The 1954-1960 Mercedes Ponton models (219 / 220 Series), 4 & 6 cylinder, gas & diesel, were virtually essential to MB’s recovery years. Without strong sales, worldwide as it happened, Daimler-Benz would almost certainly have found itself building only trucks and buses, or joined many other belly-up vehicle manufacturers during the first 20 years after WWII. Mercedes resumed it’s pre-1940 dual-identity as a prestige and economy brand though few 1950s pursuits allowed their accountants to sleep at night! The 300 series was a sales disaster and Grand Prix racing bled funds and its best engineers. It didn’t help that socialism was lurking in postwar Europe; tough egalitarian taxes hit everywhere –gas prices and engine size (a big reason 1950s Mercedes-Benz engines were just under 3 and 2 liters). Confusing matters, USA consumers were enjoying just the opposite; cheap gas, big engines, A/C, endless power accessories wrapped in dollar-grin styling: the flossy-fifties!
Looking back at many brands of the 1950s the Mercedes Ponton models are pretty straight-laced and “proper”. They did succumb to two-tone side panels (only on coupé & convertible) but no wrap around windshields or quad-headlights. Flow through fenders (enveloping all remnants of running boards behind the doors) were already the norm but compared to their suicide-door predecessors (some as late as 1955) the new world arrived just in time.
Mercedes Ponton coupés and convertibles took center-stage by default when 300Sc production ended in 1957. Mercedes favored the potential of smaller engines through the ‘50s & 60s, upstaging their previous engines and the USA’s lust for cubic inches:
Years Model Weight Engine Size HP Top Spd MPG
1936-39 540 K 5,070 lbs. 8 cyl., 5,401 cc 180 HP 105 8+
1955-57 300Sc 3,924 lbs. 6 cyl, 2,996 cc 175 HP 111 12+
1958-60 220 SE 3,251 lbs. 6 cyl. 2,195 cc 115 HP 99 18+
Similarly the ‘50s 300 SL 6 produced more HP per cubic inch than Corvette V8s. Even when a V8 was planned for the 1970s, MB’s 1st chose a 3.5, then reluctantly a 4.5, 5.0 & 5.6. Today, we’ve finally come full circle with Mercedes even offering an S-Class with a potent 4 cyl. engine, dual turbos, 9 spds. & 30+ MPG.
So, were the Ponton’s 1950s creators on the right track, interrupted by a 50 year consumer-led detour into fuel hungry beasts for no other reason than they could? Mercedes never ruled out potent small engines even by others; the Cosworth 2.3-16 comes to mind. The sport cam lurking in all MB straight sixes up through the 1996/97 C36 is a marvel. General Motors engineers also took up the potential of small “hi-protein” engines in the early 1960s; remember the baby aluminum V8s of Oldsmobile & Buick (one with a turbo put out 225 HP.), Pontiac’s Tempest (with rear transmission) and opposed-4 Corvair? Beyond their novelty Americans didn’t see the point. Until recently. In retrospect will innovative 4, 5 & 6 cylinder cars rival the collectibility of big-block muscle cars?
One answer is in the numbers in the chart below. While Convertibles are the headliners price-wise, it is the Coupés that have enjoyed the fastest recent % gains. This isn’t the first time Coupés played a rewarding “catch-up” to their open roofed sibling; closest precedent is the 300S and Sc Coupés. Ditto for the 111 Body Coupés. They never eclipse the open cars, and always start “later”… but when they do… this chart is the result. Plan on it happening to the E 300/320 Coupés of the 1990s. They’re still young that you can go straight for a nice convertible. The pattern will repeat again on these cars… depend on it. Just don’t expect it to happen in two years. Enjoy it in the meantime! In five years you’’ll be comfortable that you’re ahead of the regional, seasonal and irrational fluctuations. In ten years you’ll look like the smartest guy in the neighborhood.
Another sleeper is the best sedans on this chart. Just as the 1960s Mercedes Fintail sedans, they were taken for granted until nearly gone. Eyes were on the coupes & convertibles. That’s what happened here. (click chart below to view full size)