Automotive & Design History: Mercedes-Benz W110/111/112 Fintails – Béla Barényi And The Elusive Pluckenheckflosse

Italy, Summer 1981. My father is hustling his brother’s black Mercedes-Benz 220 S heckflosse along the autostrada at speed. Inside the car it’s three children creating raucous havoc in the back seat, Dad yelling in the front and Mum not giving any quarter. Suddenly Dad grows quiet. He gently reduces the speed and steers the car towards the side of the road. Puncture. The car’s poise never faltered.

Not much excitement I’m afraid, but it’s one of those innocuous flashbacks that holds the emotive weight of that whole holiday. The heckflosse has a place in my heart.

There’s one thing I never liked about it, though. The heckflosse.

‘Heckflosse’ means ‘tailfin’ in German, and it appeared on a lot of Mercedes-Benz cars. This model was the benchmark for engineering excellence, a paragon of safety and the successful mainstay into the 1960s for that most sober and accomplished of car companies, and yet it pandered to fashion so ill-advisedly.

Ok, so maybe this photograph is a bit misleading. It was taken in Lithuania a few years ago by AVL, and that spray and chrome job is not factory. But those fins…

Not that I have anything against fins per se. Pininfarina’s 1959 Cadillac Starlight, for example. But I’ve always wondered what the fintail Mercedes would look like shorn of the rear’s excesses.

A pluckenheckflosse, so to speak.

It’s early 1959, and four mysterious dark-green are travelling at speed between Stuttgart and Naples. After 3 million development miles, these disguised Mercedes-Benz sedans are undergoing a final assurance run in the hands of senior executives before launch later that year.

These new models were to replace part of the mainstay ponton range.

The nickname refers to the pontoon-type styling of all Mercedes-Benz cars sitting under the mighty 300 Adenauer.

The range covered a series of models from the six cyl. long-nose, long-cabin (final year only) 220 SE through to the four cyl. short-nose short-cabin 180 and the six-cyl. long-nose short-cabin 219 sitting somewhere in the middle. Despite the wide price disparity, the pontons were barely indistinguishable from each other by sight.

It was planned to split this range into two distinct platforms, the first to be replaced being the six-cylinder seniors.

Chief Engineer Fritz Nallinger (at right) convened meetings in September 1956 to lay out the parameters for this new model with his team of Josef Müller – engine development, Karl Wilfert – styling and body engineering, and Rudolf Uhlenhaut (at left) – ride and handling.

What emerged were three key requirements; to design a car from the inside out, to include the safety cell principle, and to ensure the car looked timeless with a recognisable Mercedes-Benz front as well as a hint of Italian design.

Internally, the series was designated W111.

The M127 2.2 litre straight-six engine was to be carried over from the pontons with revisions to carburetion and valve gear, giving slightly better acceleration and improved torque throughout the engine speed range for the three proposed models.

Also carried over from the ponton was the coilspring suspension with independent front and swing axle rear, although it was to receive much attention from Uhlenhaut and his team.

The top model, the 220 SE, received Bosch fuel injection to produce 120 hp (89 kW) and a top speed of 172 kmh (107 mph). The ponton 2 plunger injection had a modified intake plenum for installation in W111.

The 220 S with twin carburettors produced 110 hp (82 kW), top speed 165 kmh (103 mph).

The base 220 served as the strippo, with 95 hp (71 kW) and 160 kmh (99 mph) top speed.

Manual was standard, but available with the short-lived Hydrak clutch option. In 1961 automatic transmission was available for all models.

Brakes were drums all round, with servo-assistance standard on the 220 S & SE, and optional on the base model. These would prove to be a bit of an Achilles heel for the model, and in 1963 the 220 S & SE received discs from the British company Girling, with three pot callipers and a single hydraulic circuit. Dual circuit brakes with ATE callipers on the front came in mid 1963.

As with the ponton, the heckflosse was to have a body of unitary construction. Dimensions were 4875mm (143”) length, 1795 (111) width and 1500 (110) height over a 2750 (111) wheelbase. Glass area was increased by 35% and boot space enlarged 50%. This body featured flow-through ventilation, with egress via vents in the c-pillar.

