Perfection: The Designs of Bruno Sacco

Perfection: The Designs of Bruno Sacco

Posted by Harry on 9th May 2023

Marcello Gandini…

Lamborghini Miura SV. Top Gear

Batista Pininfarina…

Ferrari 250 GT Coupe. Barry Ritholtz

And Giorgetto Giugiaro…

DMC DeLorean. MotorTrend

These are all typical names you’re likely to hear thrown around in any given conversation concerning Italian automotive design. Luckily for us Benzers, back in the late 1950s a lesser known Italian genius was in the market for a job.

Bruno Sacco. Mercedes-Benz

Having recently failed in his quest to work for the great Batista Pininfarina at the then already iconic ‘Pininfarina’ coachbuilding institution, the inimitable Bruno Sacco moved to Germany. Following a wafty, steady ascension, by 1975 Sacco was the head of styling at Mercedes-Benz, an indelible marque that shares its roots with the literal birth of the automobile.

The rest, as they say, is history. Let’s take a closer look at some of Bruno’s most iconic designs.

Mercedes-Benz W123

Mercedes-Benz W123. Car & Classic

The OG E-Class. With a whopping 2.7 million units sold by 1985, the W123 is Mercedes’ best selling vehicle even to this day, and for good reason.

Mercedes-Benz W123. Car & Classic

A key entry for the development of Mercedes’ reputation for steadfast reliability - certainly until the turn of the 21st century at least - the W123 was (and still is in some parts of the world) the taxi of choice.

Mercedes-Benz W123 in Taxi spec. Car Throttle

With seemingly infinite serviceability, these cars are the very embodiment of German reliability, aptly garnering the ‘bulletproof’ seal of approval. Famously, an active taxi driver in Greece holds the mileage record of 2.8 MILLION miles (and counting) - that’s more than five trips to the moon and back.

Available in various guises - saloon (W123), long wheelbase saloon (V123), coupe (C123) and estate (S123), the W123 is a fantastic choice for any enthusiast looking for a dependable classic Merc to potter about in…just watch out for rust!

Mercedes-Benz W124

Mercedes-Benz W124 E Class. Collecting Cars

Technically, this is the actual OG E-Class, as it was the first to wear the moniker after the 1993 redesignation at Mercedes-Benz; but the W124 was always designed from the ground up to replace the W123, which is fairly self evident. While its predecessor had a more traditional and conservative design, the W124 was far more modern and aerodynamic.

Mercedes-Benz W124 E Class. Collecting Cars

The W124 is often best remembered for its durability and epitomises that classic ‘bank vault’ build quality Benz feel. The Porsche-built 500 E (or E 500 later on) is easily the most sought after stock W124.

Mercedes-Benz 500 E. Jalopnik

The pre-merger AMG tuned cars, or simply "Hammer", as they’re best known have become coveted collectors items, with some fetching well into the hundreds of thousands at auction.

Mercedes-Benz 300 CE 6.0 AMG 'Hammer'. RM Sotheby’s

Mercedes-Benz C111

Mercedes-Benz C111-II. MotorTrend

This trailblazing concept car arrived early in Sacco’s career. The first C111 was produced with a fibreglass body and a mid-mounted three-rotor Wankel engine. The next model boasted a four-rotor engine and could hit 300 km/h. However, the company eventually ditched the Wankel engine in favour of diesel experiments. The C111-III shattered records with its straight-five turbocharged diesel engine, reaching a top speed of 322 km/h and averaging 14.7 mpg at 195.4 mph over 12 hours.

Mercedes-Benz C111-IID.

The C112, a proposed production sports car successor to the C111, featured a mid-mounted 6.0 L V12 engine and received 700 deposits before the company changed its mind.

Mercedes-Benz C112

In total, Mercedes-Benz produced 16 C111s, including a single V8-engined fourth-generation car.

Mercedes-Benz C111. Double Apex

Mercedes-Benz W201

Mercedes-Benz W201 190. Top Gear

In 1982, at the Paris Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the W201, a compact sedan that marked the company's entry into the small car market. The car is often cited as one of Sacco's greatest designs.

With its 5-link rear suspension, front and rear anti-roll bars, and lightweight steel construction, the W201 quickly became known for its advanced safety features and durability. Despite being deemed "massively over-engineered" during development, the W201 went on to be a huge commercial success for Mercedes, with 1.8 million units produced over an eleven-year period, triggering the ascent of the C-Class in its wake.

