Curbside Classic: 1975 Mercedes-Benz L 306 D “Harburger Transporter” – The Matador’s Final Avatar

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.

Matador / Harburger Transporter Mk 1 with VW 1.1 litre engine


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.

Above: Jensen’s version of the 1956 Matador; below: 1962-restyled Matador E was made until 1967.

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.

The 1967 Harburger Transporter was essentially a facelift of the Matador E.


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.

The Benz version (above) existed in parallel with the Hanomag (below; source: Wikicommons)

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.


Related posts:


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