By on October 19, 2010

Go ahead and laugh. I did, when I first ran across this Mercedes 220S with genuine wire wheels. Yes, it’s a major cultural faux pax, if one understands the German approach to such things; it’s the equivalent to putting full wheel covers on an XK-E. But taken in the bigger context, this well-loved 1965 220S is highly symbolic of Americans’ love affair with the three pointed star that began to really bloom about then. And like most affairs of the heart, rational thinking wasn’t necessarily a predominant part of it. 

It’s not that the W111 wasn’t a superbly advanced car when it appeared in 1959. With the first crumple zones ever on a production car, disc brakes, all-independent suspension, OHC engines, fuel injection, and superb high-speed handling, it was undoubtedly the “best or most advanced sedan in the world” at the time, as well as the safest. But in typical German thinking (of the time), it was designed with German conditions foremost, if not exclusively. Ironically, the only obvious concessions to contemporary American trends were the controversial fins on the tail.

Officially in Mercedes-speak, they weren’t “Flossen” (fins) at all, but “Peilstege” (marker bars) to facilitate parking. Right. Mercedes Chief Designer Karl Wilfert eventually conceded that they were “In Rufweit der Mode” (within shouting distance of fashion). It was a somewhat controversial concession to Mode, and one that wouldn’t ever be repeated, at least not until more recent years. In any case, the fins presumably weren’t a conscious affectation to appeal to American buyers per se, which in 1959 was still a very small number.

And for obvious reasons: the 220S/SE was a compact car falling between the 1960 Falcon and 1962 Fairlane in length. The 2.2 L six put out all of 110 hp, but it took some 6,000 rpm to achieve that, along with considerable engine noise. This was a buzzy, nervous little motor, notoriously lacking in low-speed torque, and much more suited to a hot-blooded sports car than a staid sedan. The available four-speed automatic made sure you knew exactly every time it shifted, which was almost perpetually, in its struggle to cope with its none-too svelte load. The Mercedes’ structural integrity came with a hefty price, literally.

During the fifties and sixties, despite the favorable (to the US) fixed dollar-to-mark exchange rate, Mercedes were already pricey. In those decades, a mid-level 220S/SE ran about the same as a Cadillac, at a time when Cadillac still enjoyed its prestige. Obviously, the Caddy overwhelmed the Mercedes with its size, three times the horsepower, drive-train refinement, comfort, etc. For typical American drivers and their conditions, the Caddy was a logically a better choice.

Mercedes sedans back then appealed largely to those Americans that appreciated, and could afford the subtler refinements, quality, and dynamic qualities it provided: engineers, driving enthusiasts, and German ex-pats (who were also usually both). Yes, the very expensive coupes, convertibles and SL had a strong following among the truly wealthy and celebrities. But the sedans had not yet made serious inroads into the established premium sedan market.

Ironically enough, that happened exactly when Mercedes prices took a huge jump in response to the dollar’s falling value after the fixed exchange rates were abolished in 1971. In 1970, a 280S cost $6,273. By 1975, the 280S was priced at $15,057, two and a half times higher, and double the price of a Caddy. It must have been a tonic, because Mercedes sales increased strongly throughout the seventies. This increase was well above the drop in the dollar’s value; Mercedes saw an opportunity, and seized it by the pocketbook.

What exactly did they see? Several developments: between 1963 and 1988, the top federal tax marginal tax rate dropped from 91% to 28%. Those years correspond to the biggest years of Mercedes’ growth. And the ever-fickle affluent were ready too adopt a new automotive prestige symbol. It had been Packard before the war, Cadillac for the first two decades after, and now it was Mercedes’ turn. Needless to say, the general cheapening of Cadillac, especially after 1971, perfectly played into Mercedes’ hands, and the rapidly rising prices of a Benz added only added to its prestige value. Luxury goods makers of all kinds have been employing the formula for decades: higher price=more exclusivity and prestige, even if it is a 45hp diesel sedan.

