Mercedes-Benz 1901 - 1970 Car Reviews and Road Tests

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Early Mercedes-Benz

Gottlieb Daimler, father of the motorcar, carried out some experiments in a shed and was suspected by his neighbours of counterfeiting money, so he quit his job. He quit, too, because the stationery-engine manufacturer who employed him thought there was no future in any other possible use for the internal-combustion engine. Thanks to Daimler's inventive perseverance, however, one of the greatest breeds of automobiles was born and nurtured. Many persons consider the 60-hp chain-drive Mercedes of 1903 to be the world's first real sports car. Just after it was produced, the Canstatt factory was razed by a catastrophic fire. Today, the descendant company (Daimler merged with Benz in 1926) occupies spacious quarters in Untertiirkheim, a suburb of Stuttgart not far from the site of the original factory.

The name of Daimler, however, is no longer used to indicate an automobile, since a separate company in England branched off and retained the name (this confusion is something like the French Talbot and British Sunbeam-Talbot affair). Daimler-Benz products are known as Mercedes-Benz cars, the name Mercedes having been chosen in honor of the daughter of one of the company's "angels." Fans of Mercedes cars in the old days were a little disappointed when the fast chain-drive series gave way to a more sedate shaft-drive job. Shortly before World War 2, there appeared the company's trade-mark ... a pointed radiator, with which one inevitably associates the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star.

A variety of town carriages, touring cars, roadsters and a few sports cars were produced, but not until the Roaring Twenties did Mercedes wholeheartedly clamber aboard the sports-car bandwagon. The supercharged 4.5-litre "K" was an impressive performer, and its successors - the "S" series of 1927 were even more so. In the late Twenties and early Thirties, Daimler-Benz built the finest and most exciting cars of its career, the 7-litre, supercharged "SS" models and their modified counterparts, the short-chassis "SSK" and specially lightened "SSKL." These cars would really travel, and there are few thrills today that can equal a ride in one of them.

The crankshaft-driven Roots-type supercharger, designed to force air into the carburettors rather than to force mixture into the combustion chambers, added about 50 horsepower to the 170 already available. This supercharger was used for extra acceleration in standing starts, hill climbing and emergencies; it was "cut in" by flooring the accelerator pedal, and remained out of operation during normal driving. The sound of the blower, added to a car that was already very noisy and had brutally hard suspension, massive size, and he-man controls, made for an unforgettably invigorating driving experience. In its most modified form, the "SSKL" version had a drilled, lightened short chassis and an oversized supercharger raising power output to 300. Well suited for racing, it could approach 150 mph.

During the Thirties, with Herr Schickelgruber in power, Germany's automotive picture changed drastically - as indeed it did everywhere in the world, the depression having virtually killed off luxury sports cars. Suitable for an episode in Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator," professionalism in Grand Prix racing culminated in a tense, face-saving contest between Hitler and Mussolini. Despite the excellence of Italy's racing cars, Germany had better ones; the government-financed Auto Union took advantage of the leading talents from every German motor company, building specialized racing cars that will probably never be surpassed. In a canny attempt to assure his country's victory, II Duce had Alfa-Romeo prepare some 2.5-litre cars in secret; then at the last minute he changed the official race formula, only to be soundly trounced by Mercedes who had a 1.5-litre car ready and waiting. Finally Mussolini decided he wouldn't play any more, and cancelled motor racing because it was "unsafe."

All this preoccupation with Grand Prix racing had a deadening effect on German sports cars. The Mercedes-Benz 5-litre Type 500-K and 5.5-litre Type 540-K are the best-known models of this era, but they were luxurious touring cars rather than real sports machines, and mechanically they were not always to be trusted. The usual body style of this period was a massive convertible with sweeping fenders and heavy, large-hubbed wheels. The two-stage-supercharged engines were straight eights. In addition to these expensive models, Daimler-Benz produced a variety of well-engineered smaller cars, and employed the popular central-spine type of chassis construction.

The rear-engined 170-V passenger model, particularly, was worth remembering. A couple of experimental sports-competition cars in the smaller displacement range were tried out, but nothing seems to have come ol them. During this period, Daimler-Benz also had the dubious honor of manufacturing staff cars, parade cars and general limousines for the use of Nazi Party leaders. The most spectacular of these truck-like conveyances had five-speed gearboxes, split De Dion rear axles, and 7.7-litre engines; the ponderous bodies were fitted with sirens, red lights, bulletproof glass, and the other usual acoutrements of good living. In their class, however, these cars offered no competition to the Bugatti Royale.

