(first posted 8/18/2015) With Mercedes’ recent steps downmarket in North America, there has been talk about whether they are sacrificing their prestige in the search for greater volume and market share. Europeans would be very familiar with Mercedes-Benz vehicles used as taxis and fleet vehicles, as well as their truck and van models. The Sprinter, for example, is a high-quality and popular offering that has recently been making inroads in the North American market. From 1995 until 2004, Mercedes sold a less compelling van offering in Asia-Pacific, African and Caribbean markets. This is the Mercedes-Benz MB100/MB140, a front-wheel-drive, forward-control van wearing a Mercedes badge and powered by Mercedes engines. This was no Mercedes, though. It was a Korean-built Ssangyong.
Also known as the Ssangyong Istana – Malaysian for “palace” – the Mercedes MB100/140 competed with other forward-control Asian vans like the Toyota Hiace and Mitsubishi Express. Passenger versions were available in Asian and Caribbean markets, seating up to 15.
Top: 1981-95 MB100 (Photo courtesy of Rudolf Stricker). Bottom: 1996-2003 Vito
Finding information on these vans proved to be difficult. Confusingly, Mercedes used the same name on an entirely different line of front-wheel-drive vans built by Mercedes-Benz España. These boxy vans were derived from the old DKW Schnellaster, which dated back to 1949. The Spanish MB100 was sold in Europe until 1995 before being replaced by Mercedes’ Vito, which was developed from scratch but also manufactured in Spain.
Mercedes-Benz’s relationship with Ssangyong often seems peculiar to those unfamiliar with the Korean brand. Their strategic partnership was formed in 1991: Ssangyong received Mercedes engines for their SUVs, and Mercedes received light commercial vehicles. Daewoo acquired Ssangyong in 1998, but Mercedes maintained its agreements. Daewoo would eventually sell Ssangyong in 2000, and it has swapped hands a couple of times since.
Because of the Daewoo connection, the MB100/140 was also briefly marketed as the Daewoo Istana. The Mercedes, Daewoo and Ssangyong-badged vans received a choice of Mercedes-sourced 2.2 four-cylinder petrol or 2.9 five-cylinder diesel engines. The 2.2 produced 130 hp and 134 ft-lbs while the diesel had similar torque numbers but more grunt available down low. The only transmission available was a five-speed manual.
The general consensus was these vans were entirely adequate and no worse than their chief competition. They offered a budget entry to the Mercedes-Benz commercial range and helped expand the brand’s presence in the segment throughout the world, but they were not an authentic Mercedes like the Vito. Still, should the Mercedes name have been affixed to a van no better than a Mitsubishi Express? Should the pointed star have ever been placed on a Korean-built Ssangyong?
What?! SsangYong produce a Mercedes-Benz minivan?! Bullshit! I can see Mercedes-Benz offering minivan, but having SsangYong produce the vehicle? That’s a laugh! I would prefer to have a Mercedes-Benz produce a Mercedes-Benz minivan, or at least have Volkswagen produce Mercedes-Benz minivan, since they wrote the book on it, having produced the Transporter since 1950.
Lucky you! The first-generation Mercedes-Benz Vito pictured in the article was a restyled Volkswagen Transporter T4 with some Mercedes engines. You could even get it with a VR6. The second generation Vito was an in-house Mercedes design.
I agree. Even if it was based on the VW LT models, sounds like a better choice than SsangYong, or anyone from Asia. I mean, come on! Mercedes-Benz is a *German car!* Would you want a German logo, like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, or even Volkswagen slapped on a cheaply built car from Asia, least of all Korea? I know I wouldn’t. That’d be a disgrace to the German name. This isn’t being racist here, this is using common sense.
Kind of like how VW slapped their brand on the Town & Country (Routan)?
I was thinking the same thing. 🙂
Is that what the VW Routan is? A Chrysler T&C minivan?
That’s exactly what the Routan is. A T&C with a VW badge and slightly better interior finishes. Unless I’m mistaken, it even uses the same 3.6 Pentastar engine as the T&C. So this MB140 is more of a Mercedes than the Routan is a VW.
I wonder when Daimler starts slapping the star on Freightliner trucks, Mitsubishi-Fuso trucks and buses and Detroit powertrains.
Are we talking about the same Mercedes Vito here ? The first gen, introduced in 1996, the W638 series ? (the red van in the article)
Never heard of any Mercedes / Volkswagen van-connection, other than the much bigger and later Mercedes Sprinter / Volkswagen Crafter. The Volkswagen VR6 engine was available in the first gen Vito, that’s right.
