Mercedes-Benz 190

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Mercedes-Benz 190


Mercedes-Benz 190

1956 - 1965
4 cyl.
75 - 80 bhp
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
86-93 mph / 139-150 km/h
Number Built:
2 star
Mercedes-Benz 190
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2


While the original 190 was introduced in 1956 at the Frankfurt Auto Show, the much improved "new" 190 was not in fact launched until 1961 (or 1963 for Australian made versions of the 190C). The first iteration reatined the body style of the 180 sedan, and was fitted with a new single overhead camshaft four cylinder engine (which was actually a de-tuned 190SL power plant), however it was not all that powerful, and had its work cut out when fitted to the heavier 4 door sedan.

The biggest differentiation with the 180 model was on the inside, where the quality of trim was discernably better, although on the outside the only way to tell the two models apart was the decorative chrome line around the body. However things got a whold lot better with the release of the new look 190C model in 1961.

This new iteration was vastly more modern, the Mercedes designers incorporating fins for the first time, at design style being almost mandatory on cars built in the early 1960's. The 190 was built to the usual high standards that Mercedes buyers expected and by the end of production (1965) the 190C could be specified with power steering, automatic transmission and front disc brakes. Both cars shared the same engine, an overhead cam 4 cylinder with a displacement of 1897cc. Today they are at the cheaper end of old collectable Merc's.

The First Budget Mercedes

Think of a budget Mercedes-Benz and you will invariably think back to the 190E – a great car that was almost affordable for the masses. But long before the 190E landed in Australia, there was another budget Mercedes. Little mentioned in advertising the 190C sedan was a bargain, closely related to the 220S but selling for £496 less – which at the time was a small fortune. From early 1960 on the Mercedes-Benz 220S and SE sedans were assembled in Australia, and these cars established an unequalled reputation for performance, reliability and prestige in the upper-price class of cars.

But for most of that time, and for the few years before then, when all Mercedes-Benz cars were fully imported, there was a little advertised, rarely mentioned range of Mercedes which, many hundreds of pounds cheaper, were almost in the bargain basement class. First, this cheaper car was known as the 170, then the 180 and, by the early 1960s the 190. Perhaps better remembered today was the diesel engined version of the 190.

Perhaps the reasons MB did not push the 190 too hard was that there was plenty of demand for the more expensive 220. The 190 languished, partly because its shape was somewhat old-fashioned. It was more like the original 220, with distinctly separate mudguards and something of a stumpy pre-war aura about its general body style. It was also fully imported, which probably made the Australian MB HQ, who we assume would have been anxious to build up the Australian operation, even more reluctant to give it a big sales build-up.

Australian Motor Industries Production

Things changed in 1963 when the 190 started rolling off the assembly line at Australian Motor Industries Port Melbourne plant. And to make the 190 even more inviting, it was the very latest German model, which had a great range of improvements. Most obvious of the changes was a completely new body – which was very similar to the more expensive 220. From the windscreen to the back bumper bar, the 190C was pure 220. The makers had sensibly taken the highly successful older design, stripped it of some of its luxury frills and allowed it to be used as the basis of the cheaper, less powerful model.

One item missing that allowed the observant to distinguish the 190C from the 220 was the 220's extractor ventilator in the pillar behind the back door. A minor omission, and justified by the substantial difference in price. The arrangement of the tail lights was simpler on the 190C, with the rear lights, turn indicators, stop lights, reflectors and reversing lights bunched into a smaller area than on the bigger model. Also, there was slightly less chrome decoration around the back and along the sides. Ahead of the windscreen, there were substantial differences. The general, familiar Mercedes shape was retained, but the bonnet was several inches shorter than the 220, and the headlight treatment quite different. The traditional Mercedes radiator grille was retained and above it was the three-pointed star, arguably the most beautiful car insignia ever designed.

Only single, simple round headlights were fitted, instead of the 220's elaborate versions that enclosed fog lamp lenses as well as the headlights, turn indicators and parking lamps. On the 190C, as on the previous model, the front turn indicators were mounted on the side of the front guards, just ahead of the windscreen pillars. They worked very effectively and allowed drivers coming from side streets, as well as those coming from the opposite direction, to see them. However they did spoil the otherwise clean side lines of the car.

Under the bonnet there was a four-cylinder engine of typical Daimler-Benz design, altered in only minor ways from earlier 190 engines. Internal dimensions made the engine slightly over-square and careful design allowed 90 bhp (gross) to be developed from a moderate capacity of just under 1.9 litres. The valves were operated by a single overhead camshaft. A new camshaft in this model did not alter the horsepower rating but did raise the torque by 2.3 ft/lb to 105 ft/lb. A slightly increased compression ratio (from 8.5 to 8.7 to 1) also helped, and a single barrel downdraught carburettor replaced the previous versions two barrel unit.

