Introduced in 1979, the W126 Mercedes-Benz S Class was a revolution in luxury motoring. The build quality was off the charts. The car was handsome, long, low and wide and as such, carried the kind of presence that leaders of industry so demanded. It was outrageously comfortable, especially in SEL guise, which featured a longer wheelbase for extra legroom in the back. It was powerful, or at least it was if specified with a V8. And because it was a Mercedes-Benz, it wasn’t just about the luxury. This car could handle as well. For something as big as the QE2, it was surprisingly nimble when pushed. For many, the W126 is the perfect Mercedes-Benz, and we can see why.
Hollywood also has a longstanding love affair with the W126. It’s chiselled, handsome looks make it the perfect machine for the scripted bad guys. Though the W126 has been allowed to play the role of hero, too. Yes, the W126 is something of a pop culture icon, a car that we all recognise instantly, and one that we can well imagine being the transport of choice for the nefarious. And it’s with that in mind that we’ve scoured the brilliant Internet Movie Car Database to find five examples of when the W126 was the main focal point of the silver screen.
1) Lethal Weapon 4
Lethal Weapon 4 was a largely forgettable film. However, there was one glorious moment in which the film became watchable, and that was the freeway chase scene. In it, Mel Gibson’s Riggs is, for some reason, fighting the baddies from inside half a small pre-fab building that is on the back of a truck. Standard stuff. Down on the road, there’s a W126 in pursuit, driven by a bad guy. There is also Danny Glover in a Pontiac of some description. Because product placement.
The chase goes on for a while, and in the end, Riggs finds his way into the Pontiac via a table and some plastic sheeting. It makes more sense if you watch it. There’s a bit of an automotive melee between the Pontiac and the W126, the Pontiac drives through a building, then the W126 fails to stop at a junction and thus gets wiped out by a truck. Shame, as it looked like a nice car. But hey, if you become the bad guy’s company car…
2) Die Hard: With a Vengeance
The third Die Hard film is the second best, and we’ll fight anyone who says different. Set in New York, the film sees a hungover John McClane having to undertake a set of outlandish riddles and tasks set for him by the evil ‘Simon’ played by Jeremy Irons. He’s an excellent baddie. Begrudgingly along for the ride with John is Zeus Carver, played by Samuel L. Jackson. It’s a thrilling film, and before we even get to the W126 there are two excellent car chases.
But what of the W126? The car in question is a 560SEL, commandeered by McClane in a rush. The owner is angry, but John and Zeus don’t care because they now have a Mercedes. Plus, the guy they ‘borrowed’ it from is about to find a gold bar on the back seat of the Yugo the boys left him with. So everybody wins. Well, everybody but the Merc. Upon seeing some suspect trucks on a road below, McClane launches the Benz off a bridge. It survives, but most of its face is smashed off. And then, the big Benz is involved in a massive shootout with a Dodge Ram. Much paint is swapped before the W126 flips onto its lid. A shame for such a mega car, but it protected our protagonists until the very end.
1981’s comedy cop caper, K-9, was actually a good laugh. Featuring Jim Belushi as a renegade cop partnered with a brilliant, if uncooperative dog, the film follows the pair as they try to get to the bottom of a drug smuggling ring. This being Hollywood in the ’80s, imagination was thin on the ground, so of course the bad guys had to drive a Mercedes-Benz W126 500SE. A nice car though, being a pre-facelift on the (in our opinion) nicer ‘Bundt’ alloy wheels.
The bad guys try to take out Jim and the dog in a drive-by shooting. Thankfully, they miss and Jim gives chase in his battered Ford Mustang. The following chase takes the two cars through the streets of L.A, including some quite aggressive San Francisco-esque roads which make light work of putting the cars into orbit. There’s then a bit of gratuitous power-sliding, before the W126 inexplicably drives through a fence, then a building and then crashes. It makes literally no sense. Happily though, the impact seemed pretty soft, so we’re quietly confident this old Merc lived to see another day.
4) Tomorrow Never Dies
It wouldn’t be a ‘cars from the movies’ list without at least one mention of James Bond, this time in Tomorrow Never Dies. In this film, we have one of the finest Bond cars in the form of the E38 BMW 750il, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Instead, we’re focusing on not one, but two W126 Mercs. Driven by the bad guys, obviously, these two cars give chase to the BMW as it careens through a multi-storey car park, firing all kinds of gadgets at the Mercedes as it does.
The first Benz comes a cropper when James deploys a smattering of metallic spikes. The W126 ploughs over them, deflating all four tyres as it does. Needless to say, the henchman behind the wheel can’t keep control of the big Benz, and as such, slams it into an unsuspecting Citroen BX and a Peugeot 205. That’s the end of that one. The second W126 follows the BMW up to the roof, where James launched the BMW through a wall and back down to earth. Thankfully for us Mercedes fans, the henchman driving manages to summon all of the W126’s braking power, bringing the car to a stop with its front wheels dangling in mid air.
5) Arrested Development
A slight change of pace here, as Arrested Development was a TV series rather than a big blockbuster film. However, the W126, which stands as the last sign of wealth available to the Bluth family, develops its presence as the episodes progress, and as such, almost becomes a character in its own right. We see it as a car being used by the family today, we see it in ice cream filled flashbacks, we see it being used to get people over the boarder. It gets about a bit.
Crucially though, while the big old Benz does take some abuse to its interior, as well as picking up the odd bump, we’re including it here because it’s not a bad guy car, and because it seems to survive. As well as any big old Benz should. Plus, we like how it stands as a modern day reminder of happier, more financially solvent times for the Bluth family. Something that an old Jag or BMW couldn’t do nearly as well.