On January 29, 1886, German engineer Karl Benz applied for a patent for his design for a horseless carriage. With a gasoline engine powering its rear wheels, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen is significant not only because it marked the beginning of Mercedes-Benz, but because it’s widely considered to be the first car as we know it. In the 130 years since, Mercedes has built some of the fastest, safest, most beautiful, and technologically innovative cars in the world. But amid all the well-known greatest hits, there’s a model that shares its birthday with the original Benz that’s only just beginning to get its due.
On January 29, 1976, Mercedes unveiled a new midsize car to replace its long-serving W115 model. Known by its internal designation as the W123, the car’s sober good looks and size seemed like a logical evolutionary step over the outgoing model. Mercedes invited a small group of journalists to the south of France for the occasion, and while the company had high expectations for the model, what no one could’ve realized is that Mercedes was about to trap lightning in a bottle. From parent company Daimler’s official history:
At its launch in January 1976, the Mercedes-Benz 123 model series offered a persuasive combination of elegance and multiple technical innovations. The saloon was the first model to become available. The range was expanded a year later by the Coupé and, for the first time, an Estate model. Over the course of the next ten years almost 2.7 million vehicles were built, among them also long-wheelbase saloons and chassis for special bodies. The era of the 123 model series marks a particularly successful chapter in the success story of the E-Class, as the intermediate model from Mercedes-Benz was called from 1993 onwards. The new E-Class of 2016 continues this success story.