Many of those folks might well have been better served in a big Detroit luxo-barge; I remember lots of complaining about the stiff-legged ride of a Mercedes around town. Of course; they were tuned for high speeds on the Autobahn, but only a small percentage of Americans would be able to appreciate that, especially during the double nickle era. The Germans wouldn’t compromise on their suspension tuning, unlike the Japanese, which sent the Lexus LS400 this way with a corresponding pillow-soft ride. Americans loved it for that, among other things.

And until the more expensive S-Class models finally got V8 engines, complaints about the overworked little sixes were very legitimate, especially when smog controls began to rapidly take their top end bite away. I was in a 250S once in the foothills of CA, and with four aboard and the A/C on, it could hardly get out of its own way. It was a bit pathetic, for an expensive luxury car, especially compared to the effortlessness of Detroit’s big-engined cars, like a 340 hp Chrysler New Yorker, which cost about 20% less.

In 1965, cars like this New Yorker offered an interesting alternative, probably the best direct competition to the Mercedes at the time. Which car would you have bought?

The Flossen Mercedes arrived in my last year in Austria, and as a seven year old, I remember vividly what a huge impression it made. It was a sensation and media event at the time, and we all kept our eyes alert for the first one on our roads. Austria was a lot poorer than Germany then, but in the summer of 1960, the annual invasion of German tourists included our first sightings. The to-do was understandable: the new W111 symbolized that Germany and Mercedes could now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best big cars in the world, including the then still-vaunted American ones.

A neighbor in Iowa City had one just like this black sedan; he was a successful surgeon. They were quite rare then in that part of the world, and it provided a glaring contrast to our stripper ’62 FairlaneI was deeply smitten by the Benz, and loved gazing into its complex engine room full of alloy and sculpture. Obviously, the price disparity was mostly lost on me, although I had to admit our Fairlane’s little V8 went about its business in a much more relaxed manner. The 220SE engine’s raspy soprano scales may have sounded just right on a winding Alpine road, but seemed mighty high strung for the endless straight roads of Iowa. Context really does make a difference.

These cars could be picked up cheap in the seventies, if one was willing to take on the responsibility. I almost did, but then I suddenly remembered having been picked up in one driven by some kids in the Rockies a couple of years earlier. Right near the top of Trail Ridge Road, at about 11,000 feet elevation, and hours from any qualified help, it suddenly crapped out. I remember staring into the familiar engine compartment with them, and thinking this visual delight might be a bit more complicated and expensive to fix than average. What a few year’s difference makes. And I felt bad leaving them there, as I put out my thumb and went on my merry way. The lure of the Benz didn’t only hit upper-income Americans.

Now that I think about it, wire wheels on a Benz aren’t all that strange, if one ever spent time anywhere near Beverly Hills or the cultural equivalent, the nexus of Mercedes worship. I’m remembering seeing them on numerous R107 SLs, and quietly throwing up inside every time. It may well be why I harbor such deeply-rooted negative vibes about that particular car. But then, since America is the cultural melting pot, why not? They paid good money for their pleasure.

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55 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1965 Mercedes 220S (W111)...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I actually like the little finned Mercedes.  Love the styling.  But I also know my need for more power would make me attempt an LS-X swap.  I refuse to commit such sacrilege against a stately old German like that.  (Not till I win the lottery, at least.)

    • 0 avatar

      I know a 102 year old gentleman (and his 91 year old wife) who bought a dark blue – so dark it is almost black – 220S when he was working at the United Nations.  When he retired, he took it back to his home country – when I visited him last, he still had it, in flawless condition, and used it as chauffeured transportation occasionally.

  • avatar

    Those orange beehive lights at the front aren’t stock are they? I seem to remember either nothing there or clear ones with coloured bulbs.
    The wire wheels look not too bad but they make the tires look a size too small though.

