I was in southern France a few months ago when I caught this “Mercedes 306 D” pickup. I said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t know the first thing about trucks. But I do know an interesting one when I see one. This one sort of rang a very faint bell, but I don’t think I’d ever seen one in my adult life. The Mercedes grille was tacked on to something decidedly non-Stuttgart, that was for sure.
I investigated the interior, which confirmed my suspicions. No Daimler-Benz designer ever made anything like this. The switchgear looked odd too, though I couldn’t really tell why, not having really looked at other Benz trucks of the period. It took me a few seconds (thank you, modern technology, and thank you, Mr Neidermeyer for this essential CC post about Tempo’s incredibly interesting history) to understand that these trucks were originally called Hanomag-Henschel and built in the old Tempo factory. But it took me a little longer to work out the details. So for the benefit of ignerts like me, here’s what I learned about this Harburger Transporter thing.
It is known as the Harburger Transporter most probably because it transports and was conceived in Harburg, a borough of Hamburg. The first Harburger Transporter was launched in 1949 as the Tempo Matador by Vidal & Sohn. It was a low-slung FWD cab-over-engine design, originally powered by a VW flat-4. After 1952, Heinkel engines were used, but proved problematic; Matador sales dropped precipitously. The Matador was the larger model in the Tempo range, which also included the Boy and Hanseat trikes and, from 1953, a 2-cyl. 500cc microvan called the Wiking. Vidal & Sohn’s financial situation was disastrous by this point. This pushed the firm towards Hanomag, who bought half of Tempo in 1955.
The second generation “fish-mouth” Matador arrived in 1956, now available with either an Austin A50 gasoline or a 1.8 litre Hanomag Diesel engine, soon followed by an Austin A35-engined Wiking Rapid. The Matadors were back in the game – domestic sales and exports shot up and the new design was soon license-built by Jensen in the UK and Bajaj-Tempo in India. Hanomag badges replaced the Tempo ones after Oscar Vidal sold his remaining shares in 1965, just as a revamped Matador was being developed.
Originally based in Hannover, Hanomag had built anything from farming equipment and steam engines to passenger cars and military transports in their distant past, but after the war their main focus was trucks and tractors. Hanomag became a division of the Rheinstahl industrial group in 1952 and took over Borgward’s huge Bremen works in 1963. In 1964, Rheinstahl bought Henschel, who had taken over Hanomag’s locomotive branch back in the ‘20s. In 1967, the conglomerate was restructured and truck production was regrouped into a new Hanomag-Henschel division. By 1968, The Harburger Transporter became known as the Hanomag-Henschel F20 / F25 / F30 / F35. Then Daimler-Benz came a-knocking.
Mercedes took a stake in Hanomag-Henschel in December 1968 and assumed complete control by 1971. The Harburger Transporter, whose production was gradually moved to the Bremen works, lost its Hanomag Diesel in favour of M-B’s OM 615, but kept the Austin 1.6 litre petrol engine.
A three-pointed star version was launched in 1970, with slight chassis modifications, as the L 206 D or the L 306 D (the Austin-engined versions were named L 207 / L 307). The Hanomag-Henschel version continued alongside the Benz for a while – until the line at the Harburg plant was finally shut down in 1975. The last Bremen-built Harburger Transporters were made in 1978.
Except in India, where the Tempo kept steady. The old Harburger was manufactured by Bajaj Tempo as the Matador F-305/307 since 1969. To boost local content, the entire Hanomag 1.5 litre Diesel engine production line was shipped off to India in 1970; Bajaj Tempo eventually switched to a license-built Benz OM 615. In 1990, a RWD Matador, the R-307, was launched — another addition to the list of FWD vehicles that went RWD, it seems. The Harburger’s Indian career was a long and distinguished one – it was only replaced (by a RWD T1 Bremen Transporter clone dubbed Tempo Excel) in 1999.
This little truck’s comically convoluted history is symptomatic of the continuing process of amalgamation and concentration in the European truck sector after the Second World War. Not to mention the whole Bajaj-Tempo affair, which is another in a list of Western vehicles designs that lasted forever in the Indian market. These seem to be pretty solid trucks. Our CC, likely Bremen-built, has endured over forty years of hard labour, but it doesn’t look any worse for wear. The “adopted child” nature of the beast is quite a compelling reason to find it irresistible. The kitsch interior, complete with big pull-out knobs that look like organ stops, is the clincher – at heart, it is still a Tempo, no matter what it says on the steering wheel.
It also makes for an interesting FWD cuckoo’s egg in Daimler-Benz’s nest, along with the Spanish-made DKW-derived van above. One has to admire Stuttgart’s “Not Invented Here, But We’ll Take It Anyway” attitude. This pragmatic approach allowed Daimler-Benz to field excellent and well-proven vehicles in a segment that was not their strong suit.