The Italian Wikipedia article on the W638 indicates the vehicle used VW Transporter mechanicals, explaining the availability of the VR6. The available Westfalia conversion is also suggestive of a VW connection. Early Vitos’ catastrophic corrosion problems would suggest that Mercedes was responsible for the bodywork, though. Here in salt country, Sprinters are famous for awful rust issues, and it appears that owners of the first two generations of Vito vans have had similar complaints.
There’s no 1990 Volkswagen T4 – 1996 Mercedes Vito connection, other than VW’s VR6 engine.
There’s a comprehensive comment further below (by GreenManedLion).
You can get a Westfalia camper conversion on a Ford Transit, among others.
SsangYong had strong relationship with Mercedes, engines, transmissions and Chairman (which is rarer than Ferraris or Lamborghinis 😉
I wanted to say just the same thing. Not a surprise at all, because Ssang-Yong relies on its Mercedes-Benz connection quite heavily for advertising purpose.
In the 1990s, S-Y was essentially a M-B assembly plant, they produced face-lifted W124s, Mercedes heavy trucks and buses – so this van isn’t all that different from the Mercedes-Benz España S.A. produced Type 631 MB100 which is also shown in the article. There’s another one parked in my neighborhood, by the way – it was meant to be a last minute addition to my recent “Still hard at work”, but I thought the photo was too bad
I reckon that’s one good thing. It just seems crazy that a German car company would work with a car company from another country to produce that country’s cars. Then again, maybe not. For a while, Mercedes-Benz produces(ed) the Sprinter, which many American makes used for their vehicles. Dodge used the Sprinter. Freightliner used the Sprinter. Who else used the Sprinter?
Do you realize that Mercedes (Daimler) used to own Dodge (Chrysler) and still owns Freightliner? Perfectly natural to fill a gap with the existing product if it works for both ends.
Call me naive, but I heard that the Daimler-Chrysler merger didn’t go very well. While their products were of good quality, Chrysler didn’t do very well under the merger.
I visited Germany 10 years ago and was surprised to see that, in its home market, Mercedes is basically like Chevrolet is in North America. Consequently, not much surprises me anymore when it comes to the global automotive landscape.
Another van that got a Mercedes star. In the sixties the Tempo Matador evolved into the Hanomag F20/25/30/35 series. In the late sixties Hanomag and Henschel merged. In 1970 Mercedes took over Hanomag-Henschel, and those rugged and excellent light vans became Mercedes vans, like the 206D below.
Its successor in 1977 was the renowned and unkillable Mercedes T1, aka the “Bremer Transporter”.
Nice, William. I’ll say the Mercedes-Benz Transporter T1N (not this one, but which you referenced) is disconcertingly downmarket for an MB, and the featured vehicle even moreso.
My big problem with the Transporter is that most of them I’ve seen that can’t be older than, say, 5 years old, have incredible amounts of rust on them – just like the Dodge Sprinters based on the same design.
For what they cost, and for an ostensibly luxury marque like M-B, it’s always a jolt to see a rust-bucket Transporter chugging along some Chicago street with so much cancer on the doors that there are bungee-cords holding them shut. Argh!
The featured MB100 / MB140 isn’t ugly, but it isn’t typically Mercedes-pretty, either.
As I scrolled down to the pictures, my 1st thought was “typical Asian van”. These look like they could be built anywhere in the Far East.
As far as the M-B “slapped on a Korean vehicle”….the mechanicals are almost all Mercedes so this isn’t like the VW Routan-badged Chrysler Town and Country.
Finally, while Vito has many translations, when I think Vito, I think. “Hey, Vitto”. Perhaps they should change the name to Heinrich? (Sorry, lame joke/idea.)
Vito comes from Vitoria-Gasteiz in Spain, where it was built.
The mechanicals are SsangYong built under licence from Mercedes, no actual German parts are used so its exactly like VW slapping a badge on a Chrysler or Chevrolet slapping its bowtie and Cruz badge on Suzukis or Honda slapping its badge on Mazdas or ……………………..
If manufacturer A is building a vehicle “under license” from manufacturer B, I concede it’s not exactly like you are getting B’s vehicle at a discount. But by the same token, B wants to protect it’s rep so it doesn’t just “give away” it’s parts blueprints.
And I guess that it is somehow like the Chevy Spark even though all Chevy supplies for the Spark is the “bow tie” on the front and back?
By that “logic”, most of the cars built in Asia prior to 1965 (built under license) are really just badge-engineered Austins and Fords.
