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Mercedes-Benz Fintail

Mercedes-Benz Fintail Published: 19th Jun 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mercedes-Benz Fintail
Mercedes-Benz Fintail
Mercedes-Benz Fintail
Mercedes-Benz Fintail
Mercedes-Benz Fintail
Mercedes-Benz Fintail
Mercedes-Benz Fintail
Mercedes-Benz Fintail
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The rear fins were designed to woo American buyers but the Mercedes 190 was teutonic through and through – and loved for it says Andrew Roberts

In 1959, several car manufacturers equated the term “quality’” with an excess of chrome or an elaborate array of standard equipment. By contrast, Daimler-Benz’s interpretation of the word was in the integrity of design, as demonstrated by their Fintail range. The brochures promised that the owner would enjoy ‘motoring standards never known before’ – and to countless drivers this was no mere hyperbole. Auto Universum magazine stated in a 1960 test of the Mercedes-Benz 220S that it was “in every respect – performance, safety, comfort and economy – one of the finest cars offered on the world market today.”

In the following year, a gentleman from Motor Sport wrote “I am of the opinion that the Mercedes-Benz 220SEb is one of the World’s great automobiles”, but UK import duties meant that a car that was regarded as bourgeois transport in its homeland was the province of the very well-heeled. In 1965, the price of a British-market 220SE was £2496 15s 5d, making it the more expensive pick over a Jaguar MkX, and that was without power steering for £93 10d, and automatic transmission was a further £198 3s 4d.

In the 1960s, an ambitious car hire firm might use a 190, but you were more likely to see such a Mercedes-Benz in a Cold War drama at your local Odeon than on the road. Even now, a Fintail still conveys the air of a midnight rendezvous in West Berlin, with trench-coated MI6 agents hiding in alleyways, with accompaniment of a melodic John Barry score.

The origins of the Fintail date from 1956, when Daimler-Benz’s Chief Engineer Fritz Nallinger established several criteria for the eventual replacement for the Ponton range. The new car had to be more spacious than its predecessor, it had to look timeless with a hint of Italian fl air as well as being immediately recognisable as a Mercedes-Benz and the body had to employ the ‘cell’ principle which had been patented by the company’s Safety Engineer Béla Barényi four years earlier.

The W111 made its début at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1959 as the successor to the W105/W180/W128 219/220/220SE. The 2.2-litre engines were carried over from the older car, as was the chassis and drum brakes but the Ponton’s suspension with swing axle at the rear was extensively modified. However, the aspect of “The New Six Cylinder Model – A Class Of Its Own” that really made an impression on thousands of show-goers was the W111’s appearance, from the vast boot and the extensive glass area to those vestibule tail fins.

There were senior figures at Sindelfingen who had second thoughts concerning this last-mentioned styling detail, one that was designed to appeal to the US customer but asides from a vertical speedometer the new 220 could never be accused of indulging in gimmicks. The cabin featured a ‘safety’ steering wheel, a fascia with recessed and collapsible switchgear, a breakaway rear-view mirror and a windscreen that was designed to pop out in the event of an accident. In 1959, such design elements were almost unheard of in a mass-produced car.

The W111 range initially consisted of the entry-level 220, the 220S and the Bosch fuel-injected 220SE, the latter two boasting servo front brakes, reclining front seats and extractor vents on the C-pillars. The list of accessories included seat belts front and rear, a Becker Mexico radio, six cases tailored for the boot’s ample dimensions while an ivorycoloured steering wheel was an essential item for the fashionable motorist for just DM12.

In 1960 the Walter Schock/Rolf Moll 220SE won the Monte Carlo Rally, and 1961 saw a major expansion of the Fintail family. The 220SE Coupés and Cabriolets which provided ideal transport to convey the European ‘Smart Set’ to the casino at St Moritz while the 220 saloon was now available with four-speed automatic transmission instead of the unpopular Hydrak clutch. For the Captain of Industry, there was the W112 300SE, which combined a fuel injection version of the W186’s 3-litre engine with the 220SE bodyshell, power assisted steering, all round disc brakes and – a ‘first’ on a Mercedes-Benz – rear air suspension.