    • 0 avatar

      The beehive lights were stock on US-spec models, apparently some in orange, some clear (my W108 also has orange ones). European models had orange lights integrated into the side of the headlight cluster where there is just a blank clear lens in the above picture.
      I like this particular mandated change despite (or perhaps because of) its somewhat silly look. It certainly beats what happened to US-spec MB headlights later on in the 70s and 80s.

    • 0 avatar

      They might have been, certainly the later post fintail cars had amber beehives, until they were replaced by big amber  faux fog lights in 68 or so.
      The wire wheels look almost as incongruous as the Rostyles on a Rover P5B. The only thing that looks  really right on these is steel wheels with the color matched wheel covers, even the MB alloys off of the later cars don’t look quite right.

  • avatar

    Needless to say, the general cheapening of Cadillac, especially after 1971, perfectly played into Mercedes’ hands

    Would be interested to hear from some retired GM execs what sort of decision making process was involved in the cheapening of Cadillac.   As I understand it there was never a good internal justification for going with more expensive, higher quality, more refined designs and engineering.

    To take a modern example I have a HP laptop and a Macbook.  The HP is plastic, flimsy, creaky and generally doesn’t have a high quality well engineered feel.  The Macbook is milled out of a solid block of aluminum and has a counterbalances screen, this lends it a very high quality feel.
    I could see HP executives thinking the same as GM executives – why go with the $50 milled aluminum part when you can do it in plastic for $5?  Who is going to base a buying decision on that one thing.   But, taken in total, all that decontenting and corner cutting leads to a product the public doesn’t feel compelled to purchase.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      jmo: Yes, Cadillac strategy was to go after ever-greater volume in the late sixties and into the seventies. The median worker’s hourly wages hit a peak in about 1971, and anybody with a half-way decent job could afford one. It’s what turned the more affluent away from Caddy; it wasn’t at all exclusive any more.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      During the 60s Cadillac even held down production so that demand would exceed production, keeping resale values high.  Finally the temptation to make a buck and the greed got the best of them.  Cadillac’s general manager allegedly said (sometime during the 70s when they set a sheer volume production record): “We didn’t build a record number of Cadillacs this year, we built a record number of Buicks.”  (Implying that Buicks were of lower quality.)

    • 0 avatar

      Back around 1970, some car mag – I don’t remember which, ran a comparison between a $3500.00 4 dr. hardtop Chevy Caprice vs. a $5000.00 4 dr. hardtop Cadillac something-or-other equivalent body style. The reviewer said that for the money, the Chevy was the better buy.

      When in High School, our art teacher originally had a Citroen DS, but switched to a 1967 Mercedes, virtually identical to this CC. Both were great cars.

      Also, in 1970, I passed up an opportunity to but a 1953 4 dr. Mercedes that was drop-dead gorgeous for $350.00. I rode in it and it ran great, but I most likely wouldn’t be able to afford the upkeep. Fortunately, I bought my avatar, in which I happily bankrupted myself of my own volition!

      By the way, below the windows, from the side view, it has 1957 Chevy Bel Air written all over it! Nice.

    • 0 avatar

      Cadillac strategy was to go after ever-greater volume in the late sixties and into the seventies.

      But, wasn’t Buick supposed to be the Infinity, Acura, Volvo upper middle class brand while Cadillac was supposed to be the A8, S550, Quattroporte masters of the universe brand?

      I guess I’d be interested in the exact decisions that went into Cadillac deciding to no longer be the standard of the world.  When and why did they decide they didn’t want to be the uncontested best car in the world?  GM certainly had the money back in the 60s to make cost no object luxury halo cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      jmo, I second everything you said, save the fact that Buick actually had more millionaire owners than Cadillac because of a more sedate styling.
      GM did have the world by the huevos and pissed it all away.  Cadillac should have stayed at an American Rolls Royce level of prestige and rarity.

    • 0 avatar

      The magazine was Motor Trend, and it compared the 1972 Caprice to the 1972 Sedan DeVille. If I recall correctly, the only real advantages of the Cadillac were a lower level of interior noise and higher level of assembly quality.

