Image of the side of a classic black Mercedes 300

Mercedes-Benz 300

BUYER’S GUIDE

Mercedes-Benz 300 (1951-1962) Review

The Mercedes 300 blends pre-war grandeur with post-war technology…

What Is It?

Launched in April 1951, the imposing 300 saloon was a powerful statement that Mercedes, and indeed Germany, was back as a builder of luxurious motor cars. Although based on a pre-war separate chassis it featured all-independent suspension, 100mph performance and the choice of luxurious saloon or stately open top bodies, the latter known as the Cabriolet D.

Four generations – suffixed a, b, c and d – were built, the final of which used a stretched wheelbase for even more space. West Germany’s first post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was present at the original unveiling and took delivery of his first 300 in December 1951, his fondness for the car such that his name has forever become associated with the model. When he left office he even bought his final one from the German government and was chauffeured around in it until his death in 1967.

Also launched in 1951, the 300S was based on a shortened version of the same chassis and picked up where the extravagant supercharged 540Ks of the pre-war period left off. Where 300 saloons were cars for wealthy industrialists and world leaders the S and later fuel-injected Sc were extravagant playthings for socialites and movie stars, Clark Gable among many famous names gifting it a whiff of sophisticated Hollywood glamour.

Checklist

  • Saloons – commonly known as Adenauers – built in four generations, with a, b and c designated W186 and the 300d, with its longer wheelbase and Einspritzmotor engine, the W189
  • 300a, b and c versions aesthetically similar, d obvious by its longer wheelbase, cowled headlights with sidelights below, bigger bumpers and squarer, fin-style rear quarters
  • All four variants also available as four-door Cabriolet D models, featuring a vast Landau style roof with prominent external hinges, though these were produced in far fewer quantities
  • 300S and Sc based on the same chassis but with a shorter wheelbase and increased power; all known as W188s in internal Mercedes coding
  • 300S and Sc available in three body shapes – Cabriolet A with a pram-style Landau roof, Roadster (roof stows under flush rear deck) and fixed-head Coupé
  • 300Sc easily differentiated from the S by twin chrome-trimmed vents on sides of bonnet and quarter-lights in side windows
  • All powered by versions of the same 2,996cc overhead cam six-cylinder engine in various states of tune and with different fuelling; saloons typically twin Solex carburettors while 300S had triple carbs; 300d and 300Sc feature fuel injection denoted by ‘Einspritzmotor’ badge on rear bumper
  • 300b introduced power brakes, 300c obvious for its larger rear window and gained optional automatic gearbox, 300d got automatic gearbox as standard and improved single-pivot swing axle rear suspension; power steering optional on 300d

How Does It Drive?

As imposing as the size and looks would suggest, in short. Yet in its day the 300 also dazzled road testers with its performance, The Autocar in its review of 1952 saying, “There are very few saloon cars which are capable of a mean speed of over 100mph, but to obtain this result on a five-six-seater saloon car with generous room for passengers and luggage, using an engine of three-litre capacity said to deliver only 114bhp is a notable achievement.” The road testers were also bowled over by the ride quality and high-speed handling.

The 300S was just as impressive, Swiss magazine Automobil Review saying “The 300S embodies a rarely or never before achieved synthesis between the requirements of a touring car and a sports car.” Earlier 300s have a physicality about the driving reminiscent of pre-war cars, though the engine is smooth and the (typically column-mounted) manual gearbox easy to use.

The 300b gained power brakes while a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic was available from the 300c onwards. Power steering was also an option later. The fuel-injected 300d and 300Sc have significantly improved performance, too.

What’s Good?

Then as now, if you want to cause a stir upon arrival a 300 of any type makes quite the statement and its combination of that pre-war glamour with post-war driving manners remains beguiling. There is mechanical sophistication as well, the 300 running a less exotic manifold (rather than direct) version of the fuel injection technology used in the 300SL Gullwing with which it shared many mechanical components.

Other quirks included an electrically adjustable torsion bar on the rear axle actuated by a switch on the dash to compensate for a full complement of passengers and luggage. The looks may have been old-school but the performance most definitely was not, either.

