Several months ago we looked at the MB O6600H coach – Mercedes first rear-engined bus. It was a successful design, but due to its traditional body-on-frame construction was somewhat heavy and the separate chassis limited underfloor storage. Mercedes fixed these problems with the O321H, a similar-sized model, but constructed with a semi-monocoque stress-skin body. Built in two lengths and used in both urban transit and intercity roles, it went on to become one the company’s best selling buses of all time.
The Setra S8 was MB’s main competitor in the early to mid-1950’s and with its semi-monocoque body, was lighter, used a smaller engine, and subsequently had lower operating costs than the O6600H.
As a result, in 1954, Mercedes brought put the O321H – O for Ominbus, 321 being its company designator, and H for Heckmotor (rear). Dimensions were 9.2 meters long, 2.5 meters wide – with a seating capacity of 36 in nine rows.
The engine was a longitudinally rear-mounted OM 321 MB diesel, a 5.1 litre OHV six cylinder that put out 120 hp and 220 ft lbs of torque. Transmission was a Fichtel & Sachs five speed manual.
Operators asked MB for a larger model so in 1956 the O321HL (L=Lang or long) was introduced that was lengthened to 10.6 meters increasing seating to 45.
Styling remained the same for most of the model run, with a larger front windshield debuting in 1957 and longer panoramic style side windows that curved into the roof in 1961.
A larger 5.6 liter OM 322 engine came out in 1962, which increased hp to 138 and torque at 260 ft lbs.
The HL urban transit model could seat 36, with another 38 standing. The large “36” on the roof of the red bus, from Hamburg, designates the Route Number.
Assembly was at MB’s Mannheim plant which turned out fully constructed coaches and those in knocked down kit form for assembly in other markets. Some 11,000 kits were sent to MB’s Brazil Division for final assembly in-country.
They were a familiar sight throughout Europe and South America in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.
Total production when the line ended in 1970 was 29,586 which makes it one of MB’s most successful buses to date.
It’s replacement was the O302 introduced in 1965.
When it hasn’t those kopf-sizzling roof panels, it looks like a free-range tram, and a rather gormless one at that. But with them – and that red and black number is more the art of the glass-blower than the coachbuilder – they transform into a thoroughly stylish bubble of ’50’s future-tech.
We didn’t get them, still confined in stinky AEC’s and Leylands because convinced that British was Best, though I must say that if sold here, they’d have become the world’s first 38-seat microwave oven in summer. I’m admiring of the other Southern Hemisphericals who got them, such as Brazil, as it seems unlikely aircon would have been fitted back then.
Interesting post as always.
Smile of the day: “free-range tram”!
Wow, the bus in the first photo is EXACTLY the same one that often parks near my mum’s home in Alterlangen! I see it every time I visit my mum for the long weekend.
The ERH prefix on numberplate is Erlangen-Höchstadt county and V following three-letter prefix is often reserved for Werner Vogel company.
I love these, they are just beautiful and elegant. And those windows! The O302 speaks to me as well if not even more, there’s something I really like about those oval-ish headlights.
The paint jobs really remind me of old airliners more than anything else as well.
That first bus photo was taken at the Sinsheim Transport Museum, right?
I see Concorde in the background so yes, you are correct. I visited the museum a few years ago and was awestruck to board both Concorde and Tu-144 and compare the difference between capitalist and communist planes…
Correct, I visited just a few weeks ago. The walk up the aisle of the Concorde is quite difficult.
KJ in Oz
Those MB coaches surely were inspiration for the Volkswagen T1 Samba Bus. I also do vaguely remember another very small MB Bus which I always considered to be a cheeky copycat of the VW T1 Samba Bus, but now that I see those big ones, I see that I must be wrong.
The VW bus predates these, having come on the market in 1949-50. It looks as though MB borrowed VW’s headlight assemblies for them, at that – those glassed-over round headlights seem to have really gotten around Germany in the ’50s, and the exposed-lamp conversion with separate parking light lens in the fat part of the surround on the Brazilian bus in the video looks just like something sold, and frequently seen on show cars, in Hot VWs Magazine in the ’80s and ’90s,
The 23 window VW Type 2 was introduced in 1951.
GM RTS has transverse mounted rear engine and uses T drive to transfer power to transmission, I am not sure if GM New Look has T drive.
Yes both the New Look and RTS had a transverse engine layout, though some later versions of the RTS switched to “T” Drive when the GM 50/60 series engines became available. Jim.
Beautiful buses Jim. I appreciate that your articles are always chock full of pics.
If I was a tour operator using one of these then (or now), I’d probably be compelled to play this tune on the onboard stereo system. 🙂
Thanks Daniel – yes indeed – I can still remember it from 1968…
120 h.p. in a bus? Can it even go up a slight incline, unless it’s extremely low-geared? It is about the prettiest bus I’ve ever seen. I know nothing about buses. CC is starting to get me interested in them. Still not feeling the love for RVs yet. CC could probably make forklifts sexy. Guess there’s only so many fuselage, fox chassis and K cars to talk about. Great work to all the contributors here.
The RV’s are some of my favorite posts. I’ve just recently found that I have an obsession with the style of vintage motor homes. My favorites are ones from the 60’s and 70’s. And I really want a classic Vogue motor home! I can’t decide if they are genuinely beautiful, or just beautiful because they are so obnoxiously 70’s glam.
As a kid, I remember riding in these on summer visits with my Großeltern in Weißenhorn. Throughout college, my part time job was as a bus driver. When traffic was lighter, daydreaming made work-time go by faster. I used to imagine what my passengers would think if I could pull up to their stop in one of these high-style MBs rather than the GM old look I actually drove.
Nice pics indeed… Message in a bottle: I am looking for a front windshield (2 pcs) for a 1957 Mercedes O321H restoration project, in case someone has any idea, contact ? Clubs, other owners, museums, parts suppliers ? Thanks in advance… If we can’t find any, then we’ll launch a refabrication, but then we’ll need volumes…