Seated is Fritz Nallinger, considering some detail work on the heckflosse. At left is Nallinger’s head of body engineering and styling, Karl Wilfert. In the white coat is Wilfert’s styling lead, Friedrich Geiger. And that’s a young Paul Bracq leaning in.

Friedrich Geiger had recently been charged with responsibility for Mercedes-Benz styling, and would continue to serve that role until 1973. Under the guidance of this quiet titan came an extraordinary array of road and performance shapes, contributing significantly to a truly golden period for this manufacturer.

He himself was responsible for the most beautiful Mercedes ever; this factory-bodied 500/540K Roadster. Its flowing shape was the perfectly-balanced mid-point between France’s indulgences and Italy’s asceticism. Even barn-found years later, its shape does not diminish.

And Friedrich Geiger also drew the most iconic Mercedes ever – the gullwing.

Bottom right is the earliest concept sketch I could find, which to my half-trained eye looks to be by Geiger. Which of course is not enough evidence on its own. Both Bracq and Bruno Sacco were present at Mercedes-Benz back then (though Sacco only briefly), but they were fresh juniors.

Best I can make of it, the heckflosse shape is from Geiger’s hand.

He delivered at the front. In spades.

Nallinger’s call for a recognisable front ushered in the best face Daimler-Benz ever created, setting the template for a succession of models that would elicit instant recognition from even the most lay of observers.

The ovoid composite headlights – luscious eggs of polished white amber – had been introduced on the 300 SL roadster in 1957, and on the heckflosse they were combined with that distinctive upright grille style used since the 1930s. A masterful solution.

The US was not quite so lucky.

At the rear, the 220 S & SE were differentiated from the base 220 by the light units and a set of bumperettes complementing the main bumper. Sharper eyes would notice the chrome strip on the senior pair continuing along the top edge of the fin, whereas on the base model they served only as end pieces.

In profile, the W111 drew on the trapezium form emanating from the United States that was being introduced on cars such as the Peugeot 404 and Fiat 1800/2100. Both the Peugeot and Fiat bore the touch of Pininfarina, then at the top of the European styling game and the implied reference within Nallinger’s ‘Italian design’ brief.

With this trapezium styling trend, the belt line and lower edge of the body were in parallel, and the endcaps sat at opposing angles, demonstrated most starkly on the Fiat at bottom right.

The fins were first added to the body when it was discovered the gas-turbine/electric hybrid (mooted to replace the diesel) required extra directional stability.

Actually, this particular heckflosse is a crashtest car – giving proof to the ideas of Béla Barényi.

Béla Victor Karl Barényi was born in 1907 to mother from a wealthy society family and a father who taught mathematics and perspective drawing.

In 1924 he enrolled at the Vienna Engineering Institute and immediately began producing ideas from an intuitive imagination. On his retirement from Daimler-Benz, Barényi had amassed around 2000 patents.

His first employment stood in contrast to the rest of his career. In 1926, he began producing marketing renderings for Steyr. He displayed a deft hand at drawing – no doubt his father’s influence – but by 1934 Barényi was working as an engineer for Austro Fiat.

In 1937, Béla Barényi applied for and received patent number DBP 887.306 for a ‘Vehicle with Three Part Body Shell’.

In 1939, he was hired by Daimler-Benz.

Béla Barényi’s employment with Daimler-Benz was halted in 1946 due to the legal landscape in the immediate post-war Germany.

During this downtime, he further developed his three volume theme with the Terracruiser. This was a car theorised to be the size of a US sedan that incorporated elements of his growing interest in safety. The top example demonstrates the principle of crumple zones at either end of a rigid passenger compartment, and below it is another study addressing the issue of side intrusion.

He was reinstated in 1948, and took a position as Daimler-Benz’ first safety engineer within his university friend Karl Wilfert’s body engineering division. The perimeter sill reinforcements used on the ponton launched in 1952 incorporated elements of his thinking with regards side intrusion collisions.

Meanwhile, Barényi’s interest in the three volume safety configuration continued. He refined the concept with another patent granted in 1952.

And the concept found production form in the heckflosse.

However, his theories regarding the crumple-zone/rigid-cell were still just that.

Theories.

On the 10th of September 1959, Béla Barényi’s theories received real-world substantiation when Daimler-Benz carried out its first ever crash test.