      As for why GM decided to cut back on Cadillac quality – it was probably equal parts arrogance and greed. I recall reading that a GM executive once said that America would buy virtually anything GM made, and, for many years, he was right.

      Paul did a wonderful job with the article on the first Cadillac Seville, noting that GM had no trouble getting Americans to not only buy a Cadillac based on a heavily reworked Nova platform, but then pay four times the price of a Nova to boot. So that anonymous GM executive wasn’t too far off the mark with his comment – at least until about 1980 or so.

      Plus, GM was obsessed with volume at all costs…higher prices would have restricted sales to some extent. While Mercedes was on a roll by the early 1970s, we forget that Cadillac was still outselling it by something on the order of 5 to 1. To GM executives, that was the only figure that mattered. The fact that an increasing number of the TRULY rich customers were abandoning Cadillac for Mercedes was conveniently overlooked. 

      Also remember that, at least through the mid-1980s, getting a foreign car serviced and repaired in large parts of the country were still a challenge. While attending college during the early 1980s, I had a 1977 Honda Civic. I lived in a small Pennsylvania town (near Gettysburg). The local mechanic who worked on my parent’s GM cars and AMC Gremlin told me that I needed to take the Honda to a dealer, as he had no idea how to service it. I’m sure that it would have been the same with a Mercedes.  

    • 0 avatar

      While Mercedes was on a roll by the early 1970s, we forget that Cadillac was still outselling it by something on the order of 5 to 1. To GM executives, that was the only figure that mattered.

      One would have hoped that Cadillac executives, working for the halo brand, would have only cared about building they best car they possibly could.   But, I think they must have seen what happened to Packard, Pierce Arrow and Duesenberg* and decided that cost no object luxury and prestige wasn’t were it was at.

      * Note – can I just say that Duesenberg is the best name ever for a car company.   “Shall we take the Duesenberg?”  its got a certain onomatopoeic quality that’s just perfect.

    • 0 avatar

      “By the way, below the windows, from the side view, it has 1957 Chevy Bel Air written all over it! Nice.”

      When I first saw the clue I immediately thought of a ’57 Ford.

      “Plus, GM was obsessed with volume at all costs…higher prices would have restricted sales to some extent. While Mercedes was on a roll by the early 1970s, we forget that Cadillac was still outselling it by something on the order of 5 to 1. To GM executives, that was the only figure that mattered. The fact that an increasing number of the TRULY rich customers were abandoning Cadillac for Mercedes was conveniently overlooked.”

      I never understood this; Cadillac would have been much better served to sell many fewer cars at highly inflated prices – maintaining the aspirational qualities of the brand and keeping it as “The Standard of the World” would have kept Cadillac as the equivalent of Rolls Royce.

      As a dealer I would have been far more interested in selling ten cars for a 25% profit rather than 100 at a fraction of that. Fewer customers means you can devote more energy in servicing them, and need less of a floor plan to keep cars on the floor.

      GM should have chased volume with Oldsmobile and Buick.

      “GM did have the world by the huevos and pissed it all away.  Cadillac should have stayed at an American Rolls Royce level of prestige and rarity.”

      Death by a thousand bad decisions.

      Ironically, it seems as though Daimler is chasing the same illusive target – selling everything to everybody for volume, volume, volume. It’s tarnished the brand reputation, as anybody can buy a Mercedes, or worse, lease one.

  • avatar

    Those wires may as well be Daytons. Grotesque.

  • avatar

    The first car I ever owned was a 1965 190Dc — same body with a 100mm shorter wheel base.  I had to drive out from Evanston to the I294 for diesel.  Would like to find a pristine example of a mid-60’s MB and swap an LSA V8 into it!!

  • avatar

    A made-in-Germany Plymouth Valiant.