The quality is also incredible, with thick leather on the seats, glossy wood trim throughout and chunky, mechanical feeling switchgear throughout. These cars may be 70 years old but, heavy steering aside, the performance, refinement and comfort still feel impressive to this day.

What’s Bad?

In the context of the post-war austerity into which they were born the 300 and 300S were astonishingly expensive cars to buy, the 300S costing 10,000 Marks more than the already expensive saloon and 6,000 Marks more than a 300SL Gullwing.

The optional air conditioning on a 300d saloon would have cost the same as a new VW Beetle back in the day as well. Relatively speaking they’re not that much cheaper today, either, and if you set your eyes on a 300S or Sc with matching numbers provenance and a previous celebrity owner you could be looking at seven figures.

While mechanically simpler than the 600 ‘Grosser’ that succeeded it a 300 of any type is going to require an expert assessment before purchase and similarly specialist care to keep running or restore. Parts, where available, are going to be expensive as well. A cool car. But not one to be bought on a whim.

Which Model To Choose?

While all will be equally expensive to look after properly ‘Adenauer’ saloons are the most affordable to buy by some margin, and you could get one for as little as £50,000.

The later 300d with its injection motor, longer wheelbase and more modern driving manners will be easiest to live with but the squared off rear wings (similar to the ‘Ponton’ saloons of the time) are perhaps a little less elegant than the a, b or c models.

Cabriolet D versions have few rivals if you like to share your fun in the sun with friends and family but prices will be multiples of that for a saloon and into the ‘hefty six figures’ league.

The 300S versions are another step on again, the rarity of the later Sc derivatives (just 98 Coupés, 49 Cabriolet As and 53 Roadsters) pushing them into serious collector territory, especially with the kind of originality and matching numbers provenance that level of the market demands.

Specifications: Mercedes-Benz 300d saloon

 

Engine

3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol

Power

160PS (118kW) @ 5,300rpm

Torque

237Nm (174lb ft) @ 4,200rpm

Transmission

Three-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 1,950kg

0-62mph

17 seconds

Top speed

106mph

Production dates

1955-1962

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Image of red classic Mercedes car, facing to the right of the photograph, with a foreign number plate

Mercedes 190 ‘Ponton’

BUYER’S GUIDE

Mercedes 190 ‘Ponton’ Review

The first modern Mercedes of the post-war era, the charming ‘Ponton’ series combines classic looks with surprisingly up-to-date driving manners…

What Is It?

Given the devastation wreaked on Germany during the Second World War, the speed with which the country’s car industry rebuilt itself was truly staggering. The Mercedes-Benz ‘Ponton’ was a potent sign of this rebirth and perfectly in tune with the simultaneous sense of austerity and optimism.

While it started out with engines and suspension from the pre-war 170 series the Ponton was, in truth, a far more modern car. The enclosed bodywork, encompassing Mercedes’ first unitary body design, was host to many up-to-date design features and early moves into passive safety. Launched as the 180 and 180D diesel, the range developed quickly with improved engines and suspension. It even spawned a sportscar in the shape of the 190SL, this model then gifting a detuned version of its engine to the more luxuriously trimmed Mercedes 190 Ponton.

Six-cylinder Pontons of the 220 series – obvious by their longer bonnets – were also sold before fashions changed and the Fintail era dawned.   

Corrosive Areas

Inner wings

Sills

Headlight ‘bowls’