I’ve not been able to work out how many of these were made in total – Hanomag and Bajaj-Tempo included, but the Bremen works have made over 50,000 Mercedes-badged 306 Ds from 1970 to 1978 and over twice as many 206 Ds. Not bad for a mildly refreshed ‘50s Tempo design, I suppose.
Curbside Classic: Mercedes-Benz 207D (T1) And Other Vintage MBZ Vans, by PN
Classic Automotive History: Tempo – From Motorized Wheelbarrow To World Speed Record Holder To Immortality In India, by PN
The second generation “fish-mouth” Matador
That looks similar to the East German IFA Barkas B1000 vans. I wonder if they are in any way related to each other. Both are front-wheel-drive, use two-stroke engines, and have similar profile.
Barkas was designed in the early ’60s and was certainly influenced by the Tempo.
Nice find T87! And a well written article. I know this Harburger Transporter, though they were scarce even in my childhood. Seems that they dissapeard from the streets here relatively fast, unlike the VW Transporter of the same age.
Mercedes plays this badge enginering thing with the greater Düsseldorfer Transporter, too. It was also sold as a Hanomag-Henschel.
That spanish DKW based MB is very intersting. I´ve heard of that, but never see one.
Here is a picture of the Hanomag-Henschel T2
When I look at all these photos, all I keep seeing is a cloned VW Transporter T2. So eerily similar.
But would love to have that Benz in my driveway.
Because M-B trucks were so rare in the US (except for the Matchbox toy versions) this American would never have noticed the mongrel nature of this beast.
I will confess to getting a little hungry when I misread part of the title as Hamburger Transport.
The L series trucks were around a little bit when I was a kid in the late 80s, early 90s. I recall they were all straight trucks, no semis.
The L series were popular in the northeast. I used to drive one in the 80’s. They were old school but rugged. Since Mercedes bought Freightliner there is no reason for MB to market trucks here under the Mercedes Benz name.
Tempo plant does still exist. They are making powertrain components today.
(The other day I stumbled upon their recruiting page)
I have never seen anything like that “loading platform” on the Jenson Tempo. It appears to be a van body that can be raised or lowered from ground height to four feet. Which would make it indeed very easy to load and unload at various levels. Having front wheel drive would have made it possible. But how did they keep the rear chassis from flexing, and how long would that last?
It’s like the ultimate Tommy-Lift! Very slick concept. It looks more like a sort of rigid van “frame” of tubes and then the interior bed and canopy is the only thing that raises and lowers via vertical hydraulics at the corners. Sort of like a four-post single car lift for a garage?
It probably works better with a metric ton load of feathers than a metric ton load of cement 🙂
This is not the only truck like this. International Harvester did a version of the Loadstar like this and there was a company that converted Dodge Pickups. My county bought a few of them back in the day and here is one that is actually still in good condition, w/o a blown front axle like most, at a local dealer that specializes in selling former gov’t trucks they buy at auction. http://www.kenttruck.com/7688.html The key is that they are locked in 4hi and the transfer case output for the rear axle is plugged. The use the spindles, brakes and even leaf springs from the original 3/4 ton truck with a strange swing arm that mounts it all. The leaf spring is above the wheel well opening.
In another vein there was also someone doing something similar with GM trucks in the 90’s where they would lock it in 4 hi and cut the frame after the cab, however they grafted on what was essentially a car trailer with the deck about a foot or so off the ground.
There was a company in Australia called Razorback that did the same thing, for VW T4 Transporters and Fiat fwd vans. I’ve only seen a couple, they weren’t cheap.
I remember these from my childhood and think I even have either a Siku or a Schuco toy version of one in the bin somewhere.
Kudos to you for looking into this, these are the hardest posts to write – when the subject matter is something you know next to nothing about and don’t have a natural interest in it to boot. But paradoxically, to me anyway, they seem to end up being the most factually accurate as there are no “memories” to get in the way of researched facts.
The shot of the white extended van near the end is interesting for the other cars around it. Obviously a Volvo 122(?) behind it, then what looks like a Mazda GLC which were relatively common over there as far as Japanese cars go. But what’s in front of it with only the rear quarter visible? I was thinking Fiat Ritmo but the fuel filler is on the wrong side.
I guess (Chrysler)Talbot Simca Sunbeam. Bulidt in Lynwood, Scotland. Same plant were the famous Imp was buildt.
Thanks I think you are right. I actually had thought of and looked up the Talbot Horizon but totally forgot the Sunbeam!
The Uruguayan Mail office had a fleet of the Hanomag Henschel van version, all in yellow. No general public sales took place, not even a formal dealership was present. So far, so good. But around ’73, 8-year-old me became aware of the Mercedes L 306 D, then quite common around here, used from school buses to produce markets. At the time, I remember how strange it was the lack of the rear differential (not yet understanding what FWD or RWD, just looking at hints). But it didn’t take too long to see one alongside the other, realizing both were German…and concluding that there was badge engineering. Of course, not knowing what badge engineering meant. Dad took care to explain everything, including FWD.