    • 0 avatar

      Funny you should say that, in 1969 my parents replaced their 1964 Plymouth Valiant with 1966 Mercedes 250S, and one of the factors was that it cost the same as a new Plymouth.
      Personally my take on the European Valiant is an older Volvo, although I tended to think of my 164E as more of a Dodge  Dart.

  • avatar

    Nice article. I was going to hunt around and find stats to compare length, width, wheelbase, horsepower, and price for 1965 MB and a comparable Caddy, but this data is not readily available.

  • avatar

    My father owned a beautiful 1968 220D 4 speed.  I remember reading that of all the vehicles R&T tested that year, the only one it could out-run was the Microbus.

  • avatar

    The tailfins remind of those on the 1958-59 “standard” Rambler and Rambler Ambassador.

  • avatar

    “The available four-speed automatic made sure you knew exactly every time it shifted, which was almost perpetually, in its struggle to cope with its none-too svelte load.”

    Same could be said of every 1981/2-era Panther with the ca. 260 V8 with the E4OD trans.

  • avatar

    Wow, beautiful car!  The color is spot-on for the times.  Zackman is right — it does look a ’57 Chevy below the beltline in the side profile view, except that the Chevy had an actual dip in the body, not just in the side molding.  I also agree with Geeber about the fins looking like a ’58-’59 Rambler.

    Still given a choice between the Fintail and the ’65 Chrysler, I would have gone for the latter.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Haven’t seen one of these for a long long time. I wasn’t an admirer , as 50’s Mercs had white plastic steering wheels ( covered-up on this car) and vertical strip speedometers. Contemporary Jaguars had black steering wheels – albeit still plastic – and proper round dials. Jags also had well-located live rear axles, rather than the Mercedes swing-axles , and bigger OHC engines with more poke.The coachline down the side of this car seems to imitate a mid-fifties Chevy or Ford Fainlane.

  • avatar

    The first Mercedes I drove was a 1964 190D that looked the same as this one. A freind bought it cheap and the only thing that bailed him out was that our boss at the Shell station knew how to fix them (sort of). Four on the column was interesting, as was the “barber pole” speedometer. With that diesel it was slooowwww.
    My Dad’s first luxury car was a 1964 Lincoln Continental. That was the best American alternative at the time. While GM and Chrysler ran the luxury and cheaper cars down the same assembly lines, using a lot of the same parts, Ford had the Wixom plant make nothing but Lincoln and Thunderbird, both with all welded unit bodies that felt much tighter than BOF Cadillacs and even unit bodied (with bolted on front clip and iffy build quality) Chryslers.
    GM also confused the identity of Cadillac by offering C-body Buick Electra 225 and Oldsmobile 98 models that were so close in equipment and price.

  • avatar

    What a handsome car, but those wire wheels sure don’t work on it. I can easily imagine that the vestigial fins were included partly for the sake of easier parking, although I suppose seeing the ends of one’s car would have been far easier back then even without the fins. I had no idea they were so underpowered.

  • avatar

    This European would pick the ’65 New Yorker. Beautiful car.

  • avatar

    I generally love vintage Mercedes, but the W111 is probably my least favorite.  The design is so hulking and frankly musty and dated looking even in the year it debuted.  This Benz looks like an Old Car and it’s embarassing to put it up against that beautiful Chrysler (probably my favorite American sedan of that decade).  The engineering of the W111 may have been ahead of the Big 3, but Mercedes’ styling was way behind Detroit.  I do occasionaly see a W111 on the road in Seattle, and they are usually no restored garage queen.  These cars were really well built, even when left to slowly decay.

    On the other hand, the car that replaced the W111, the W108/109 series is a much more successful design.  That car still has a traditional large grille, but manages to have a clean, low and wide body with an airy greenhouse that still looks crisp on the road today. 

    Great to finally see another Mercedes CC.  Maybe there’s so many old Benz’s on the streets of the NW that they don’t seem very remarkable?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      That’s pretty true. Several 110/111s, a surprising number of W114s, gobs of W123s (already did a CC on them). Most, except this one, are daily/regular drivers too. We’ll do more of them here.