Mercedes asked British engineering company Cosworth to develop an engine for the 190 E that would be powerful enough for racing. Cosworth created a unique 16-valve cylinder head for the M102 with dual overhead camshafts; the engine was able to rev up to 7,000 rpm.

Mercedes M102 16V Cosworth Engine. Car Throttle

The roadgoing version of the engine was slightly detuned, but still had a flat torque curve and a wide power band. It was available in two sizes, 2.3 L and 2.5 L, with the latter offering a small increase in power.

The 190 E with the Cosworth engine became known as the 190 E 2.3-16V and 2.5-16V. The 16-valve cars were visually different from the other 190 models featuring a distinctive bodykit.

Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 16V Cosworth. Autocar

Mercedes wanted to compete in Group B with the 190 E, but the Audi Quattro with its turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive system was too advanced and dominant in the rallying world.

Audi Quattro. Audi

Instead, Mercedes decided to race the 190 E in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM), a series where cars had to be based on a roadgoing model. This birthed the EVO homologation specials, which are now commanding 6 figure sums.

Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evo II. Evo Magazine

With its distinctive Aero kit, the Evo cars are now treasured automotive real estate. The purpose of the kit was aerodynamic; it underwent wind tunnel testing to decrease drag to 0.29 and simultaneously enhance downforce. According to historical accounts, Wolfgang Reitzle, BMW's head of research and development, once stated, "The laws of aerodynamics must be different in Stuttgart; if that rear wing is effective, we'll need to revise our wind tunnel." Supposedly, BMW did modify its wind tunnel following this anecdote.

Mercedes-Benz W140 S Class

Mercedes-Benz W140 S Class. Autocar

Though Bruno Sacco himself remarked that ‘it’s four inches too tall’, surely no vehicle can lay a greater claim to being the ultimate Dictator-spec final boss Benz. In 1991, Mercedes released their largest sedan for some time, the billion dollar W140, which was packed with advanced technology, meticulously over-engineered and built like a pyramid.

With numerous motors and high-tech features, such as memory seats and soft-closing doors, the W140's rear end even included chrome prong parking sensors. Despite its size and weight, the W140 was quiet and luxurious, and its powerful six and eight-cylinder engines allowed it to move with authority, whilst the twelve cylinder M120-powered cars were reserved for kings.

Mercedes-Benz W140 600 SEL. Retro Motor

Mercedes-Benz R129 SL

Mercedes-Benz R129 SL. Top Gear

It would be silly not to mention Sacco’s ‘most perfect design’. The R129's exterior style was characterised by clean lines, balanced proportions, and a muscular stance that exuded simple elegance.

The R129 quickly became a sensation, with a long waiting list and dealers charging a 30% premium over the outgoing R107's price. Nothing compared to the sophistication, desirability, and social status that came with owning an SL.

The SL Shop

In 1993, Mercedes introduced a new 6.0 litre V12 model that developed 389 bhp, taking the SL to new heights. A couple of years later, the R129 received a facelift that cleaned up the styling by removing the Sacco-Planks along the lower flanks and reshaping the body-coloured bumpers. For many, the original design's purity was lost. Production of the R129 ended in 2001, with over 200,000 cars built.

Mercedes-Benz R230 SL

Mercedes-Benz R230 SL. Classic Trader

Mercedes-Benz launched its newest luxury convertible, the R230 SL, in Hamburg during the summer of 2001. This was Sacco’s last fully-realised design. The R230 SL boasted several technological advancements, such as a retractable metal roof (or vario-roof as Mercedes calls it), a multifunction steering wheel, automatic climate control, and electronic systems like DISTRONIC and COMAND. Its design was characterised by timeless lines, curved and slippery with quad headlights, paying homage to Mercedes-Benz's history.

The Sensotronic Brake Control, fully electronic ESP, and Active Body Control contributed to advanced driving dynamics and safety in its day. Mercedes-Benz once again led the way with the R230's new technology, which other manufacturers would eventually adopt. The R230 model was later refined, with the distinctive four headlights disappearing and a new 7G-Tronic transmission being introduced.

A late facelift R230 SL. Mercedes Market

Though often cited as a decline in form for Mercedes and plagued with a variety of well-documented reliability issues (water ingress into the boot destroying the PSE Pump for example), a well sorted R230 SL is a truly modern car. Whether that’s a ‘good’ thing or not is up to you.

Send us over your favourite Sacconian designs!