Checklist

  • While engines and other elements saw many tweaks the four-cylinder Ponton range remained divided into 180 and 180D entry level models and more powerful and luxurious 190 and 190D versions
  • Any true Mercedes fan needs to learn their model codes before committing: the 180-badged versions of the four-cylinder Ponton are known as the W120 while 190s are W121s
  • 190 models are distinguished by their additional chrome trim along the bottom edge of the windows and various other detail trim upgrades, while underneath they get additional subframe mounts and ‘turbo cooled’ brake drums
  • All Ponton models feature independent suspension all round, post-1955 versions getting the improved and more predictable low-pivot design to reduce camber changes in cornering
  • Post-1957 180a models gained a detuned version of the 190’s overhead-cam engine while in 1958 the 190D got a new diesel, adapted from the petrol engine
  • 1959 models are denoted by a lower-case -b suffix, signifying a range of updates, including improved passive safety thanks to padded dashboards and steering wheel bosses
  • Post-1961 190 and 190Ds gain new ‘Heckflosse’ finned rear bodywork while 180 models retained the rounded wings of the original version
  • As well as saloons, Mercedes sold various part-bodied Pontons for conversion into commercial vehicles, estates, ambulances, hearses and more; South African market ‘Bakkie’ pick-ups have a following of their own and put a different twist on the formula

How Does It Drive?

For a car designed over 70 years ago, the Ponton drives with incredible modernity, thanks in part to that unitary body but also for its all-independent suspension, decent brakes, smooth controls and performance that feels a lot stronger than the numbers suggest. The only quirk for a modern driver will be the column shift for the four-speed manual gearbox, but you adapt quickly and soon realise it’s a very intuitive way to change gear.

While few might reckon on the Ponton as a sporty car it does actually have some unexpected competition pedigree as well, a 180D diesel completing Mercedes’ domination of the 1955 Mille Miglia with a class win in the hands of Helmut Ritter and Wolfgang Larcher. True, their average speed of 58mph was somewhere behind the incredible 99mph of winners Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson in their F1-derived 300SLR, but when you consider the 180D could only hit 68mph flat out and takes a whole 39 seconds to hit 0-62mph their achievement looks perhaps even more impressive!

What’s Good?

Mercedes 190 'Ponton' front three quarters

In short, build quality. The Ponton may have been the most junior Mercedes in the range at the time but it was built as well as anything with the three-pointed star atop the grille. The pride with which they were assembled reflected in every last nut and bolt. Indeed, this is something you can appreciate even to this day, restorers relishing the ease with which an old-school Benz of this era comes apart just as much as the precision with which it goes back together.

It’s also a very comfortable car to drive, refinement impressive thanks to the engine and front suspension being mounted on a rubber-isolated subframe while the steering and other controls are all very smooth and precise. Comfy seats and plenty of space inside mean it’s a classic you can enjoy with family and friends, while the driving manners and performance are well up to regular use on modern roads.

If perhaps not as well supported here in the UK as it is back in Germany, Mercedes does keep a decent stock of original parts for its classics as well, meaning you should be able to run or restore a Ponton without too much stress.

What’s Bad?

As well-made as the Pontons were, it goes without saying that rust-proofing wasn’t up to modern standards and, while mechanically tough, a car requiring significant bodywork repairs is going to cost as much as any ‘50s Mercedes to sort out. Which, given the Ponton’s relatively humble status, means the business case for a full restoration will be a lot harder to make than with some of its more valuable relatives. As good as the parts supply is it’s also going to be an expensive car to restore if you’re going all the way, and unlikely to ever be an especially valuable commodity. Something you’d do for the love, rather than the money.

Which Model To Choose?

Mercedes 190 Ponton interior

Whichever engine you’re after it’s probably worth seeking out a post-1955 car for the improved rear suspension and its better road-holding. In terms of engine none of them are what you’d call fast so, as attractive as the 190 may seem, a post 1957 180a is probably just as usable in performance terms. The diesels are perhaps best described as a quirky choice, though remain surprisingly good to drive as that incredible Mille Miglia performance goes to show.

Given the fundamental similarities the sensible course would be to find the best you can afford at your particular price point. Imported cars from dry climates perhaps offer the best hope of scoring one free from rot. If we had to slim it down, a 180a or 190 petrol would probably be our choice.

Specifications

 

Engine

1.9-litre four-cylinder, petrol

Power

75PS (55kW) @ 4,500rpm

Torque

136Nm (100 lb ft) @ 2,800rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,200kg

0-62mph

20.5 seconds

Top speed

87mph

Production dates

1956-1959 (1953-1962 full production)

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