Behind the Wheel

The cockpit layout was similar to the 220S. Typically MB, this included padded steering wheel hub and (popular at the time) vertical speedometer. The slight engine modifications gave a slightly better overall performance, noticeably better pulling power at lower revs and decidedly more silent operation. Three other changes made up the total of mechanical alterations to the 190. The brakes were improved in minor ways as well as the width of the back brake linings being increased to equalise the front linings' width. The Total lining area went up 19 sq in, to 165 sq in. In terms of stopping power, lack of grab and shudder and freedom from fade, the brakes were perfect. But one reasonable complaint could have been made, even for 1963, with a car proudly wearing the MB emblem. The lack of power boosting and, presumably due to fairly hard linings, the heavy pedal pressure required to stop the car was exceptionally high – and not what you would have expected from a manufacturer renowned for over-engineering their products.

One change that is rarely mentioned on the internet was the fitment of the same type of compensating spring to the independent rear axle that had been a feature of the 220S range since early 1960, and which was developed in the mid-fifties in Mercedes racing cars. The spring, situated in front and just above the differential, took the old twitchiness out of the Mercedes' handling. Formerly, the 190 tended to lose its tail under hard cornering, especially on wet or gravel roads. It was not just a question of the oversteer you would expect from a car with fully independent suspension - the tail did not merely "hang out", but could wag as well, if the driver was not careful. The compensating spring effectively eliminated the wag to make the overall handling characteristic absolutely flawless. Drivers with only moderate ability could make the tail hang out, and stay exactly at the angle they wanted to make a graceful, smooth turn.

Other changes included modification to the wheel rims so that they could be fitted with tubeless tyres, along with improvements to the body design, that made the 190C a more attractive machine than its predecessor. The wheelbase was stretched two inches to help improve the ride and give a more even distribution of weight; track of both the front and rear wheels was widened for the same reasons, and to improve adhesion during cornering. Overall length was stretched out 9.3 in, the car was 2.2 in wider and luggage space was increased by more than eight cubic feet, to 22.6.

More Space, More Comfort

Every dimension inside the car was also increased, to give more passenger space and 6 sq ft more glass area. The fittings and trimmings inside were radically changed, too. As we mentioned above, there was little to distinguish between the 190 and the 220 on the outside, and it was arguably even more difficult on the inside. The same dashboard was used, the seating was similar (but bucket seats were an optional extra) and the same range of extras, albeit some of them a little less elaborate, were fitted as standard equipment. One feature common to both was the ribbon style speedo which, although fashionable at the time, was widely criticised by motoring journalists from just about every country. Still, these days the style can be considered one of the better features of the car – give they are now so rare. What made the version used on the 190 (and 220) special was that the colour changed from orange, to red and orange, to all red as the speed increased to 30 and about 38 mph respectively.

It may have looked good, but the ribbon style speedo made it almost impossible to get any idea of what speed you were doing from a quick glance at the narrow shaft of colour. And given the 190 had superb springing and lively performance, the driver could easily find themselves 20 mph out in their unaided estimate of speed. To make matters worse, ribbon style speedos had a well deserved reputation for being inaccurate – and this would only get worse as the car aged. Speedo aside, the instrument layout was excellent, with an adequate array of gauges and warning lights. All the instruments were in front of the driver, and control switches were all near at hand. There was a typical Mercedes accent on safety, with a thick padded crash hub on the centre of the steering wheel, thick padding along the dashboard and door sills, padding on door fittings and grab handles in the ceiling above each passenger.

The gearbox reached the standard of excellence you would have expected from Mercedes. The ratios were nicely chosen to match the engine's power characteristics, and the synchromesh, fitted to all four forward gears, was strong and silent. Changes were accurate and simple – even though they were on the column and not the floor. The driving position could not be faulted when behind the wheel you sat high and were firmly supported on a well-shaped seat. The steering wheel was situated fairly low and well in front, and in all directions there was a commanding view. And it was not only the view that was commanding, but also the feeling you got driving the car. Sure, there were much faster cars around, but few could match the sense of driving pleasure you derived from sitting behind the wheel of a MB, even if it was their bargain-basement battler. One for the working family. And now as then, a value proposition on the classic car market.
Mercedes-Benz 190C

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Also see:

Mercedes 190 Technical Specifications
Mercedes 190b Technical Specifications
Mercedes 190c Technical Specifications
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