- A vehicle representing luxury and reason in the difficult post-war period
- An internationally accepted representative car with remarkable effortless superiority
By the end of the Second World War, the benchmarks had changed in Germany and Western Europe. People were suffering greater hardship, their needs were existential, their standards more modest, the newly elected Federal government in West Germany was closer to the people and democratic. The Federal President and the Federal Chancellor initially used cars merely as a mode of transport – the Pullman saloons and cabriolets from the Mercedes-Benz, Horch and Maybach SW 38 brands from pre-war times; the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Luise Schröder, used a Model 170 V as her official car.
At first everyone at Daimler-Benz had other things to worry about than thinking about a remake or new design of the ‘Grand Mercedes.’ The overall economic situation was gloomy, characterised by the rapid collapse of the ruined Reichsmark. An improvement was only to come about with the currency reform and the introduction of the German Mark, but this did not happen until 20 June 1948. Wilhelm Haspel called a meeting on 22 December 1947 with the aim of discussing plans for a sports and representative car; for a time he was not Chairman of the Board of Management at Daimler AG due to denazification, and it was not until 1 January 1948 that he took on this position again. The aim of the meeting was to decide on a range of vehicles also suitable for export – even in such dark economic times, Haspel recognised the necessity for Mercedes-Benz cars with the appropriate charisma in the luxury segment: ‘But what is missing is a vehicle that gold-plates the name Mercedes-Benz again.’
Another year and a half would pass, however, before Haspel’s ideas took shape on a more modest basis – in the period directly following the war, Central Europe had moved towards vehicles with a much smaller displacement. Initially priority was given to the Model 170 S (W 136 III, later W 136 IV), which Daimler-Benz brought out in 1949. Before the war it had originally been earmarked as the successor to the Model 170 V (W 136), and for two years it now assumed the role of the later S-Class in the Federal Republic of Germany in terms of price and social status. The two-seater Cabriolet A even became the country’s most expensive car. In 1951, the Model 220 (W 187) was launched, and it, too, was one of the S-Class’s forerunners.
Against this background, the Model 300 (W 186 II) which was unveiled at the same time was seen as a superlative-class car back then – something that was reflected in its price and performance as well as its appearance.
But in the meantime the development department took several approaches when it came to creating a vehicle that gold-plated the name Mercedes-Benz again. In order to keep costs and new investments to a minimum in view of the difficulties involved in the procurement of machinery, existing stock was used up. Where the chassis and the bodies were concerned this meant the Model 230 (W 153) with the all-steel body from Daimler-Benz which had come out shortly before the war, plus the corresponding chassis with an X-type pipe with a wheelbase of 3050 mm.
When it came to the engines the production units for the 2.6 litre M 159 engine had survived the bombings to such an extent that they could be built up again. This resulted in no less than 9004 units of this engine being produced between 1941 and 1944. Although originally intended for passenger cars, they were all installed in the 1.5-tonne L 301 model, which had carved out a career for itself as a small fire-fighting vehicle, and as a bucket-seat car. This engine had a hemispherical combustion chamber with V-shaped overhead valves, which were operated by the low-mounted camshaft via tappets. The first deliberations regarding the construction of a more representative vehicle were made on the basis of this M 159 and the model series W 153. To begin with it was given the model series designation W 182 and was intended to have a displacement of 2.6 litres. In order to take into account the increasing vehicle weight, in 1949/1950 the engine was given a series of higher displacements in rapid succession: firstly 2.8 litres and finally 3.0 litres, with various model variant designations to match.