After the war Daimler-Benz didn't immediately introduce a new model like some European manufacturers, but pursued instead the usual conservative policy dictated by requirements of thorough research. The solid, unexciting series 170, a 1.7-litre family car roughly paralleling the Rover, was put back into production at a retail price of $1,890. An identical chassis and body were also made available, for $250 extra, with a four-cylinder diesel engine that, in its unobtrusive way, set a major landmark in the history of transportation. The diesel offered twice the mileage per gallon of many gasoline engines. Add to this the far lower cost of diesel fuel and you had a five-passenger car that cost no more to run than a motorcycle.

In the quality class, Daimler-Benz introduced two postwar series of great interest. One was the 2.2-litre six-cylinder single-overhead-camshaft Series 220, delivering 80 horsepower at the clutch at 4,600 rpm. This was a medium-sized car ranking among the four or five best-finished in the world, engineered and built to last. Weighing less than 3,000 pounds, it offered good acceleration in its class and a top speed just under 90 mph. The other new Mercedes-Benz used a 5-litre version of the same engine with higher compression ratio, developing 147 horsepower at 5,200 rpm in standard form. A longer chassis and heavier coachwork are fitted to this car, placing it in the large luxury class. It was available either as a cloth-upholstered sedan or as a leather-upholstered four-door convertible.

After testing the Mercedes 300 sedan, The Motor was moved to write as follows: "The impression of solidity, although definite, is hard to define. But whether one looks upon or touches an instrument, a door handle, or a control lever, one realizes that they have been designed to work well for decades, and one has only to regard the massive door hinges and the deep carpeting to perceive that throughout the whole car prewar standards of material and finish have been considered not good enough for the post-war market." The Motor criticized only the car's brakes, which were found insufficient for a car capable of 103 mph. As on all Mercedes-Benz cars, there's a profusion of engineering details to delight the perceptive connoisseur.

The extremely easy steering, for example, retained its positive accuracy but included a hydraulic damper to stop the transfer of road shock to the steering wheel. Four-wheel coil suspension included a front anti-roll bar and a driver-controlled servo mechanism that stiffens the rear suspension by one-third if necessary. The heating and defrosting system was unusually well laid out, the headlights were safe for traveling at 80 mph, and the engine's quietness was matched with a low level of wind noise at high speeds. The engine, of course, showed the results of painstaking development. It had a seven-bearing crankshaft, chromium-plated top piston rings, an oil-cooling system, and lead-bronze bearings with hardened surfaces.

Three distinct series of cars made use of the 300 engine. In addition to the one just described, there was a shorter chassis called the 300-S, which came equipped with triple carburettors and a coupe body (either convertible or hardtop) . Then the 300-SL, a pure-blooded 150-mph sports car with tubular chassis, aerodynamic body, and modified 172-horsepower engine, is the model that appeared cold at Le Mans in 1952 and methodically proceeded to take first, second, and fourth places in the 24-hour race. An observer remarked at the time, "Mercedes never enters a race unless sure in advance of winning it."

He was referring to the superbly thorough preparation of team cars and drivers that has always distinguished this company. Later in 1952, when drivers Kling and Lang produced another double victory in the gruelling Mexican road race, an American enthusiastically described Mercedes' team manager Alfred Neubauer as a coaching and coordinating genius never before equalled in his field.
Mercedes 70hp  

Mercedes 70hp

The Mercedes 70hp was powered by a huge four-cylinder engine that displaced 9230cc, the engine of course being started via use of crank-handle. Getting into the driving seat was something of an acrobatic exercise, as the floor of the car was high off the ground and there was no step. More>>
Mercedes 28/60 45/50 hp  

Mercedes 28/60 45/50 hp

1907 - 1914
A century ago, the owner of a Mercedes usually delegated cranking, praying and probably cursing as well to his unfortunate chauffeur. You would certainly need to be in good form to swing four cylinders totalling over 7¼ litres. More>>
Mercedes SSK  

Mercedes-Benz SSK

Designed by Ferdinand Porsche, the Mercedes SSK is regarded by most as the finest pre-war sports built. More>>
Mercedes 540K  

Mercedes-Benz 500 & 540K

1934 - 1939
Definitely one of the most desirable masterpieces in the pre-war period, this car foresaw the trend of Mercedes-Benz in having incomparable build quality and elegance of design. More>>
Mercedes 170V  

Mercedes-Benz 170V

1936 - 1953
In April 1945 Daimler Benz executives announced that the company had "ceased to exist", however some of the less damaged manufacturing plants fell into the Allied occupied zone and, after as many ex-employees could be located, production resumed on the 170. More>>
Mercedes 170D  

Mercedes-Benz 170D

1949 - 1955
For a diesel powered Mercedes to be successful, the engineers needed to create a car that would perform as well if not better than its petrol cousin. And, as always, the Mercedes engineers succeeded. More>>
Mercedes 170S  