Meanwhile, for the driver with a less understanding bank manager, the 190 Ponton was succeeded by the W110 Fintail, although the 180 was still offered until 1962. The new four-cylinder Mercedes-Benz had the cabin and boot of the W111 combined with a shorter bonnet and wheelbase, plus those distinctive wing-mounted front indicators. Over half of Fintail production were diesel-powered, and the 190D would become associated with taxi drivers across the globe rivalling the likes of the Peugeots 403 and 404.

In 1962 the 300SE became available in coupé and drophead forms to create possibly the definitive car for cruising along the Riviera. By 1963 hydraulic dual-circuit brakes and servo assisted front discs were standard across the range, and Daimler-Benz now offered a long wheelbase version of the 300. Autocar described this magnificent vehicle as being “neither beautiful nor dainty” but having a “massive and solid” appearance. The SE LWB‘s UK price was £4598 8s 6d, which made it over twice the cost of the Rover P5 3-Litre saloon and even more expensive than the Lagonda Rapide at £4350. Intriguingly, the most popular British market Fintail was the 220SE rather than the 190.

The advent of the W108 S-Class in 1965 meant the reshaping of the Fintail line-up. The Coupé and Cabriolet would continue until 1971, with the 280SE of 1967 and the 280SE 3.5 of 1969 were the quintessence of the world evoked by Peter Starstedt in his song ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?’. They were two-door Mercedes-Benz grand tourers and therefore had nothing else to prove.

As for the saloon range, the 300 and the 220 were discontinued, the 190 gained an enlarged 1988cc petrol engine to become the 200, and the four-cylinder models now sported front indicators below the headlamps. For those motorists who craved slightly more autobahn performance from their Heckflosse, the 230 featured a 2281cc six-cylinder engine while the 230S had twin Zenith carbs, hydro-pneumatic self-levelling rear suspension and the ‘stacked’ front lights. To complement the 135bhp power output, you could also specify a sportier floor gear change at no extra cost.

The Fintail was also built in Australia, Belgium and South Africa while Singe offered the ‘Special Purpose’ chassis to a variety of coachbuilders. Ambulances made by Binz of Lorch were seen across Germany, and towards the end of W110 production, they devised a stretched seven/eight seater 200D which was frequently used as an airline and hotel courtesy car and in 1965 Importateur et des Moteurs d’Automobiles (IMA) of Mechelen created the Universal station wagon. By the following year, this would become the first estate car to be officially sold via Daimler-Benz outlets.

The “New Generation” W114/W115 replaced the 200 and the 230 in January 1968 after a run of 622,453 Fintail saloons. Sixty years ago, the original 220 was the automotive embodiment of the German economic miracle, and today their legacy is how they redefined that notion of ‘quality’. In 1964 Motor Sport described the 300SE as a “remarkable car, which perhaps I may be permitted to describe one of the World’s best?” But a 190 Diesel buyer would expect the same standards of build, engineering and attention to detail. And that is why the Fintail is one of the most important cars to carry the Mercedes-Benz logo.

Remember when…. 1962

The 190 was well-established by the time the 1960s started to shape up as being the definitive decade. Here’s a snapshot of life back then…

The World held its breath in October, when the USA and USSR squared up to each other, after pictures from the new frontier of space revealed Soviet missiles based on Cuba pointing You Know Where. Thankfully President John F Kennedy wasn’t the first to blink…

Small-time thief James Hanratty was hanged for his ‘involvement’ in the infamous A6 murder case, for which even now sceptics believe he was innocent, especially when a main suspect confessed later on! Hanratty has still yet to be cleared, however.

The biggest thing on the ‘box’ was That Was The Week That Was (TW3) which introduced satire to our nation, changing the way that the usual easy-going British public believed all what the authority told them. An angry young David Frost was the front man, latterly Sir David…

In the charts, the Rock and Roll 50s were being replaced by the likes of Ray Charles, Bobby Davrin, Joe Brown (and ‘The Bruvvers’), and four mop tops from Liverpool who had their first chart success with ‘Love Me Do’. Whatever became of them?

Average pay was £800 with a typical house priced at £2670. The New Austin 1100 cost just under £600 while a daily pinta was 6.5pence – a pint of the harder stuff less than 12p!

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