  • avatar

    In the second half of the seventies we had a neighbour with exactly this MB 220S. He had bought it nearly new in 1963, but used it at the time only for towing a caravan to the coast (150 km) and back and the three or four weeks at the campsite there.
    Every spring we saw him busy putting new underbodycoating into the wheel arches.
    In 1978 he wanted to get rid of it and I was very tempted to buy it (I never had taken the opportunity to examine the car properly) .
    Luckily for me he was asking way too much for it.
    After a while he sold the car and the new owner had to have an inpection before his insurance company wanted to insure it.
    Result: a very bad steering (common problem no 1) and a rusted through underside (common problem no 2). He painted all this underbodycoating over old rust and never noticed it! In the end there was only underbodycoating.
    So he had to take it back.
    Eventually he sold it to a policeman, but only after he had the man sign a relief paper.

  • avatar

    Love these cars, and the ’65 New Yorker is quite the looker as well.  Enough so to make it a hard choice to me.  Very different approaches, and both striking.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 220S. Best $250 bucks I ever spent! As a teenager my favorite feature was the back seat- but as an adult, I actually think the speedometer was the coolest thing. It was a vertical column that changed colors as you approached higher speeds- awesome!

  • avatar

    The parking lot of the church I attended used to have a few of these and several smaller Benz sedans.  Invariably they were older German couples who did moderately well, and most were in very good shape.
    I remember my parents bought a car for me from just such a parishoner.  I was hoping for a Benz; I got a badly rusted Falcon that has to be towed here and whose frame cracked shortly after.  Bummer on both counts.

  • avatar

    W111 or a 65 New Yorker – I would take the New Yorker in a heartbeat.  While the Mercedes undoubtedly used some more expensive materials and was of the highest quality, the Chrysler walked all over it in capabilities.  The Chrysler was fast, powerful, handled better than anything else its size, and consisted of mechanical components that were first rate.  Although Chrysler was never known for its bodies, the 65 unibody was very tight.
    I never owned a W111, but from the comments, it appeared that they had weaknesses like any other car, particularly in body rust.
    Mercedes did not really compete for the high end until it built some more powerful cars.

  • avatar

    That dip in the trim line on the rear doors looks like a paint job, it’s not original. Actually, I have never ever seen that dip before. On the black car, it isn’t there.

  • avatar

    The first car I owned was a w111 coupe; a ’67 250SE. They certainly had issues… I ended up selling mine because I deemed the underbody rust too extensive for me to be able to repair it properly at the age of 14. The 111 coupe fixed the major issue I had with the 110/111 sedans: That damn vertical speedometer.
    The fins are awkward, and I wouldn’t call either one (particularly the W110) pretty, but the W111 coupes lost the fins (except for some vestigal “roundedness”) and imo they’re some of the best looking cars Mercedes has ever made.
    The 6 was definitely a little underpowered… even as a 2.5 it only made probably 150-160 net horsepower, 0-60 time with the slushbox was something comfortably north of 12 seconds and they topped out a bit below 120. I’d like to own another one, but if I ever do I’ll be seriously looking at a M117 swap. People have crammed M100s into the front of the coupes, so the 5.6 ought to fit without too much difficulty.

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    I never really thought about this era of MB until my older brother bought one in 1972-it was a 67 230 model and 2 things really stood out for me at the time. One was the 2800 dollar repair bill when his engine headed south-huge money in 72.
    The other was his statement that these cars were so well engineered that surviving a head on collision was far more possible than domestic cars if you were buckled in-he nearly put that theory to the test on several occasions during a reckless, insane trip to the the interior of British Columbia. The car would keep winding up but it never had the passing power in the BC mountains and he was the kind of guy who pushed everything to the limit.
    That trip was scary and educational at the same time and ended happily when he was stopped for suspected drunk driving and handed a 24 hour suspension in Summerland BC.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    The body shop up the road has a fintail 200D that seems to be receiving a restoration on the installment plan: once every other month or so it will go inside for a day, then back out into the parking lot.