Though crash testing had been conducted since the 1930s, Daimler Benz had previously used this process only to test components. This was the first time they had crash tested an entire vehicle, sending a heckflosse headlong into a stack of discarded press dies. After this single day’s work, the Daimler-Benz engineers took a few months to consider the results.

They returned to the makeshift Sindelfingen test area for three days in March and April of 1960 to extrapolate upon their findings with collisions against other vehicles and a rollover test guided by a corkscrew ramp.

Cars were initially propelled with a winch system used to launch gliders.

By 1962, this method had been replaced with a hot water rocket. That earlier image suggests the rocket was initially located inside the trunk, before being mounted on a single axle trailer behind the car. It was able to propel the vehicle up to 100 kmh, though occasionally the trailer would fail to brake leading to an inadvertent crushing of the trunk space.

The test facility rapidly evolved. The track was lengthened from 65 to 90 metres to accommodate the mighty W100 600 series. Makeshift single-seat sleds fabricated for Oskar the crashtest dummy were upscaled to take on a whole car body.

Though Daimler-Benz had not invented the crash test program, by the early 1960s they were setting the benchmarks.

On 11 April 1960 the press was invited to a crash test.

This was the first time the public had been present, and the opportunity was taken to promote the W111 as the first car built with deformable crumple zones at each end of a rigid passenger cell.

To this day, Daimler-Benz celebrates the heckflosse as thus.

However, in 2010 the Mercedes Benz Interest Group arranged a crash test of a ponton.

The test – held at the ADAC Technical Centre in Landsberg – was configured to the current EuroNCAP scheme, being a frontal offset collision into a deformable barrier at 64 kmh.

The ageing ponton body demonstrated quite conclusively the presence of a frontal crumple zone and rigid passenger cell.

An anomaly perhaps explained by events from back in 1924.

While still at college, Barényi had played around with the idea of a volkswagen, or people’s car. He had put to paper concepts of a low cost vehicle with a shell-like body inspired by the trailing edge stylings of Paul Jaray and a variety of drivetrain configurations. One rear-engined concept featured a central tube chassis, flat-four air-cooled engine and gearbox ahead of the transaxle.

During the 1930s and 40s, Barényi developed a name for himself in the press. Though it’s unclear exactly how news of his own volkswagen concept had spread, these rather disingenuous images no doubt added fuel to the speculation.

In the early 1950s, two books were published questioning claims that Barenyi had conceived a car with striking similarities to the Volkswagen Typ 1.

The first was ‘Porsche – The Way of an Age’ by Richard von Frankenberg (writing as Herbert A. Quint). Von Frankenberg ridiculed Barényi, accusing him of ‘falsely revising history for his own benefit’. In 1952, Barényi sued von Frankenberg and by 1955 the courts had found in Barényi’s favour. Though the courts acknowledged Barényi’s authorship of a car with similar configuration to the Beetle before anyone else had come up with the idea, they also specifically stated that Ferdinand Porsche had come to the same idea independently.

The second book was ‘Die Autostadt’ published in the early 1950s, in which author Horst Monnich had written an imaginary interview with Ferdinand Porsche around the conception of the Beetle. According to automotive historian Phil Carney, Monnich portrayed Barényi as ‘a strange juvenile dreamer seeking claim for something he did not deserve.’ Barényi sued and the case was settled, with all mention of him omitted from subesquent printings of the book.

Were Barényi’s contributions to Mercedes-Benz cars deliberately hidden from the public eye during this turbulent period in his life?

There’s more to consider.

In 1955 Fritz Nallinger, Rudolf Uhlenhaut and Karl Wilfert travelled to the US and visited the Ford crash test facility in Dearborn. They were astounded to discover that Ford was marketing its safety attributes so openly. The Ford effort would ultimately fail, which really goes to the general lack of understanding back then as to how to promote this crucial aspect.

The then-unproven principle of the crumple zone might have carried with it too much of an implied structural weakness – particularly with the unibody process itself still smarting from similar rumours a few years earlier.

It is entirely possible that in 1952 Daimler-Benz had simply not yet conceived a way to market safety to the public.

Daimler-Benz runs this image with the following caption;

Safety first: frame-floor system of the Mercedes-Benz W 120 series of 1952. Further development led to Béla Barényi’s patented safety cell.