Mercedes-Benz 170S

1949 - 1955
While the design of the 170S was not actually new, in fact its routes stretched back as far as 1936, it did play an important role in re-establishing Mercedes in post-war Europe. More>>
Mercedes 220  

Mercedes-Benz 220

1951 - 1956
Introduced after a showing at the Frankfurt Auto Show of 1951, production began in July of 1951. Closely resembling the Mercedes 170S, the headlights were instead moved to the front fenders and the model featured much more elegant interior appointments. More>>
Mercedes 300  

Mercedes-Benz 300

1951 - 1956
First introduced to the public at the 1951 Frankfurt Motor Show, the 300 is important in the post war Mercedes line-up as it represents the return by Mercedes to manufacturing outstanding high quality and luxurious automobiles. More>>
Mercedes 300S  

Mercedes-Benz 300S

1951 - 1958
Simply put, these were not just good automobiles, they were great. The 170 may have helped re-establish Mercedes as a manufacturer, but it was the 300S that re-established it as the world's best automotive marque. More>>
Mercedes 180  

Mercedes-Benz 180

1953 - 1962
When the 180 was introduced in 1953, its main feature was the new chassis design - one that used sectional steel side members tied into the floorpan - resulting in improved rigidity and noise reduction. More>>
Mercedes 180D  

Mercedes-Benz 180D

1953 - 1962
The 180D used a four door unitary bodyshell which formed the basis for many other Mercedes saloon models. As with all Mercedes cars the 180 was well built and offered excellent reliability. More>>
Mercedes 190  

Mercedes-Benz 190

1956 - 1965
The new look 190 was vastly more modern in appearance, the Mercedes designers incorporated fins for the first time, of course fins being almost mandatory on cars built in the early 1960's. More>>
Mercedes 219  

Mercedes-Benz 219

1956 - 1959
The 219 represented an evolution rather than an evolution, and as is still the case with cars of today such an evolution involved increasing the length of the wheelbase and the power output of the motor. More>>
Mercedes 220S  

Mercedes-Benz 220S

1956 - 1959
The 220S sedan was the third of the new generation models shown to the public at the Frankfurt Show in 1956. It was also the most powerful one of the trio and the most expensive one as well. More>>
Mercedes 220SE  

Mercedes-Benz 220SE

1958 - 1960
While production of the 220SE began in April of 1958, the model would not come to market until September, and even then the Mercedes regular production lines would not get underway until October. More>>
Mercedes 190D  

Mercedes-Benz 190D

1958 - 1965
While it was usual for the Mercedes diesel model to follow the release of the petrol driven variety, it would take an astonishing 2 years for the 190D to debut. More>>
Mercedes 220S "Fintail"  

Mercedes-Benz 220S Fintail

1958 - 1968
Today there are still many "Finnies" on the road, such was the high build quality of these cars, and because the fins that were to date the design of the car so quickly are now seen as an excercise in design and beauty the 220 and 220S are appreciating in value. More>>
Mercedes 220 "Fintail"  

Mercedes-Benz 220 Fintail

1959 - 1965
As with the model it was replacing (the 219), the new 220 was available with the "Hydrak" transmission until 1961. In fact for almost a year, between 1961 and 1962, the 220 was available in manual form only until Mercedes introduced a new "Auto" transmission as an option. More>>
Mercedes 600 "Pullman"  

Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman

1963 - 1981
In 1961 Mercedes built the 600 to be the world's ultimate saloon car, a luxurious Rolls Royce type car that had no regard to cost or compromise. It offered affluent members of society a 320 cm wheelbase and 5.5 metre four door saloon. More>>
Mercedes 200  

Mercedes-Benz 200

1965 - 1968
Production of the "Fintail" 200 lasted until 1968 and, during the first year of its life, was the smallest of the seventeen models of passenger cars manufactured by Mercedes. More>>
Mercedes 200D  

Mercedes-Benz 200D

1965 - 1968
It was during the production run of the 200D that the 500,000 Mercedes Diesel was manufactured - attesting to the popularity of Diesel even back in the 1950's and 1960's. More>>
Mercedes-Benz 250  

Mercedes-Benz 250

1968 - 1974
The new model 250 broke fresh ground for Mercedes in having a new independent rear suspension using semi-trailing links instead of their famous low-pivot swing-axle. More>>
Mercedes 250CE  

Mercedes-Benz 250C/CE

1968 - 1974
Mercedes coupes have always been eye-catchers, the two door design and resultant window shape making for sleek sophistication. More>>
Mercedes 280 SE 3.5

Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5

1969 - 1971
The 280SE 3.5 luxury coupe and convertible were introduced at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1969. The basic body style actually dated back to the 1961 220SE model, and it was only slightly altered. More>>
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