  • avatar

    Another factor in Mercedes’ growth in the U.S. in the late sixties was that they finally took control of their own distribution. Their initial postwar imports were handled by Max Hoffman, but Daimler Benz was not at all happy with Hoffman’s sales approach, service, or customer relations. In 1956, Heinz Hoppe started negotiating with Studebaker-Packard to have them take over distribution; Daimler Benz finally divorced Maxie in March 1957. (They ended up having to pay him a sizable severance fee, to boot.)
    Studebaker-Packard was not really much better at marketing Mercedes. The old-line Packard dealers were mostly gone by then, and the average Studebaker dealer had no idea what to do with a car like the W111. Finally, in 1964-1965, Daimler-Benz extricated themselves from Studebaker and set up their own U.S. organization, headed by Heinz Hoppe. In the next five years, they almost tripled their American sales.

  • avatar

    As someone who had that “65 New Yorker in HS (my late German grandfather’s car), exact color and interior but red tail lights, I’d say it beat the neighbor kid’s 1970 280S.  The Merc had a rattle in the dash they couldn’t find.
    If you want one, she’s here:

  • avatar

    “Go ahead and laugh. I did, when I first ran across this Mercedes 220S with genuine wire wheels. Yes, it’s a major cultural faux pax, if one understands the German approach to such things; it’s the equivalent to putting full wheel covers on an XK-E.”

    Wheel covers, or at least steel wheels with large chrome hub caps were standard fitment to Series 3 E-Types.

    The wires were an expensive option, since they were centre-locks with completely different splined axle sets. 

    That said, you’ll never see a racing Jaguar E-type with Chrome Wire Wheels.

  • avatar

    The comparison between the 1965 Chrysler and Benz is nothing short of inspired, especially having both in formal black. It brilliantly shows how radically different the Europeans viewed car styling versus what Americans liked back then, particularly regarding higher end models. The Benz looks stoic and ultra-conservative, where the Chrysler sets a brash, aggressive tone. In fact, using the New Yorker is kind of a cheap shot – although the difference would still be dramatic, it wouldn’t be nearly as much with a more comparable Imperial.

    What’s even more striking is how, nearly a half century later, there’s little to separate domestic/European styling trends.

  • avatar

    Speaking of the Lexus LS400, I am still eagerly awaiting a CC of one of those. Shouldn’t be hard to find a nice example on the street.
    I’ve never driven a Merc anywhere near this old, but what has always impressed me about the ones I’ve driven is how well they ride and handle, so I am a bit surprised by your “stiff-legged” comment. Even old, beat up W124s generally seem to be really comfortable after years of use and abuse. And, of course, they stick to the freeway like nothing else.

  • avatar

    On the acceleration subject, I seem to recall looking for the slowest car in an exhaustive list of various 0-60 and quarter mile times, and coming up with the 240d.

    According to that, if I’m correct, it did the quarter faster than 0-60, with the latter being 30 seconds plus. You’ve gotta work pretty hard to make a Beetle look like a funny car…

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      That sounds more like the 220D. I’m pretty sure a W123 240D could at least bust 20 seconds 0-60.

    • 0 avatar

      They weren’t quite that slow; the W123 240D had a factory 0-60 time of about 25 seconds. On level ground they’ll top 80 eventually, but the slightest incline will drag it back down to 75 or lower. I’ve driven them on the freeway, I would not recommend it. One of my older MB buyers guides actually specifically states not to use them on the freeway because they’re a road hazard. A 220D or 200D i can see taking 30+ seconds to hit to 60. The 111 220S is actually fast enough to get onto the freeway safely and it will keep up with modern traffic fine… its top speed was comfortably over 100. The diesel 110s, on the other hand…

    • 0 avatar

      I remember back in the 60’s, if somebody in a 190D challenged me in my Rover 2000, I’d just wait for an upgrade and drive away from him. Even a slight upgrade would do.

