking aid, they were also officially known as sight lines.
The top of the range, the 300 SE, was fitted as standard with air suspension and a newly developed automatic transmission from Mercedes-Benz, and its longer version in 1963 started off the tradition of long-wheelbase models at Mercedes.
The long-wheelbase option added close to 4 inches to the length of the car, offering rear passengers significantly more legroom and comfort.
W111 Mercedes-Benz 220 SE (1959 to 1965)
Special highlights included the introduction of the legendary 300 SEL 6.3 in 1968. In addition to exceptional comfort and luxurious interior fittings, this particular model rivaled the performance of a sports car.
One famous version was AMG’s Red Sow, a 300 SEL 6.3 that was entered in the 1971 Spa 24 Hours, and the European Touring Car Championship.
W108 Mercedes-Benz 280 SEL (1965 to 1972)
W116 Mercedes-Benz S Class (1972 to 1980)
The new designation went hand in hand with a whole bundle of innovations that set new standards in respect of safety and comfort.
The comprehensive safety concept included a collision-proof fuel tank, a four-spoke safety steering wheel, dirt-deflecting side windows, larger headlamps, distinctive turn signal lamps and dirt-deflecting ribbed rear lamps.
Five years after the W116’s launch saw the dawn of the diesel age in the premium class with the 300 SD, although this was initially just in the North American markets. The luxury diesel was also the first production car with a turbodiesel engine, and in 1978 it became the first car with anti-lock ABS brakes.
The transfer of technology from the S Class to other Mercedes models, as well as those from rival brands, continued in the years that followed, turning the S Class into a genuine trendsetter.
The airbag, now a key component of automotive safety, made its debut in 1981, in the W126 S Class, which was built from 1979 right up until 1991. The airbag first arrived only for the driver but later it was also offered for the passenger in this generation. Despite its obvious safety, the technology still didn't become popular in other makes until the late 1980s and early '90s.
Other features from this S Class generation included the aerodynamically-enhanced shape and systematic weight reduction through the use of lightweight materials, including special alloys for construction of its engines.
W126 Mercedes-Benz S Class (1979 to 1991)
Initially felt by some observers to be plain and tasteless, the design eventually became an industry standard, even to this day.
W140 Mercedes-Benz S Class (1991 to 1998)
This model series also saw the introduction of V-12 engines at Mercedes-Benz. The entry model was the 300 SD turbodiesel, which now brought luxury class to the diesel segment in the markets outside of North America too.
This generation of the S Class also introduced a pioneering safety innovation to the world of automotive engineering: Electronic Stability Program (ESP). This was fitted as standard on the V-12 versions and was available as an option on the V-8 models from 1995 onwards. The following year also saw the addition of the first Brake Assist System.
W220 Mercedes-Benz S Class 220 (1998 to 2005)
Despite having to abandon weight-intensive features such as double glazing, the new model generation offered even greater comfort, not least due to the new electronically controlled air suspension, COMAND interface, and new proximity-controlled cruise control system.
Other tech features launched during this generation were active body control, pre-safe crash injury minimizing technology, 4MATIC all-wheel drive and the first AMG performance variant.
W221 Mercedes-Benz S Class (2005 to 2013)
This included the addition new night vision technology, new brake systems with partially autonomous control and later on new blind spot and lane keeping assist systems. A facelifted model was launched in 2009 and saw the introduction of a new hybrid variant as well as a four-cylinder model offered overseas.
Despite being in its last model year, the W221 series Mercedes-Benz S Class remains the best selling full-size luxury sedan in the world. In the U.S., it proudly commands a 27 percent share of its segment.
As for the W222, it will continue the S Class’ tradition of debuting the latest in automotive technology and will include new coupe and convertible variants. This will also be the first production model, in history, to feature fully autonomous control. The aim, says Mercedes, is accident free driving, which could become a reality within the next decade.