Vintage Ad: 1937 Mercedes-Benz 170-H — I Had No Idea They Sold These In The US

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.