  • avatar

    I’m really surprised by how ugly and goofy-looking the 220S is in these pictures – especially in comparison to the ’65 New Yorker. It looks like something the Chinese would’ve designed if, in 1965, they were attempting to knock off an American luxury car. Yuck.

  • avatar

    In 65 this design looked dated. I would have chosen the New Yorker instead. Up till late 60’s US car design was ahead of the rest of the world. Cheapest horsepower in the world was also coming from the US, even European exotic luxury brands realized that. So it was pointless to buy an expensive MB sedan with a tiny engine in the US in 60’s. 

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    My dad was stationed in Spain from 1958-1960.  We brought with us our black 1957 Chevrolet, which is an amusing story in itself, given that the most prosperous Spaniards could afford, at best, the SEAT-manufactured version of the Fiat 600.
    At the end of his tour, my father considered buying a Mercedes and bringing it back, but rejected the idea for most of the reasons you identify — it not being particularly appropriate for American roads.
    “Early adopters” of the Mercedes in America faced three big problems: (1) for most of America, air conditioning is nice to have and, by the early 1960s  effective, reliable A/C was available in most American cars, not just luxo cars.  By contrast, the a/c in Benzes was a poorly-working, retrofitted job that barely did the job, (2) likewise, American car engine cooling systems were adequate for just about all climates, with the possible exception of summer in the desert southwest under heavy load; European engine cooling systems, including M-Bs, were not just getting stuck in a good traffic jam in the summer was an anxiety-producing experience, and (3) Benzes and other top-line European cars were more complex to repair, making servicing at any place other than the dealership a challenge.

    My dad, who was being mustered out of the Navy after his tour in Spain, elected not to buy a Benz or any other Eurocar and take it home.  The trusty 57 chevy came back with us and continued to be the family car until he replaced it with another chevy in 1963.

  • avatar

    I for one like the understated styling. The solid quality, too. None of the big three could match this car in terms of driving dynamics, quality, or reliability. And its availible with a stick.

    I dislike the detroit “HEY EVERYBODY LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME CHROME CHROME” gaudiness that their “luxury” cars had going on from 1950’s-2000.

  • avatar

    That car looks so similar to the 1960 220S I had. Mine had the red interior, and of course no wire wheels or painted-on styling dip. It was admittedly a tad underpowered but I was still amazed at how much performance could be gotten from 100 or so cubic inches. The very smooth factory headers were one clue. That car could cruise all day at 80 or 85. I asked a dealer mechanic why there didn’t seem to be much air flow through the dash vents; he claimed that it was calibrated not to blow too hard at 120 mph on the autobahns.
    I also owned a 1965 Chrysler, not a New Yorker but a 300L hardtop. The Chrysler appealed to me because it had the same kind of solid feeling that the Mercedes sedan did, while offering better looks (it was dark blue with white vinyl top and black/white interior) and greater performance with nearly as good handling qualities. I drove to southern California and back to western WA not long after I got it, and kept being surprised at the steepness of the downgrades in the southern Oregon hills; they hadn’t seemed steep at all going up.
    I wish I could have kept them both, but if it were one or the other, it’d be the Chrysler.

  • avatar

    These models had the best instrument cluster ever.

  • avatar

    W111 – stasi car. Wire wheels? preferred later painted body-coded.
    Cadillac starts with the letter C which is followed by the letter D for DEPRECIATION. Cadillac screams it. Not so the buzzy Benz.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine told me about this article about my car. The dual-tipped exhaust should have given it away.  Stock Benz wheels wouldn’t fit on the Ford front spindles and the rear axles. I like the look of the wires and people stop laughing when I smoke ’em at the lights. I dropped a fuel-injected GM 350 into it. Adios!

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