CC Capsule: 1963 Mercedes-Benz 220SE (W111) – Just A Bit Of Fin

Can you believe there hasn’t been a proper long-form CC post about the 220 Fintail? We’ve virtually had the entire W110/W111 roster, be it the 230S or the 200 saloon, the glamorous two-door variants, the elusive wagon. Yours truly even scored a rare W112. But the gold standard of the family, the 6-cyl. saloon that started it all, has eluded CC so far. Well, this example was a little too cramped to allow itself to be photographed extensively. And I’m holding out for a black one – they look so much better in black. So the post will be more of a collection of musings.

I found this unregistered Benz sitting on the forecourt of a Geneva garage back in August. I imagine there would have been many in that part of the world back in the ‘60s. There is something so quintessentially Cold War about these, with a strange mix of upright and louche as well. I bet they were very popular in places like Switzerland, with its rather large potential clientele of bankers, doctors, lawyers, attachés and other shady characters.

This is a black and white car. Well, this one is white, but what I mean is it’s not a technicolour ‘60s car like the Citroën DS or the Rover P6. It’s a background character to a Checkpoint Charlie in the cold morning fog kind of scene. A little bit staid, a little bit sinister, but also very familiar.

The front end is even more familiar to those of us of a certain age. The framing of that big grille with a pair of big headlights, whether composite like here or the stacked quads used on other models or in other markets, became the definitive Benz face for the ‘60s and ‘70s. The W108/109 kept if pretty much unchanged, the W114/115 spread it to the 4-cyl. end of the range and the 600 limo hoisted it to the very top of world luxury. It’s the very definition of iconic. So much so that cars that use a similar design language, such as Facel-Vegas, get mistaken for Mercedes-Benzes by non-enthusiasts all the time.

I remember peering into Fintails as a kid and being completely mesmerized by the vertical speedo. It looked more like a thermometer than a way to measure speed. Honestly, I’m still pretty fascinated by it, but the point of it still escapes me. Originality for originality’s sake, or were the (usually none too frivolous) folks at Daimler-Benz on to something?

The famous fins are also a source of controversy, but to my eyes, they’re pretty tame and work well with the rest of the car. What I find more objectionable is how heavy-handed they were with the chrome – not so much the strips lining the fins as the great chunks of brightwork around the taillights. The W110’s far simpler design looks better, in my view.

I’ve sadly never had the occasion to even ride in one of these beauties, unlike the W108/109. And I guess the W108/109, with its cleaner lines, more powerful engines and less quirky (but still wonderful) interior will always be the best classic Benz four-door as fas as I’m concerned. But there wouldn’t be a W108/109 without the Fintail. And what would all those colourless Cold War spies and shadowy neutral diplomats have used for transport if it hadn’t been there for them?


Related posts:


CC For Sale: 1967 Mercedes 230S – Not Cheap Then, Not Cheap Now, by PN

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

Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1961 Mercedes 220 SE – “It’s Easy To Understand Why So Many Cadillac Owners Are Switching To This Car”, by PN