This was unexpected; I knew that some very high end Mercedes were sold in the US in the prewar era, as they were glamorous and very exclusive. But a 170-H? That’s the rear engine, swing axle car that ended up not selling well in Germany, as well as sometimes ending up in the ditch, as its cast-iron inline four hanging out the back made for quite twitchy handling at the limit with its swing axles.
And then there’s its price: some $2000. That’s about what a Cadillac 60 Special went for in 1940.
Here’s another ad that shows the wider range of models available (“starting at $2000). It’s in “The Spur – A Magazine Of The Good Things In Life”.
In case you didn’t know it, Mercedes-Benz was the biggest pioneer of rear engine cars, not Tatra or VW. Prior to the Merger of Mercede and Benz in 1926, Benz had bought the rights to Rumpler’s mid-rear engine Tropfenwagen patents, and built the first viable racing car based on it in 1923. And after the merger, and after Porsche left as Director of Engineering, former Benz Engineering Director Hans Niebel continued his interest in rear engine cars and built this prototype of a small rear engine car with with an air-cooled flat four in back in 1931, well before Tatra or VW.
That led to the production 130-H (“H” is for “Heckmotor”, rear-engine) in 1934, but with a water-cooled inline four. It was replaced by the 170-H in 1936.
But as I said at the top, the decision to use Mercedes’ existing cast-iron inline four exacerbated the rear weight bias, and handling at the limits was tricky, not surprisingly. And Mercedes’ clientele was conservative, so the conventional front-engine RWD 170 with its long hood and traditional radiator grille vastly outsold it. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t show the conventional 170 in their ad; might have been a better look for Americans.
There is a Mercedes plant near where I live. There is a small museum for visitors which has a few old Mercedes cars and pictures of Mercedes cars and trucks through the years. Curiously, between 1933 and 1945 there are no records or pictures at all. This era never happened. I thought they made some large limos for the big shots. Maybe I was mistaken.
That is interesting, because in Germany people are well acquainted with the NS period. History museums in Germany go into the period in great detail.
In Japan, however, the 1930-1945 period is simply never discussed.
Can confirm…they certainly do. And usually make very clear that Hitler. wasn’t actually elected by the people but appointed. Hitler (and his party) lost the ’32 election to 80-something year old incumbent Hindenburg whom voters weren’t enthralled with either but was considered a safer (saner?) choice than Hitler. Hindenburg eventually appointed Hitler as Chancellor in ’33 and upon Hindenburg’s death soon after he pretty much just assumed the presidency as well. They don’t tend to sugarcoat much about it as far as I could see, but rather want the world to see what can happen when people live in fear and do vile things in order to survive themselves. History does repeat itself and the world is running out of people who were actually there at the time to witness.
VW doesn’t spend any time in their Wolfsburg factory museum on their founding either though although it too is well discussed in multiple other arenas dealing with the war itself. The Beetle just kind of appeared one fine spring day…
Germans can’t sugarcoat it because history is always written by the victors. Had Operation Barbarossa succeeded, no doubt the the Holodomor and all of Stalin’s other atrocities be reviled as is the Holocaust today. The same holds true for Mao, Franco, Perón, Pol Pot, Johnson, etc.
Not exactly, some nations faced up to the horrors they foisted on the world (Germany comes to mind) and some didn’t (Japan for example). Both lost and both were occupied by the USA so it’s something else. The Soviet Union of course was one of the victors so there your claim makes sense, as their continuance which is Russia never made amends for its evils. Which it continues to this day.
Since this is CC, the prototype M-B looks a lot like the Tatra and early Beetle other than the odd duck-tail back. Wonder if there were mechanicals back there or a styling decision?
It’s interesting that they mention the availability of the 260 D. I’ve never been able to find a video of it, I’m very curious as to the starting procedures and such. I don’t think anybody would buy such an expensive car in the US as the Type 230 and anchor it with a Diesel then.
Why would it start differently than other diesels? Glow plugs first, then hit the starter.
Of course, this raises the question: How many did they actually sell?
1? 2? As many as 5?
Question #2: Assuming there’s a answer to the above, did one of them survive over here?
Many years ago in a library I found an old almanac that listed, among many other things, the total number of cars imported to the US per year in the late ’30s. It was in the low hundreds per year, a small enough number that the almanac felt the need to point out it included only new cars imported for sale.
I, too, know almost nothing about pre-war imported cars, except at the very high end. I kind of suspect that in the period, American cars were pretty much the most highly regarded worldwide, so I can’t imagine many ordinary folks saw any benefit to an imported car.
I imagine the “low hundreds” that nlpnt saw a record of were super-high-end stuff, perhaps Jaguar, Rolls (whose American factory closed in the late 20s iirc), maybe some of the fancy French brands, and a handful of big Mercedes.
Fiat at least sold some number of its Topolinos (Topolini?) in the late ’30s in the US. There was a shop in Dallas that was, nominally at least, a Fiat dealership.
I figure they would’ve been mainly used in and around New York and Hollywood and outside those places you’d never see one. Something like the 170H featured here might also be bought by the domestic automakers who were certainly experimenting with rear-engine designs in this period even if they never brought one to production (except for GM 20 years later).
