MERCEDES BENZ (W110) 1967 Custom
Candy red paint, smoothed body lines, lengthen front doors, welded rear doors, custom cut side glass.
Custom fabricated frame, custom fabricated independent front suspension / coil over shocks, 9" Ford rear end / custom fabricated housing, 4 link rear suspension.
Engine & Trans:
2009 Turbo V12 / Trans.
The heart of Mercedes' success throughout the world isn't its high-priced roadsters, big luxury sedans or even the hyperversatile Unimogs. What has made Mercedes Mercedes is its line of midsize sedans. Today that line is the E-Class, but its heritage goes back to cars with no letters in their names at all.
With the E-Class entrenched in North America as a luxury machine, it can be a little disconcerting to see that it is used as a taxicab in much of the rest of the world. Mercedes' reputation wasn't built on plush fittings and heavily chromed decoration, it was earned by cars that could survive for decades pounding over dirt roads or broken pavement, or forming a line drawn by rival militias lobbing grenades at each other. Mercedes cars are tough, and that's what made them worth extra money even when they didn't offer overt power or luxury.
While the E-Class' ancestry stretches back to the 19th century and the beginning of Mercedes, the lineage becomes more distinct after World War II when the prewar 170 sedan reentered production. The stout 170 had been Mercedes' most popular model before the war, but the design dated all the way back to 1936; and in 1946 its upright stance, separate fenders and running boards and chassis were archaic. Fortunately for Mercedes in the immediate post-war years, the few buyers there were in Europe weren't in any position to be picky.
It's the 170's replacement, the first "modern" Mercedes, which started the company on the path toward today's E-Class.
The Ponton (W120: 1953-1962)
The 1953 Mercedes 180 was the company's announcement that it could build and compete in the world's contemporary automotive market. With bulbous fenders integrated into its body design, the W120 (its name inside Mercedes) was the company's first car to feature the "envelope" styling that was the defining element of modern post-war design (the '49 Ford helped establish the style). Those bulbous fenders also gave rise to the 180's nickname: the "Pontoon" or, the German spelling, "Ponton" Mercedes.
Also unlike previous Mercedes, the W120's body was actually part of the car's structure, though it wasn't quite yet what would be considered a "unibody" today. The front of the car consisted of a separate subframe to which was bolted a double-wishbone independent front suspension. The rear suspension used the wicked swing arm system with which Mercedes was infatuated at the time.
The big advantage of the Ponton body style was that it was exceptionally large inside for a car of only modest size on the outside (the original 1953 180's 104.3-inch wheelbase and 176-inch overall length are nearly identical to those of a 2003 Honda Civic). But what held that first 180 back was the engine; a 1.8-liter four scavenged from the old 170 model with an L-head, a 6.5-to-1 compression ratio and an output of just 52 horsepower. Stirring the column-shifted four-speed manual transmission for all it was worth, the 2,700-pound 180 had performance between slow and agonizingly slow. And if agonizingly slow wasn't slow enough, in 1954 buyers could get the 180D, powered by a 1.8-liter diesel four rated at only 40 horsepower.
W120s may have been slow, but they were wonderfully rugged. European and developing countries would soon adopt the car (particularly the diesel) as their taxicab of choice. Even today, a full 50 years after the W120 was introduced, they're still used as taxis in countries like Syria.
For 1955, Mercedes put the 190SL roadster into production, basing most of its chassis and running gear on the W120. But the 190SL also introduced a new overhead cam, 1.9-liter four. This thoroughly modern (by 1950s standards) power plant made a credible 120 horsepower while breathing through two carburetors in the roadster, and it was inevitable that it would find its way into the sedan. In 1956, it made that migration and the 190 sedan was born with 75 horsepower available through its single carburetor 1.9-liter four. In '57 the 180 also got a version of the new engine, this time rated at 65 horsepower. Then, in October 1958, a dieselized version of the 190 power plant was introduced in the new 190D, making 50 horsepower. Finally for the 1959 model year, a 190b model was introduced that got 90 horsepower from its four.
Outwardly, there were few differences among the W120s that accounted for an astounding 62 percent of Mercedes' production during its run. Their intrinsic solidity made them so important in building Mercedes' reputation for quality, not their rakish lack of style. By the beginning of the 1960s, the W120 was exhausted.
The Fintail (W110: 1961-1968)
Mercedes usually didn't lower itself to following automotive fashion trends. But in 1961, it introduced a new midsize model withâ€¦tail fins. Just like a Plymouth or Cadillac. It was also virtually indistinguishable (except for size) from its larger Mercedes sedan brother (which was almost six inches longer).
It's those small tail fins that gave the new W110 sedans their nickname "Fintail." But the fins aren't the major contribution of the W110 to the E-Class legacy. The really important developments included on the W110 were front disc brakes, an automatic transmission and a six-cylinder engine.
Other than the fins, the W110 differed from the Ponton car it replaced by being just over nine inches longer and over two inches wider overall. The hood was shorter than the Ponton's, however, and that left much of the car's extra length in the tail where it resulted in an enormous trunk. Inside, the W110 was exceptionally roomy for its still modest size, and the dashboard notably featured a tall pod directly in front of the driver outfitted with thermometer-style instrumentation (imagine a speedometer that fills up like a fund-raising drive's poster as the car's speed increases).
