Curbside Classic: 1970 Mercedes-Benz 220D – Ride In Teutonic Luxury (With 65 HP)

(first posted 4/6/2012)    The Mercedes W114/W115 ‘New Generation’ was the continuation of Mercedes’ new styling direction for the Sixties, which began with the finless 220SEb coupe and cabriolet in 1961 and the S Class in 1965. The new 200 series brought the new design language to their most attainable range of cars, including the Diesel models.

When the W111 fintail was introduced in 1959, replacing the venerable Ponton, the sedan versions sported some very un-Mercedeslike fins on the back. The coupe and cabriolet, however, had much more conservative styling, replacing the fins with a gently sloped rear deck that would be used as a template for the W108 ‘Super’ that would replace the top-of-the-line W111 in 1965.

While the flossy 250S, 280S and 300SEs now wore the subtle, elegant lines of the W108 chassis, the lower end gas and diesel fintails continued – until 1968. While some may consider these cars bland, they are one of my favorite Mercedes-Benzes. These understated cars with their bulletproof mechanicals and remarkable quality lured many Imperial, Cadillac and Lincoln owners into Mercedes dealerships in the late ’60s and early ’70s – as related in Paul’s W108 article.

The New Generation class, or W114/W115, was introduced for 1968. All versions used the same body. W114s had a variety of six-cylinder gasoline engines, while the W115 used four-cylinder diesels, five-cylinder diesels or four-cylinder gas powerplants. Diesel models initially included the 200D and our featured car, the 220D. The 220D was the fancier version of the diesel and had more standard features. The 2197 cc OHC engine used Bosch 4-plunger fuel injection and a 5-main bearing crankshaft.

New safety features included a collapsible steering column, padded instrument panel, breakaway rear view mirror and seatback locks as standard. The 13″ wheels of the outgoing fintails were replaced with 14 inchers. Wheelbases increased by two inches to 108.3, while the track narrowed slightly. Dual-circuit four-wheel disc brakes (as introduced about the same time on the Volvo 140) were an important new standard feature. And the rear swing axles, a Mercedes feature for years, were finally replaced with an all-new semi-trailing arm rear suspension.

But we’re focusing on the diesel, aren’t we? The W115 was intended for middle-class folks (in Europe, at least) who wanted a solid, unpretentious car for daily use. While captains of industry were buying leather and wood-trimmed 300SEL 6.3s, the accountants and shopkeepers were perfectly content with a 230 or 220D with M-B Tex vinyl and matte plastic trim. These cars were also highly desirable for taxi service. 200D’s were pretty common taxis at the time – and with their reliable service and high assembly quality, performed quite well.

In the US, though, this was seen as the cheapest way to get into a Mercedes, especially in ‘hey look at me’ LA. Yes, you probably got more looks in a 220D than a Corona, Montego or Cutlass Supreme, but you better not be running late for anything. The 220D produced just 65 hp at 4200 rpm, with 96 lb ft of torque. Add a sunny climate and A/C, and you would arrive in style – as long as you had an early start. This was not a hot rod, its function was good fuel economy and reliable service, and in that capacity, it more than delivered. But it must have hurt when a 220D owner got passed on the expressway by a Vega or Pinto. How embarrassing!

Changes to the W115 were relatively minor through the years. In 1972, the long-familiar two-spoke Mercedes steering wheel with chrome horn ring, was replaced with a padded four-spoke ‘safety’ version. In 1973, the 240D joined the 200D and 220D. It featured the new Federal ‘battering ram’ bumpers due to the new 5 mph bumper requirement. Under the hood was a new 2376 cc engine, still with 65 horsepower though. Zero to 100 km/h came in a leisurely 24.6 seconds. In 1975 a 300D was added, and it had a new five-cylinder diesel engine. It was also more luxurious than the 220D and 240D, with standard air conditioning and automatic transmission – items that were optional on the 220D. The 240D would continue to the end of the W115 generation in 1976 and continue on in the replacement W123 Mercedes.

The W108 and these W114/W115s led the way in Mercedes’ new post-fin look. In modified form, the styling would last all the way to the last W126s in 1991. While the simple lines may have been somewhat bland when new, they proved to be timeless, as this spotless 220D Paul found clearly shows. And you’ve got to love those color-coordinated wheel covers!