Note the snake-like ridges in the floor. They don’t marry up with the perimeter sill reinforcements on the underplatform. I wonder whether they may in fact be a way of strengthening the structure and channelling impact energy.

From the same page comes this image with caption;

“Ponton” marriage: Chassis and body of a Mercedes-Benz saloon from the W 120 series are united in this photo, taken in 1953.

You can see underneath the snake-ridges are not present. Might the previous image have been a prototype, or would there be another skin obscuring the inner floor?

Though the extent to which the ponton used the crumple-zone/rigid cell principles is not clear, they do seem evident.

At any rate the cameras loved the heckflosse, and it gets the kudos.

The heckflosse was loaded with other safety features as well. The aforementioned increase in glass area greatly improved visibility, and ‘clap’ pattern windscreen wipers were introduced for more effective coverage.

Inside, it was first car to receive retractable seat belts – another M-B patent. The steering wheel received a padded boss with broad surfacing. The dash too was padded, with instruments and controls recessed. The internal door openers were also recessed, and window winders and vent controls made of flexible material. The door locks featured Barenyi’s safety pin configuration first seen in 1951.

The only thing that appears misguided is the vertical strip speedometer, not so practical when the traditional dial allows drivers to intuitively gauge speed at the briefest glance.

E. O. Probst, writing for the 1960 edition of Auto Universum, test drove a 220 S;

‘As a result of noteworthy changes and improvements in the chassis, road-holding qualities – already outstanding in the previous model – are now still better: the car keeps to its course rigidly and its behaviour in the curves would do credit to many a sports car. It has a slight tendency to understeer, but it is so perfectly balanced that, in extreme cases, a slight correction of the steering wheel is all that is necessary to keep the car in its tracks with hardly any perceptible side-motion at the rear.

What is most astounding is that designers were able to achieve such perfect road-holding qualities combined with a suspension which affords such a pleasing and comfortable ride on even the worst roads.

In conclusion, the Mercedes 220 S is in every respect – performance, safety, comfort and economy – one of the finest cars offered on the world market today.’

Its driving characteristics called out for competitive action. In 1960, Daimler-Benz entered three teams in the Monte Carlo Rally, and achieved an historic first, second and third. Privateers also entered the fray, and the heckflosse garnered 117 victories in that year alone as well as the 1960 European Rally Championship for factory drivers Walter Schock and Rolf Moll.

With all that rallying success, it was just a logical progression to place the gullwing racer’s 3-litre engine into a heckflosse for even better performance.

Truth is, while Daimler-Benz had tentively continued to enter rallying, they had officially withdrawn from competitive racing at the end of 1955.

The W112 300 SE was created as a stopgap of sorts between the outgoing Adenauer 300 sedan that finished production in 1961, and its yet-to-be-launched 600 replacement.

It was the precursor to the mythical 6.3 and 6.9 Q-ships, if not quite to the same magnitude.

I’ll let CCognoscento and 300 SE owner DefAmChris take the wheel;

This is the first alloy block motor made by M-B. The last 12 or so 300SL Roadsters also had alloy blocks on the same pattern. The engine block was 88 pounds lighter than the iron version. A complete M189 is very slightly lighter than the equivalent M127 if the M127 has air con and the M189 does not.

Engine made 160hp, but with appropriate changes (Gullwing pistons and camshaft) could be coaxed into making 225hp without too much drama and with complete reliability.

Mods for 300SE over Adenauer 300d (which is essentially the donor) were: alloy block over iron, two plunger mechanically governed injection pump instead of 6 plunger vacuum governed pump, many other adjustments to throttle linkage, fan etc. W112 engine has hydraulic clutch in fan hub, hydraulic engine idle speed adjust for full lock power steering, electronic adjust for idle when in gear.

The automatic they designed is interesting. Four speed at a time when two was common and three considered generous. Primary and secondary oil pumps mean the car can be push started. Mechanical governing as a function of engine vacuum was a new innovation at the time, and the electrical control was also to remain a novelty for more than 30 years on other makes.