Under the skin, the W110 carried over the basic suspension and chassis design of the old W120. The front end was still supported by double wishbones, while the rear suspension still consisted of swing axles now blessed with a horizontal spring to help compensate for differences in side-to-side weight distribution.
The W110 hit the market in '61 as 190 and 190D models (sold alongside some versions of the W120 through '62), carrying over the gasoline-fired 80-horsepower, 1.9-liter four and the 2.0-liter diesel four. In '62 an automatic transmission (a semiautomatic four-speed unit) was offered on the 190 for the first time.
For the 1965 model year, the 190's engine grew to 2.0 liters and output snaked up to a full 95 horsepower and the name changed to 200 (the diesel, which already had a 2.0-liter engine, became the 200D). But the big (literally) news was the availability of six-cylinder power for the first time in a midsize Mercedes with the introduction of the 105-horsepower 230. The 2.3-liter OHC six used in the 230 was familiar from the larger 230S sedan, and slightly detuned for use in the smaller W110. Besides the extra power, the 230 distinguished itself with new headlight assemblies that combined the turn signals and headlights into one unit capping the front fenders. Four-cylinder 200 models continued to carry separate round headlights.
Like the Ponton model before it, the small Fintail (as opposed to the larger "S" Fintail) was easily the most popular car in the Mercedes line, accounting for 59 percent of total production. And the ruggedness and economy of the diesel version made it a hugely popular cab around the world. But by 1968, after 622,453 Fintails, it was time for a new car.
The Stroke-8 (W114/W115: 1968-1976)
With its antiseptically clean and simple styling, the 1968 W114/W115 looks contemporary and elegant even in the 21st century. And with the replacement of that archaic swing axle rear suspension with a new trailing arm, fully independent system, it finally had a suspension worthy of a Mercedes.
The W114/W115 (the W114 was a six-cylinder model, the W115 had fours) was a wholly new midsize Mercedes expanded to include models with four-, five- and six-cylinder engines. In fact, there were times during the model's life that up to 15 separate models existed inside the midsize Mercedes family, including a two-door variant. The "Stroke-8" name arose when it was necessary to distinguish the new car from the old Fintail that continued in production during 1968 and carried the same model names. During '68, a 200D was likely a Fintail, while a 200D/8 was definitely a W115. Even after the Fintail was gone, that Stroke-8 heritage persisted in the informal world of nicknames.
A lower hood line led to a wider, lower grille shell on the Stroke-8 models, while thinner pillars and a two-inch longer wheelbase than the Fintail gave the cabin an open, airy feel. But despite the wheelbase stretch, the Stroke-8's 184.5-inch overall length was actually two inches shorter than the car it replaced. Further, thanks to a robust unibody structure and new safety equipment like a padded dash, the Stroke-8 weighed in about 300 pounds heavier than its predecessor.
The Stroke-8's chassis was truly new and the engines initially powering it were familiar but, at least in North America, not identical. The base four over here grew to 2.2 liters and output swelled to 116 horsepower and, naturally, the car was named the 220. The 230 continued with the 2.3-liter six, but output had by now grown to 135 horsepower. A new 2.5-liter version of the six appeared in (there's a pattern here) a new 250 sedan as well and that engine produced 146 horsepower.
The coupe arrived during the 1970 model year as the 250C ("C" for, you guessed it, coupe) sitting on the same wheelbase as the sedan, but about two inches lower in overall height. And while it was called the 250C, it didn't actually carry the 2.5-liter six. Instead it had a 2.8-liter version of the six aboard making 157 horsepower. In 1971, the 250 sedan was blessed with the 2.8-liter engine.
Both the coupe and sedan were slightly redesigned for 1973 getting an updated front end, new fluted tail lamps and bigger bumpers to meet U.S. Federal regulations. More significant was a new 2.8-liter, DOHC straight six under the hoods of the newly named 280 and 280C. With emissions regulations getting tougher, engine outputs were dropping everywhere, so the new engine's 130-horsepower output was actually quite respectable. Also, for the first time, an automatic transmission was standard with the six-cylinder Stroke-8s.
In 1974, the four-cylinder engine was upgraded to 2.3 liters and 95 horsepower so the car (then Mercedes' cheapest for sale in America) was renamed the 230. A new 2.4-liter diesel four was also available in the 240D rated at 62 horsepower. The big diesel news came in '75 however, when Mercedes grafted another cylinder to the new diesel four to create a 3.0-liter straight five diesel making 77 horsepower â€” at the time, the most power available in a diesel passenger car.
On the gasoline-fueled side of the equation, 1975 brought with it the first use of catalytic converters. That clog in the exhaust system only robbed the 230's four of two horsepower (down to 93), but the 280's six retreated a full 10 horsepower to 120.
The Stroke-8 was wildly popular, with Mercedes building 1,833,442 of them before ending production during 1976. That's a stunning 77 percent of all Mercedes passenger-car production during that time. It would be a tough act to follow.