Innovative standard-setting chassis
- October 1 – 11, 1931: Debut of the Mercedes-Benz 170 at the Paris Motor Show
- Swing axles with independent wheel suspension all round enhance handling safety and ride comfort
- Top-selling car at the time of the world economic crisis
The Mercedes-Benz 170 (W 15 series) made its debut at just the right time: it was presented by the company at the Paris Motor Show in October 1931. Its innovative chassis yielded significant advantages on roads many of which were still rather rough at the time. What’s more, it was a comparatively inexpensive car and a great success in sales. It was therefore instrumental in ensuring that Daimler-Benz survived the world economic crisis without any major setbacks.
The 170 was the brainchild of Hans Nibel, first chief engineer at Benz & Cie., then technical director at Daimler-Benz AG until his death in 1934. For quite some time, he had been working on independent wheel suspension without conventional axles. He finally incorporated his design in the 170 which was a sensation on account of its chassis. For the first time, a car featured four individually suspended wheels, without an axle and attached to two transverse leaf springs at the front, and at the rear with a half-shaft swing axle on each side, whose casing tubes were connected to the low U-section frame by means of two coil springs on the side of the wheel, and attached to the differential by means of journal bearings. This configuration combined a high level of stability with a minimum of unsprung masses. It became the state of the art in chassis design and the basis for other groundbreaking developments by the Mercedes-Benz brand.
The “swing axles,” as the invention presented in the 170 was aptly called, eventually earned all cars from Mercedes-Benz the reputation of offering comfortable and at the same time safe handling characteristics. The 170 is therefore a milestone in engineering history.
Nibel designed the 170 as a compact and light car. It therefore no longer fulfilled the wishes for large and heavy passenger cars which were extremely popular in the 1930s. However, the circumstances at the time confirmed Nibel’s approach. During the world economic crisis, there was great demand for cars with a favorable purchase price and low fuel consumption – and the 170 became a great success.
Nevertheless, these advantages were not achieved at the expense of quality, appointments and comfort. The 170 quickly acquired the reputation of being a genuine Mercedes-Benz. It was a well-designed car in every respect – which meant that no engine or chassis modifications worth mentioning were required during the six-year production period.
The 170 was powered by a six-cylinder engine with a displacement of 1,692 cc and an output of 32 hp at 3200/min. It had a manual three-speed transmission with an additional overdrive and a top speed of 90 km/h; it consumed no more than eleven liters of gasoline on 100 kilometers (21.3 mpg) and boasted a fairly complete range of equipment. The standard specifications included oil-pressure brakes on all four wheels, central lubrication, thermostat-controlled cooling and an ignition-and-steering-wheel lock designed as anti-theft protection.
The chassis of the 170 weighed in at just 750 kilograms (1653 lbs), and the complete car weighed between 1,050 (2315 lbs) and 1,200 kilograms (2646 lbs), depending on the bodywork version. The gross permissible weight was 1,455 kilograms (3208 lbs). As was customary at the time, there was a wide range of bodywork versions for customers to choose from: two- and four-door sedans, optionally available with fabric sunroof, a four-seater convertible C, a two-door touring car, a sports roadster with two + two seats, a sports convertible A with two/three seats, and a panel van with model designation L 300 and a payload capacity of 300 kilograms (661 lbs).
At the time of the production start-up, the front section featured the typical flat Mercedes-Benz radiator which, from February 1935, was replaced by a radiator with the flat wedge shape which is still up-to-date today.
The sedan and convertible reflect a chapter of automotive development history. Both versions were initially supplied with a separate luggage box at the rear, mounted at a distance of less than an inch from the bodywork. The narrow gap between bodywork and box soon proved to be almost impossible to be kept clean. Therefore, from 1934, the box was mounted without space in-between. And finally, in 1935, the box was harmoniously integrated in the bodywork. The “space for luggage” at last became a matter-of-course element of the bodywork – a “luggage compartment.”
In 1935, another clearly more modern two-door sedan body was created for the 170, which already boasted clearly discernible features of its successor, the 170 V; the convertible C was designed accordingly. This ushered in the end of the 170’s career – its heyday came to an end with the launch of the 170 V in February 1936.