What Was The First Car With ABS?

Learn about the history behind anti-lock brake systems, the first car with ABS, and the system's pros and cons.

What Was The First Car With ABS?
A Mercedes Benz W116 - The first car to have Anti-lock braking system (ABS). Photo Source.

ABS or an anti-lock brake system is a standard on most vehicles today. Drivers and automobile purchasers usually don’t think twice about whether a car has ABS. However, ABS wasn’t always a standard feature.

The first car with ABS was the 1978 Mercedes-Benz S-Class W116. Since then, anti-lock brake systems started to make it to other luxury vehicles. Eventually, it became an added safety feature on upgraded trim levels.

As drivers and insurance companies realized the safety ABS provided, it became more of a standard on all types of vehicles. Let’s explore how the first car with ABS came about, how it works, and where it is today.

The First Car With ABS

Daimler AG was the first manufacturer to put an anti-lock brake system on a car. That car was a 1978 Mercedes-Benz model. Nonetheless, the auto manufacturer took eight years to develop and test an ABS prototype before launching it with the 1978 model.

The idea for anti-lock brake systems actually originated in the 1920s. ABS was tested on aircraft and railcars before Daimler AG developed the system for vehicles. In the mid-1950s, ABS was put on Royal Air Force planes, the Concorde airplane, and plenty of steam engines.

An anti-lock brake system prevents the brakes from slipping when pressure is applied. It is unknown why ABS was first tried out on planes and locomotives. However, one can guess that it might be the increased pressure that trains and planes are under.

Increased loads and speeds mean that the brakes on trains and planes sustain more pressure when someone applies brakes. There is less room for error and so a higher standard was necessary. Plus, manufacturers probably didn’t want to test something with the general public.

The Role of Small Integrated Circuits

Small integrated circuits and digital tech both played a role in the development of ABS. Daimler AG and Bosch partnered in the research and development of ABS using these technologies. With a digital control unit, the partners were able to record multiple data points through sensors.

Daimler AG and Bosch perfected anti-lock brake systems with the data recorded through sensors. The sensors and small integrated circuits optimized the way anti-lock brake systems performed. As a result, today’s ABS features offer the highest amount of security.

Mercedes-Benz also became the first model to offer ABS as a standard feature. Before 1984, it was optional for buyers of Mercedes-Benz. But after that date, ABS was a part of all Mercedes-Benz.

What Does an Anti-Lock Brake System Do?

An anti-lock brake system stops your vehicle from slipping on the road if you need to suddenly apply the brakes. Have you ever had a car pull in front of you unexpectedly? Or slow down without much warning?

This often requires drivers to have to brake quickly. On a dry road without any obstructions, this is dangerous enough. But add some snow, ice, or wet pavement into the mix, and an accident could easily happen.

With ABS, the system doesn’t apply all of the braking pressure at once. Instead, it applies just enough pressure progressively. Thanks to ABS, drivers that travel over wet, icy, and slushy pavement don’t have to worry as much about spinning out or fishtailing.

Additionally, ABS prevents brakes from getting locked up. This is another potential road hazard since you wouldn’t be able to slow down appropriately. You’d also potentially be stuck in traffic without the ability to move your vehicle.

Longer Braking Distance Required

While an anti-lock brake system provides safety enhancements, it does require a longer stopping distance. This makes sense since the system applies brake pressure progressively rather than all at once. So, it takes longer for a vehicle to come to a complete stop.

Therefore, the rule of leaving enough distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you applies more so with ABS. When you’re at a complete stop behind a car, you should be able to see its back tires in full.

When you’re in motion, The National Safety Council recommends keeping a distance of at least three seconds. In inclement weather, that distance should increase even more. Or, if you’re behind certain types of trucks that are transporting oversize or hazardous goods.

Traction Control

Traction control is a supplementary technology to ABS. It works alongside ABS by sensing when a wheel is spinning too much or out of control. Traction control applies additional braking pressure to that wheel or wheels to help prevent sliding and skidding off the road.

The good thing about traction control is the technology senses when a wheel is spinning regardless of whether you’re using your brakes. Most of today’s cars have both traction control and ABS to help reduce accidents.

Benefits and Drawbacks

As with any technology, there are proponents and opponents of ABS. Those that are not in favor of ABS argue that drivers are more aggressive because of it. The technology gives them a false sense of security. More aggressive driving behaviors negate the safety features of ABS.

Other opponents argue that drivers already have the skills they need to control a vehicle appropriately. They can reasonably respond to road hazards and conditions without the aid of technology.

Proponents of ABS point toward data, especially data collected by government and highway safety agencies. They cite data that shows ABS has a real and profound effect, including preventing accidents and supporting road safety.

Final Thoughts

The first car with ABS emerged in 1978. It was a Mercedes-Benz model and the model’s manufacturer eventually made it a standard on that line of vehicles. However, the technology underwent decades of testing and fine-tuning before 1978.

ABS was first launched on planes and steam engine locomotives before Daimler AG used sensors and small circuit tech to perfect the system. Today, ABS is such a motor vehicle standard that most buyers and drivers don’t think about it.

The benefits of ABS may not be something we think about, but they’re worth keeping the technology a standard.