Mercedes Benz 180/190 Ponton (1953 – 1962)
In the history of Mercedes Benz, it had rarely been that difficult. Daimler-Benz had to decide on one of the most important new car designs. While the four-cylinder 170S clearly showed its age, the six-cylinder 220 was just a 170S with a larger power plant. Also the luxurious 300 Benz still carried prewar genes in its styling and chassis.
This change from more traditional thinking to modern styling proved a bit the problem Daimler-Benz management faced in those days. On the one hand, they could not afford to fall too much behind what competitors were offering, and on the other hand they knew that a too radically modern design might not be appreciated by their more traditionally minded customers. The Mercedes Benz 300 was a clear statement of how much they knew of the preferences of a larger portion of their customer base. From 1951 till 1962 the 300 had not changed dramatically in its traditional pre-war oriented design.
Just eight months before the launch of the 180, the final ponton-design was approved by Daimler-Benz management. At its unveiling in September 1953 the new form was accepted by almost all its potential clients. The new Benz had a 20% roomier passenger compartment and offered greatly increased visibility. Drivers could also pack much more luggage, as the trunk had a 75% higher volume. But the features did not stop there. Inside the cabin, heating could be individually adjusted for driver and passenger and more supportive and larger seats invited to relaxed touring. It is interesting that all of this could be accomplished on the outside dimensions of the predecessor, the 170S Benz. Also worth mentioning is that the new unit-body chassis was far stronger and twice as rigid as the old body-on-independent-frame construction.
The term did not exist in those days, but the ponton 180 could be regarded as the first E-Class Mercedes Benz. It was in the same price league as the six-cylinder Opel Kapitän, which was from an image point of view more competing with the 220 W187 Benz. At 9,950. – DM ($2,360. -) the new Mercedes Benz 180 was not cheap, but buyers did not seem to bother. This latest addition to the Benz family was not only popular at the time of its launch, it was in demand throughout its production run. And for the first time, the magic word “waiting list” was heard.
Naturally for the four-cylinder cars of Daimler-Benz, a diesel engine was made available again. The OM 636 was also taken over unchanged from the previous 170 Benz, and it still lived up to its reputation of a rather noisy, uncivilized power plant. But its sturdy and reliable design made it also capable of living longer than the vehicle it was powering. Small surprise it was so well liked by taxi car owners, who told of 300,000 or more miles on a single engine.
Also, the petrol engine was a carry-over from the previous 170S Benz. So in 1957, four years after the vehicle’s introduction, the 180 received the M 121 OHC engine of the 190, but in a detuned version. The output went up from 52 hp at 4,000 rpm to 65 hp at now 4,500 rpm.
The Mercedes Benz 190 was launched in 1956. It was basically a 180 with an engine developing 75 hp at 4,600 rpm. On the outside it had next to a different badge a wide chrome rim along the lower window line. And on the inside it offered a slightly different upholstery. In August 1959, both Mercedes Benz cars were upgraded at the front with a lower and wider radiator grille.
At that time, Daimler-Benz had moved on already to the “Heckflossen-Zeit” or “fin tail era” with the introduction of the six-cylinder 220b series. In August 1961, the 190 Benz was discontinued, as the fin tail 190 series was introduced. In October 1962 the last ponton 180 finally left the production hall. Over the years the car has seen technical and cosmetic updates, but it had remained the reliable trustworthy Mercedes Benz vehicle, which had introduced nine years earlier the ponton era for Daimler-Benz.