According to the most commonly understood history, Mercedes-Benz did not produce an estate car until the 1978 W123, of which the 280TE version remains a personal favourite of mine. Certainly, that’s what I thought. But, then I saw this – a 1966 Mercedes-Benz 230S Universal estate car, based on the W110 Fintail (or Heckflosse) saloon – surely the earliest Mercedes-Benz estate in the UK?
The Fintail was introduced in 1961, as the 190c and 190Dc with a 1.9 litre petrol or 2.0 litre diesel engines and were essentially W111 Fintail saloons with a 6” shorter nose to take the four cylinder engine and with a simpler, less luxurious interior. A key visual indicator of the W110 was the simple single headlamp front, rather than the distinctive twin stacked headlamp of the W111.
The estate car, known as the Universal or Kombi, was converted by the Belgian company IMA (Société Anonyme pour l’Importation de Moteurs et d’Automobiles, the Company for Importing Engines and Automobiles), who were an established assembler of Mercedes saloons for the European market. As the European Common Market (now European Union) grew and tariffs came down, such assembly became an unnecessary complication for Daimler-Benz.
Mercedes shipped a stripped saloon to Belgium, without a roof, but with self leveling suspension and larger 15” wheels. IMA then build up the estate bodywork on this base. The resulting car was the same length as the saloon, though a little taller and 200lb heavier. The rear lights were trimmed to an almost petite and delicate shape as well. The characterful and really rather wonderful dash was retained in full, even if the vertical speedometer was not a great success.
Such a process for creating an estate car was not unusual in Europe at this time – both Ford and Vauxhall worked in very similar ways on cars like the Zephyr/Zodiac, Cresta and early Victors for example. Of course, by 1968, the Volvo 145 and Peugeot 504 estates had taken the art to the next level, although Citroen had been there for some time, with the immortal DS Safari.
IMA also produced a Heckflosse Benelux – effectively a van version of the Universal – and also a few examples as pickups, possibly for the Australian market.