The Vito in the second picture actually manages to look like a proper Mercedes, the styling looks like a flat fronted version of the T1 “Bremen” from the 80s
It was actually built from 1977 to 1995. Quality-wise it was head and shoulders above all its competitors. It’s still widely used by scrap metal dealers and the like.
Confusingly, Mercedes used the same name on an entirely different line of front-wheel-drive vans built by Mercedes-Benz España.
Yep, the MB100 (née DKW) was built initially only for the Iberian Peninsula, but was exported again late in its life. Essentially, the DKW van went home again. It had a new body but the same setup, the driver sitting ahead of the front wheels. For that reason, it became reasonably popular even while outdated. From ’96 on, that factory built Vitos.
The Ssangyong version was, however, not different from the Spanish vans at all; MB sent the tooling to South Korea to have them built there. Besides other engines and some visual tweaks, they are the same vans built by Mercedes-Benz España.
I was a fan when the JN companies were sending vans like that over here. Hyundai and Kia have made me a believer that Korea can make good vehicles. I think one of these would be great and a light trailer handles the really dirty work.
I saw a SY pickup that got lost over here and think it was here on CC. After long believing that they stopped making good vehicles when they added all the smog control in 1968, I can’t wait to see what’s coming out next. Wish Toyota would do something like that on a Tacoma chassis.
“Cheaply built”, what a prejudice. Korea has shown they can make cars as good as anyone else.
Have you seen this? The Ssangyong Musso wore a Mercedes star in some countries,
I feel like I’ve stepped into another universe.
I buy genuine PSA parts from China, why? because they are cheaper and quicker than getting the identical part from France, Labour costs are lower so stuff is cheaper,
Yep, this was a not uncommon sight around the wealthier suburbs in Melbourne before MB brought their own SUVs into Australia. They didn’t have the MB star but because they were known to be powered by MB they had sufficient cachet amongst those who didn’t want a Range Rover or Land Cruiser.
I was going to say, they were sold with Ssangyong badges, but some owners fitted the 3-pointed star instead. Often they left the Musso badge with its stylised rhino horn on the rear, which would give the game away to people used to 240/320/420 etc M-B model badging.
Fascinating. I’ve seen pictures of the SsangYong Musso, but because they were never sold in the USA, I’ve never seen one in person.
I’ve never seen a SsangYong Musso.
I’ve also never seen one in person but I’ve read about them here and there. From what I can remember, they were well-regarded as a rugged, “old school” SUV that had M-B power.
While not a looker, the car below certainly wasn’t a bad vehicle mechanically – all Mercedes. Given the price, it’s the most Benz for your buck you’ll ever get.
Lord won’t you buy me…oh, never mind.
Lol, comment of the week 🙂
Interesting piece. The 1981 MB100 is new to me and I like its blockiness. The 1996 Vito is still a fantastic piece of styling, on par with the Renault Espace in the ‘one-box’ pantheon.
You see? They do make Mercedes for working class people.
I like that. I’ve always liked Mercedes-Benz cars, but there’s no way in hell I could afford a brand new Mercedes-Benz.
Fascinating. But this vehicle beginnings can’t really be the DKW Schnellaster, as that van was smaller and had its front axle located in the very front, ahead of the driver’s area. It was all-round smaller, cruder, and more primitive.
Certain limited aspects of the Schnellaster design might have directly indluenced the F100L, but I can’t by the notion (as stated in wikipedia) that it was an evolution of the Schnellaster. Its architecture and dimensions just seem too different.
For those who are interested, here’s an overview (with pictures) of the Mercedes vans and light trucks since the fifties:
Oodles of these here in New Zealand, although I think ours were all the 5-cylinder MB140. We got several versions, from a base model with an unlined and windowless rear compartment to a multi-seater with factory aircon in the back. I remember investigating them when they first came out with a view to them replacing our company Mazda E2000 vans. The engine being mounted up the front resulted in superb cupholders on the engine-cover but said engine-cover made it difficult to get from the front seats into the rear, and it had an incredibly front-heavy feel – like any over-zealous braking would stand it on its nose. Ultimately my employer replaced the E2000s with Mitsubishi L400 vans; I wasn’t disappointed.
So that explains why those vans ‘shackled out’ after a couple of years in the local taxi and minibus fleets. I honestly thought they had come from South America; I wasn’t aware of the Ssangyong connection. Those Musso SUVs were hideous and despite the Mercedes engines, they didn’t hold up very well either.