It used about 2% of the engine output (down from the BW unit at about 10%) and this meant that top speed was only marginally lower. This is comparable to modern units. Uhlenhaut did a flying lap of the Nurburgring in an auto 230SL within 40 sec of the then current Ferrari road car…

But it was designed for the W112, and made it’s debut in that vehicle.

Air suspension was first used by MB on the W112, as a test bed for the upcoming 600 though the system is not the same. Air suspension pump was integral to the engine, and included a link into the lubrication system to supply the compressor. I’ve had people ask what modern suspension system I have in the W112 when they ride in it, as it is so far advanced over anything else 1962 had to offer, except perhaps the Citroen, although that system was quirky and didn’t do well with high speed cornering work: the W112 most definitely did.

So, in a nutshell, the W112 offered significantly better performance than the W111, used a lot more fuel (tank size was increased from 62 to 82 litres in 1963 for this reason), had better appointments inside (they are quite something) and offered an air suspension system that was unparalleled at the time for ride and handling, had better brakes (discs all round), a limited slip diff, anti-dive links on rear brakes that are astonishingly effective, anti roll bar on the back axle as well as the front and  a myriad of other interesting things that made it a far better car to drive than the W111.

I’ve owned both as everyday drivers.

That’s Chris’ W112 above – the Grey Goose.

Externally, the differences were mostly apparent in the application of chrome; a lengthwise strip along the side from stem to stern. It was also added over both wheelarches with the rear arch strip continuing along the bodycrease to the rear bumperette.

300 was an important number for Mercedes. The c-pillar vent received a little panel with a ‘300 SE’ callout and the decklid a (unique) thin box surrounding the type. It’s an excessive use of chromeware, even if not using the same trowel-size as the US.

With Q-ship status pending retrospectively, the 300 SE was a bit of a lost soul.

However, when the 600 series was launched in 1963 Daimler-Benz kept the 300 SE in production.

In fact, they even created a long wheel base version.

The 1963 300 SE lang (long) gave the chauffeur-driven W112 customer an extra 100 mm in rear cabin space.

There was no ‘L’ added to badge, so the quickest way to identify the 300 SE lang was by looking at the c-pillar. For some reason, the decoration and badging of the SWB 300 SE was dispensed with completely and replaced with a blank body coloured panel with discrete chrome trim. It still served as an airvent, with egress at the trailing edge. Note the optional curtains in the rear window.

Door window frames were now fully chromed as per the 600.

The standard 300 SE also got the new door frames. The engine for both was tweaked to 170 hp.

5202 normal and 1546 lang W112s were produced; a real gem of a find under any circumstances.

One reason for the W112’s lack of sales may have been that it looked too much like the bread-and-butter taxi body.

Daimler-Benz originally intended to replace the lower strata of the ponton range with a bespoke new body designated W122.

A number of styling prototypes have emerged, as shown bottom row. However, it was ultimately decided to use the heckflosse instead for the new base-model Mercedes-Benz, and the W122 program was cancelled.

The W110, launched in 1961, used the heckflosse body from the firewall back. The wheelbase was reduced by 50mm and the new front clip shorter by 145mm.

The mainstay of this range was the four-cylinder engine derived from the ponton models.

The diesel version proved especially popular, comprising more than 380,000 of the 630,000-odd W110s produced. Frugal, yes, but factor in the improved dynamics and you can see why taxi owners and drivers loved them.

The W110 was instantly identifiable by the absence of the senior models’ composite headlight arrangement.

Early versions had turning signals fender-mounted near the a-pillar with optional driving lights under the headlights. In 1965, the turning signals and driving lights were combined in the unit under the headlights.

At bottom is a curiosity in the 219 vein; it’s a 6 cyl 230 model. With that shortnose it is considered a W110, whereas the base 6 cyl 220 it replaced had the longer nose and was a W111.

Initially, the W110 used the same lovely catseye rear lights as the base W111 220.

In 1965, these lights were redesigned with squarer edging and more chrome strips added to the rear panel. The fins lost their chromed endcaps, which rather ironically added to the cost of W110 production as the body seams now had to be hand-finished.

At this point, a summation of the heckflosse range is in order.

