The 90s was a transition period: cars were becoming less angular and increased safety regulations led to many radical changes both inside and outside. Amidst all this change, the various car manufacturers also had to consider how this would impact their sales. With the well-heeled customers becoming more discerning of their tastes, various vehicles rose to the challenge such as this 1996 Mercedes W140 S420L!
The genesis of the W140 began back in 1981 with the project being helmed by Bruno Sacco. Several design proposals were studied from 1982 to 1986, and various engine designs were also considered in 1987. The overall design of the W140 took cues from other luxury cars of the period, such as the BMW E32 and the Jaguar XJ40. However, with the introduction of the Lexus LS400 in 1989 and BMW's development of their own V12 engine, Daimler-Benz were forced to make adjustments in order to ensure the W140 remained competitive: this led to cost overruns and a delay in release as a result.
However, when it finally debuted in 1991 at the Geneva Motor Show, the wait felt well-deserved. It was replete with luxuries such as heated seats, double-paned soundproof glass, leather interior and the introduction of rear-parking markers (later replaced by the Parktronic/parking assistance guide). The braking system was also improved and the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) made use of on-board computers to help with vehicle response during difficult driving conditions.
As with the W126, the sedans were available in short and long-wheelbase versions along with a coupe (which subsequently became known as the CL class). Various engines were offered, from 2.8 litres all the way to 6 litres. All models were renamed in 1993, becoming S_ _ _ regardless of wheelbase length, body style and engine type. In 1994, there was a first facelift which featured wider headlights and radiator grille, while the rear headlights were joined by a bar running across the width. Another facelift happened in mid-1996 (like this unit) with the rear indicators now clear instead of amber, along with the introduction of front passenger airbags and xenon headlights.
The S420L had a 4196 cc M119 V8 engine, allowing it to reach a top speed of 245 km/h with an acceleration of 8.3 seconds [0-100 km/h]. It was 5213 mm long and weighed a rather hefty 2000 kg, with an equally thirsty fuel consumption of 14.2 litres / 100 km. All things considered, it was faster than it looked: the V8 engines did its job well in providing a sedate ride for the mostly upper-class passengers. There was much criticism about how bloated it was although the sheer luxury of the interior mitigated some of the unhappiness: how could you not resist sinking yourself into those sofa seats?
Production of the W140 ended in 1998, where it was succeeded by the W220 series. More than 432,000 units were made, of which 35,191 were the extended wheelbase S420 sedans. There are still a handful of lower-end S280/S320 units which can still be found once in a while, although higher-capacity engines like this unit could very well be the last man standing. The W140 was also a popular choice for the movers and shakers of its day: well-loved by CEOs, celebrities, dictators and even gangs. Princess Diana died in one and the Japanese yakuza were so often seen in them that the "yakuza/VIP style" modifications arose from it.
Interestingly, I saw this particular unit just 1 day apart: it turned up at a carpark near my area although the owner does not reside here. It is still out and about, although finding what would probably be the last one in Singapore may prove to be a tall order. Seeing a 90s barge on the road is nonetheless a sight to behold...perhaps you may see this one day!