L306 Ds and some newer RWD small trucks (real Mercs) were very popular here with small businesses.
Tempo, Matador, Jensen … no names are ever used just once! FYI, Bajaj, who manufactured these trucks in India, is the world’s third largest motorcycle manufacturer and owns 48% of Austria’s KTM, which historically built high performance dirt bikes, but now offers street bikes, fields a MotoGP road racing team, and is moving into the lower end of the market with Indian-built bikes which are sold globally, including the US.
These days you can buy a Renault Kangoo van in Europe with a Mercedes grill. Surely this must hurt their reputation ?
Mercedes doesn’t have a reputation of superiority any more like it once did. It’s just another big company making a wide array of cars and trucks. The special reputation is long gone. All the rust-tainted Mercedes Sprinters on the roads in northern Europe reinforce that effectively.
Renault happens to be a prime builder of both compact FWD vans and small diesel engines.
As for bigger vans and cab-chassis, Renault’s expertise is also being rebadged by Nissan, Opel/Vauxhall and Fiat.
I my quirk for FWD trucks was ignited by these and the DKW Schnelllaster when I was a kid, when I saw that bare beam of a rear axle under the bed of one in Innsbruck (an earlier version). The advantages of a lower load height and the flexibility of various bodies was not lost on me.
In 1976 I was on a trip up Hw1 in California in my crude ’68 Dodge A100 camper van. Somewhere near Mendocino a camper van version of one of these Mercedes vans sporting German plates was on a little road out to a campground ahead of me, and later I went and found it in the campground. It was almost new, and it blew me away. It was beautifully outfitted, with a pop top; very much along the lines of a Westfalia VW bus. But with its longer body and FWD, it was significantly roomier. I had as strong of a wave of car-lust for that van as I’ve ever experienced. It had all the right elements for the ultimate Niedermeyer-mobile, right down to the efficient MB diesel.
It’s quite clear to me that my current FWD camper van is just my best shot at re-creating it. Ideally it would have had a diesel too, but I’m over that now. But otherwise, it was deeply inspired by my encounter with that L306D camper van.
“my quirk for FWD trucks was ignited by these and the DKW Schnelllaster when I was a kid, when I saw that bare beam of a rear axle under the bed of one”
I still get momentarily confused when I pull up behind a ProMaster and see that beam axle and no differential.
I bet when those ProMasters go to the great junkyard in the sky, their beam axles will make one heckuva good axle for a home-built trailer.
Much more capacity that the previous Junk Yard sourced trailer/spring king the Caravan et al.
That first picture is priceless! Really nice, the combination of the ol’ Harburger and the background/scenery. It might as well be a (very professional) film set.
Needless to mention these vans and trucks were everywhere here too in the seventies and eighties. Volkswagen, Ford and Mercedes-Benz were the big sellers in the van/light truck segment back then. Well, come to think of it, they still are…
There were a lot of these as pickups with canvas tilts or as minibuses in India in the 90s. Always with the hatch above the radiator grille open to improve cooling. Usually used for rural transport between smaller towns. 32 ‘official’ children in the extended wheelbase minibus sounds scary but I’m sure they would often carry 32 adults! Never saw the ‘Cruiser’ model – only Maruti Gyspies (Suzuki Jimmy) or Mahindra CJ jeeps were plausible rough road vehicles.
The steering wheel isn’t familiar, but the knobs are Mercedes parts dating back to the ‘b’ series four-cylinder pontons – and probably the fintails that were introduced at the same time (1959). The knobs are round with a bright ring inside of a hard rubber-ish pull. Earlier knobs, in the ‘a’ series, were polygon-shaped if memory serves.
Tatra, you’re right to compare them to organ stops. And they have a feel that’s just as satisfactory.
Fascinating article! I love that Matador Mk 1, it looks like an armoured cash van.
Jensen? Would that be the same Jensen responsible for the Jensen-Healey or the Jensen Interceptor? An odd mix in a Jensen showroom if so.
The Bremen factory is now a very large and important one in Mercedes passenger car production. It makes C class cars, SLs and E class coupes/cabrios. I believe it made at one time the CLK coupes/cabrios and possibly E class 124 wagons.
Yep, that Jensen had a truck range.
Not unheard of for a high end sports car marque to also have a few heavies – e.g. Delahaye, Lamborghini, Alfa…
Thanks for all your excellent comments, folks!
Sorry, had a busy couple of days…
I currently drive this Mercedes 306d van in Northern California. I restored it myself. There are at least five or six more in the US that I know about so certainly there are others. A front wheel drive four cylinder diesel vintage Mercedes bus I mean what’s not to like. It is a joy to drive and is slow but can nonetheless travel freeway speeds.