While it’s one thing to offer a car brand or model for sale, that’s no guarantee the vehicle will sell in a specific market. For example, in the late 1980s when I was working down in Barbados managing the creation of a $10 million vacation rental villa, I visited the car dealerships in the main city of Bridgetown. Only the cheapest cars like 3 cylinder Suzuki sedans were available in stock, for immediate delivery. The slightly more expensive cars had to be ordered and flown in from Florida. In this case, with Barbados. Mercedes didn’t even have a showroom.
I’ve owned more than a few cars that had Vanden Plas coachbuilt bodies, and I know that the Rolls-Royce & Bentley dealer in New York City, known as Inskips, also offered the big Austin Princess limousines from 1957 to 1963, as well as attempting to sell 2 LHD 1958 Princess Mark IV saloons, without success. Both cars ended up being exported in 1960 to France. [BMIHT archive records]
I would be amazed to see evidence even one 170-H Mercedes even made it to the US shores, much less actually sell here. Years ago when I had a couple of DKW vehicles [a 3=6 2-door, a SP 1000 Bauer coupe, and a Munga 4X4] I was buying spare parts from a company in south America, and the guy in charge told me when DKW pulled out of the USA, cars not sold to [or already ordered by] DKW dealers, were shipped back out to Mexico and points south, arriving at ports with US spec lights and MPH speedometer. .
Yeah, it’s always possible a few 170-H cars made it to the M-B New York City dealership, However I used to work with a man here in Maryland who sold NOS and used pre-war M-B spare parts [as well as post-war]. We once joked about the rear engined M-B cars, and he assured me none had made it to the USA. When he died I was asked to appraise both his massive M-B car collection, as well as a huge warehouse of early M-B spare parts. I am sure there were no 170-H spare parts in his inventory, as I poured over the parts lists by model number without finding anything on the 170-H. Hell, he didn’t even have any pre-war 170 front engined parts [unless they happen to fit the post-war cars.] At about the same time, I was working on a 1936 M-B 320 sedan, so I was looking at anything M-B prewar that might fit.
That said, I am surprised to see an advert mentioning such a small M-B car in America, especially when M-B of NYC was trying to position their vehicles to compete with cars like Packard, Cadillac, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and Daimler. At $2,000, that little 170-H was twice the price of an 8 cylinder Packard 120.
So Porsche worked for Mercedes Benz until 1929, and the air-cooled flat four prototype appeared in 1931. I wonder how much of it was his work?
None. This was the doing of Hans Niebel, who was very taken by rear engines before Porsche was. I forgot to mention that it was Benz, not Daimler (pre merger) that bought the rights to the Tropfenwagen, and these rear engine cars were a Benz project prior to their merger in 1926, when Niebel then had to work under Porsche for a few years until Porsche left. Then he revived his work on rear engine cars with that little sedan in 1931.
Porsche at that time was not yet convinced of the benefits of rear/mid engines.
Not unusual to see an obscure foreign car advertised for sale in the United States, and yet no one ever remembers seeing even one in their lifetime. Add to the confusion, there are American cars that sold thousands, and yet we never see those either!
The company that used Rumpler’ s Tropfenwagen patents was Benz, before they merged with Daimler AG in 1926 to produce Mercedes-Benz cars. Surely Porsche had enough time to examine those Benz RH racing cars from 1925.
He did, but was not convinced of their superiority yet, at least according to the sources I have. But when he built the first Auto Union racing car in 1934, it very much had the same format as Benz’ Tropfenwagen racing car.
Another fascinating bit of history .
Sorry for the duplicate mention. Hans Nibel was the name. And Porsche probably took some lessons for its 1934 rear engined Auto Uninon racers.
True. I’ve amended the text to clarify that.
According to legend, Porsche and Hitler were at the same 1925 race where the Benz Tropfenwagen race car made an impression on them both.
But that car was underpowered, which is why Porsche stuck with the big supercharged SSK/SSKL for the few years he was director of engineering at the merged M-B.
Great history! I do not remember seeing one of these rolling around New York City post-WWII.
If any of these (or any of the other M-B models) were sold in the U.S., I very much doubt ANY of them were driven or even visible on public roads after 1941, and they were probably scrapped at the first opportunity.
I mean, if any survived at all, I would expect them to have been owned by some Nazi sympathizer (or possibly a clueless nincompoop) who was somehow able to keep them garaged and out-of-sight until when? the mid-1950’s?
That is why I’m guessing none that were originally sold in North America survived a World War 2 scrap drive.
Ive never seen even a picture of this 170H I read about them somewhere probably here but thats it, interesting that this appeared the same year Andre Citroen put his powertrain in the front of his cars.
You can certainly see the Beetle in this car. Look at the chassis that holds the rear mounted cast iron engine. Porsche was always about making things lighter in weight and thus developed the alloy aircooled power plant. Hitler wanted a really affordable car for the masses and pressed Porsche to develope one. The aircooled engine was also a lower certer of gravity and lighter.
I thought of the same thing. Who knows if the 170-H could have been the Love Bug instead of the VW Beetle?
Paul, you may not have known these were sold in the US, but I had no idea Mercedes-Benz had even made rear-engined cars – if this had been posted a few days ago on 1 April, I wouldn’t have believed it!