ABS Becomes 40 Years Old, Mercedes-Benz Looks Back At Its Debut

It’s been four decades since the world first met a revolutionary system that would eventually make our cars considerably safer. We’re talking of course about the anti-lock braking system or ABS.

ABS was originally presented from August 22 to 25 in 1978 by Mercedes and Bosch, before becoming available -for the first time in a production car- in the W116 S-Class at the end of 1978.

Until ABS came along, maintaining full steering control under emergency braking was a big safety issue, especially on a slippery surface. It was a revelation as far as car safety is concerned, not to mention it brought the automobile into the era of digital technology.

Back in the day, Mercedes explained the new safety tech in a brochure like this: “The anti-lock braking system uses a computer to monitor the change in rotational speed of each wheel during braking. If the speed slows too quickly (such as when braking on a slippery surface) and the wheel risks locking, the computer automatically reduces the brake pressure. The wheel accelerates again and the brake pressure is increased again, thereby braking the wheel. This process is repeated several times in a matter of seconds”.

Despite sounding complicated, ABS was simply eye-opening in practice; even on the most slippery surfaces, it enabled the car to not only deliver the maximum physically possible braking force without the wheels locking up, but also allowed the driver to maintain control of the vehicle’s trajectory as the steering was not affected by locked front wheels.

It took just two years for Mercedes to offer as an option the ABS system in every passenger car, while in 1981, the company also made it available to its commercial vehicles as well. From October 1992, all Mercedes-Benz cars featured the anti-lock braking system as standard.

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  • Craig

    Mercedes gets more credit than it deserves for ABS. According to a Wikipedia article [and I looked it up because my dad’s 1973 Imperial had ‘ABS’] “Chrysler, together with the Bendix Corporation, introduced a computerized, three-channel, four-sensor all-wheel ABS called “Sure Brake” for its 1971 Imperial. It was available for several years thereafter, functioned as intended, and proved reliable. In 1970, Ford added an antilock braking system called “Sure-track” to the rear wheels of Lincoln Continentals as an option; it became standard in 1971. In 1971, General Motors introduced the “Trackmaster” rear-wheel only ABS as an option on their rear-wheel drive Cadillac models[ and the Oldsmobile Toronado. In the same year, Nissan offered an EAL (Electro Anti-lock System) developed by Japanese company Denso as an option on the Nissan President, which became Japan’s first electronic ABS.” And so on…

    • Bob

      I had no idea about any of the US systems. Really interesting. No matter who gets the credit. Boy does this article make me feel old. 🙁

    • ejd1984

      Anti-lock Brakes: Who Was Really First?

      Engineers recognized that an effective automotive anti-skid system would need to have fast-acting electronic controls. Ford introduced the electronically controlled Sure-Track anti-skid system, developed by Kelsey-Hayes, for the Thunderbird and Continental Mark III in late 1969 for about $195. The Ford Sure-Track system, which worked only on the rear wheels, was made standard for the 1974 Continental Mark IV.

      The “holy grail” of automotive anti-skid technology was to also prevent the front wheels from locking up in order to maintain steering control during a full-brake panic stop. That’s exactly what the Sure-Brake system for Chrysler’s 1971 Imperial offered, despite a long-standing claim by Mercedes-Benz that its Bosch ABS system was the first electronically controlled four-wheel anti-skid system to reach production (1978 in Europe).


    • elldubb

      Thanx Craig…I joined this discussion for that very reason. I remember the Chrysler Imperial offering the ABS system by Bendix in 1971.

  • Navy Morroccan✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    In modern day time, Mercedes-Benz is still establishing new technology like back in 2014, the W222 was the first-ever to not have one incandescent bulb. When it comes to advanced technology and safety, Mercedes-Benz is superb as it is luxurious when it comes to features. Simply the Best or Nothing!

    • Kaisuke971

      That sounds good and all but realistically, not really. A lot of the mainstream (if not all) are innovating because they simply have to if they want to stay on the top of their game. Audi (not Benz) with its innovative lightning systems (Matrix then the implantation of LASER around the same time as BMW and now a wide use of OLED) plus the game chaning Virtual Cockpit, GM with the magnetorheological suspension systems, VW with the Dual-Clutch transmissions, BMW with the implantations of carbon fiber and other high end materials in mainstream cars, Renault with the modernization of rear wheel steering…

      • Mynameis Taylor

        He didn’t say Merc was the ONLY, he said they were the first. All BMW, AUDI, LEXUS…etc, all are in the game to beat Mercedes, which is the benchmark.

  • Kagan

    In sweden at least it was Ford with the Scorpio who had it standard first.

  • Back in the days when a Benz was a Benz, and not the junk they are turning out today.

  • psiqtas

    Chrysler has in the 40’s or so something that worked like ABS but was I think only on one axle and of course wasn’t called ABS…so MB hadn’t had discovered American again like in the end of 90’s with the SLK and its retractable hardtop (Peugeot in the 40’s, Ford in the 50’s)!

  • psiqtas

    Btw. most people often don’t understand:
    ABS doesn’t shorten Your stopping distance! It only makes You not loosing your maneuverability while stopping…

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