W112: 300 SE (1961-65), 300 SE Lang (1963-65)
W111: 220 SE (1959-65), 220 S (1959-65), 220 (1959-65), 230 S (1965-68)
W110: 190 (1961-65), 190 D (1961-65), 200 (1965-68), 200 D (1965-68), 230 (1965-68)

In early 1965, a factory wagon was also offered. Though wagons, van and ambulances had been built on the ponton by various coachbuilders, the Universal was the first longroof to make the Mercedes-Benz family brochure.

It was built by IMA in Belgium, but production didn’t last long. Only around 2000 were built before bankruptcy afflicted IMA in late 1966.

Top of the range was the longnose 230 S, but the vast majority of Universals were W110 shortnosers. The works Sindlefingen sent partially built bodies which were finished with a much-admired and well engineered flat longroof panel.

The taillights looked like the cornerpieces from the senior saloons, but they were in fact bespoke – with a large amber lens and smaller clear lens set in the lower trim. The base offering was the blanked-out van, and only one pickup seems to have been made.

Both Binz and Miesen of Germany specialised in ambulances and funeral cars, and the heckflosse came to the aid with a variety of wheelbase lengths and roof heights. As to their rears, Miesen appear to have used the catseye’s whereas Binz tend to have a jerry-built cluster. I’m not sure whether the IMA cornerpieces were used by others after their demise.

The Peugeot 404 saloons fins were canted similarly to those on the heckflosse.

But on the Peugeot 404 wagon the cant was reversed similarly to those on the Cadillac Starlight. Lengthening the wagon’s body also helped but for me the difference between the two are almost night and day.

This was an opportunity missed for Mercedes.

You can see the difficulties involved with removing the fins in this Binz factory shot. For some reason, they considered it necessary to remove most of the skin at the rear of the car’s side, but they keep the perimeter as defined by the fin. It would have been too hard (and too laborious) to remove the fins and replace them with something as graceful.

There was this one heckflosse wagon, though.

Built by Jacques Coune of France, this one uses the sedan’s c-pillar for the wagon’s d-pillar. The steady arc of the roofline, the perfectly placed roofrack rail echoing that arc. The cavernous clamshell tailgate uses the sedan’s deep rear window and sits well at the end. The wicker pattern on the rear flanks is a nice touch. Despite the fins it works as a shape.

There was also a uberheckflossewagen – the Messwagen.

The Messwagen wasn’t based on the heckflosse, but on the Adenauer 300 limousine. The long roof body appears to have been designed and fabricated by the factory, with a more pronounced set of fins than the saloon and a greenhouse in blue.

It was built as a mobile laboratory for for Daimler-Benz, adding another crazy toy to the development program’s arsenal. In the front was the same 3 litre as the 300 SE and in the rear was cumbersome diagnostic equipment for speed, temperature, air-quality, power and torque. It analysed the signal running over the washing line from the car in front (or to the side).

Introduced in 1960, the Messwagen was immediately sent chasing heckflosse.

The Adenauer’s replacement might too have sprouted fins.

That’s a signed Paul Bracq sketch at top. When I first saw it I thought it was just a bit of a lark. Then I found this photo of a 600 prototype. Similar face, which gives legitimacy to the rest of the sketch. Possibly Packard-linked? Scary.

IMA also made a stretch sedan on the W110 body. No rival for either the Adenauer or the 600, this was for the taxi/airport runner market.

Yep, the fins are still there.

Even the coupe had fins.

Or at least Corgi thought so. This image is from the 1963/64 Corgi Toys catalogue announcing a new model in their range. Clearly Mercedes-Benz had not yet supplied images or plans, and the Corgi marketing people were left guessing.

That guess was a two-door, pllarless version of the sedan – roofline, fins and all.

Whereas the real coupe actually looked like this. Perfect.

CCognoscento and W111 coupe owner Ashley brings closer to the truth. He once wrote to Paul Bracq about the coupe and fins, and I’ve taken these words from his comment in another CC story;

‘The question about the W111 coupe concerned the absence of tail fins, given that the sedans had them. Apparently the original drafts of the coupe did have fins and – rather unusually – a grille derived from the SL series (ie the sports grille with the star in the grille, something they ended up doing in the 1980’s with the S class coupes). It appears that the reason behind deleting the fins was the feeling that buyers of the more luxurious (and more expensive) coupe models were a rather conservative lot – a case of “if in doubt go without”.’

The coupe was at the very least considered with fins by the factory. Top is a Bracq sketch, and below are two in the flesh exampless, maybe the same one. The finished car lower right is said to be an authentic styling prototype. Can’t say I miss those fins though.

To let Ashley continue;

‘As Mr Bracq pointed out, the fins are actually there on the coupe, but subdued and, thicker and rounded off. I have a W108 as well and side by side you can see that on the 111 coupe there are stubby fins, which are totally gone by the time of the 108. The cabriolet was developed off the coupe so the questions of fins on it never arose.’

Here we can see fins with a sharper crease up top.

This is a nice matching set. Both heckflosse saloon and targa/landaulet coupe wear the widemouth of the gullwing, a variation Bracq mentioned. This solution is remarkably successful on both cars.

In having the shorter stumpier fins, these really are the closest production effort to a pluckenhecklosse. But they have only two-doors, so they fall out of consideration for this piece.

Karl Wilfert tried to have the heckflosse’s fins removed.

Being the executive in charge of body engineering and styling for Daimler-Benz, he had considerable sway on the issue. But he came to his decision too late as the body tooling had already been made.

There was a false sighting of a proto-pluckenheckflosse.

Apart from what I’ve shown you already, there’s very little evidence of pre-production sketches and concepts for the heckflosse. It’s hard to know whether they considered the shape without fins as an alternative.

An otherwise distinguished book pointed to these drawings as an early proposal for the W111 program. But this isn’t W110, 111, or 112.

It’s W122. This shape was in fact one of the proposals for the still-born junior series.

And it’s a nifty little nugget, nicer than the heckflosse if a little stumpier. But no pluckenheckflosse.

This is the genuine and elusive pluckenheckflosse.

It’s a 300 SE body proposal, and with that rear door it looks like a lang.

The rear and roofline are cadged directly from the coupe, but the added height does the sedan no favours.

The main problem seems to be that the sedan lost its sharper roofline and c-pillar, and with that shallower fin treatment the whole shape loses the lightness of the heckflosse.

So what might the ideal pluckenheckflosse look like?

Here I’ve reversed the cant of the trailing edge (and slightly lengthened the trunk). To my eyes it looks much better, but too much like its eventual replacement.

At top I’ve added the Peugeot wagon’s tailights, and beneath I’ve stepped the trailing edge with a clean side.

This last one is probably my favourite option here.

 

There was a small run of pluckenheckflossen. Italian toy train manufacturer Lima built these HO-scale for inclusion on a car-transport carriage. Don’t know how many they produced, but there were two series. One had rolling brass discs for wheels, the other had fixed plastic tyres.

The shoulder line retains the crisp creasing of the real thing, but the line falls gracefully to the rear and is met with a stepped reverse-cant trailing edge.

I think it’s the nicest pluckenheckflosse ever made.

And, of course.

There are those for whom the heckflosse is perfect as is.

The next Mercedes also had heckflosse, but only for pretend.

The dummy fins disguised a new, larger range to replace the seniors, which arrived in 1965.
In 1968 a new, slightly smaller range pushed the remaining fintails out of production.

Both new cars were deeply indebted to the heckflosse.

I don’t know what Béla Barényi thought of the heckflosse’s fins, but I suspect he would not have been too impressed. Not so much for their aesthetics, but because of the hazard they presented to pedestrians.

In 1966 Barényi, along with Hans Scherenberg, codified the distinction between active and passive safety. Active safety concerned itself with operational driving safety of the vehicle. Passive safety had two factors; internal and external, and concerned itself with the protection of people, whether occupant or pedestrian. These concepts still apply today.

Béla Barényi retired from Daimler-Benz in 1972, just as their new soft-cornered pedestrian-friendlier cars were hitting the streets.

Thanks to Chris, Ashley, Jim, Brad and AVL for their contribution
and to Mr. Paul Niedermeyer for his gentle yet authoritative editorship.

Further Reading

Heckflosse.nl – My primary source
and the best online overview of all things heckflosse

Phil Carney’s superb article on the trials of Béla Barényi in the 1950s

Early Mercedes-Benz crash test footage

2010 Ponton crash test footage

Daimler Global Media page on the Ponton

AteUpWithMotor on the two-door W111/112

CC articles are linked within.