Curbside Classic: 1975 Mercedes-Benz 280 (W114) – Lucky Stroke

Ah, the good old Stroke-8. What a legend. Designed by Bracq and Sacco, built like a tank, pioneer of Benz’s post-swing axle era. Between 1968 and 1976, Mercedes made close to two million of these and shipped them throughout the world, where they lived and thrived for what seemed like eons – at least they could, if the tin worm didn’t get to them first.

This generation of Mercedes has been featured in CC a number of times over the years, but chiefly in two flavours: smoky W115 or chopped W114. Tokyo has seen it fit to offer up a happy (upper-) medium in the shape of an impressively clean late model dark blue European-spec 280 saloon.

Mercedes refer to the Stroke-8 as their Mittelklasse car. And it’s true that the W115 fits that description: 4-cyl. engines (and a 5-cyl. Diesel), circa 2-litres, no-nonsense interior and LWB taxi versions – the hallmark of the bottom rung of the Benz ladder. But our car is a W114, the basis for the rather exclusive coupés, with the biggest available straight-6. Upper-Mittleklasse, surely?

Unlike the 4-cyl. and 6-cyl. Fintails, which were pretty easy to tell apart, the Stroke-8 hid its twin personality beneath a nearly identical exterior. Plus the 6cyl. cars were given the lower W-number, for whatever reason. Initially, the easiest way to tell an upmarket W114 saloon from the taxi-like W115, aside from the 6-cyl. cars’ double front bumper, was the rear series number: 200 and 220 meant a 4-cyl., 230 and 250 meant six.

It was all nice and orderly in 1968 when the W114/W115 was born, but things became increasingly complex as time wore on. In 1972, the 220 was replaced by a 230 for the W115, leading to a situation where Mercedes offered a 4-cyl. and a 6-cyl. saloon with pretty much identical displacements. They were therefore badged as the 230.4 and 230.6. In 1973, the 240D was launched as a W115; oddly, the next year saw the “240D 3.0” supplanted it, with a novel 80hp 5-cyl. Diesel.

To further confuse matters, some 250s actually had a 2.8 under the hood – notably, though not exclusively, on the US market from mid-1970. It was the W108’s 2778cc engine, lowered to 130hp. But then in 1972, Mercedes unveiled the 280, which had a new DOHC 2746cc straight-6 producing 160hp (or 185hp with fuel injection).

This makes for a very large family of vehicles, which includes the W114 coupé (but no convertible), a LWB limousine and the possibility of ordering a wagon from a number of coachbuilders (Binz in this case, but also Crayford, Miesen, IMA and others), as well as commercial chassis – the pictured hearse being a standard wheelbase Pollmann job. The limousine, wagons and chassis could be ordered as W114 or as W115, the latter were usually Diesels. However, the 220D Binz pickups were strictly W115 Diesels. Few were made in Germany, but the coachbuilder licensed the design to Daimler-Benz Argentina, where just over 1000 were made from 1971 to 1975. A four-door version was also made – one of the most intriguing (and rarest) Stroke-8 ever, though perhaps not the best-looking…

The Stroke-8’s most notable advances were technical rather than esthetic. The Mittelklasse Benz design had gone through significant changes during the ‘50s, jumping from the pre-war style of the 170V to the portly Ponton and the fantastic Fintail. In the ‘60s, the pace of evolution was evidently much slower.

Bracq played it very safe indeed, just as he had done with the W108 – the headlamps remained in the same vein as the Fintail’s, i.e. quite separate from the imposing grille. This gave the Mercedes saloons a very homogeneous look, with everyone from the humble 200 to the gigantic 600 wearing a similar face (and tail) and fit very well with the firm’s conservative image.

The Stroke-8 is a transitional model in that it began its career with flat taillights, but then someone went all Frog on the Stroke-8’s rear and said “Rib it!” – and so it became, for everyone’s pleasure I’m sure. This distinctive element, debuted on the C107 in 1971, lived on in some form or another on the rear of Mercedes-Benz cars until the 2010s.

The Stroke-8s got their facelift in late 1973. Aside from the ribbed taillights, the most visible changes included a wider and lower grille, a more substantial door mirror and a revised A-pillar that eliminated the front window vents. The W114s lost their double front bumper in the process, making them indistinguishable from their lower-spec stablemates from the front. The wraparound rear bumper, however, remained unique to the 280.

The interior of any classic Mercedes is just a great place to be. It may look a tad austere and old-fashioned, but the seats are unusually comfortable and the impression of quality from every single component is pretty mesmerizing. Another sign that the Stroke-8 was a transitional model was the gearshift placement: Fintails usually had theirs on the column, whereas Stroke-8s like our CC were more evenly split – maybe even tending towards floor shifters, especially for later cars. For their part, W123s were all floor-shifters, save for a minute number of automatics. Our feature car was retrofitted with the old-style pre-1973 two-spoke steering wheel, which is eminently preferable to the sad-looking plastic tiller it had when it came out of the factory.

Since I kind of flubbed the interior shot, here’s a period photo of a 1971 280CE with manual transmission. It’s a good thing that M-B abandoned the Fintail’s vertical speedometer and went back to something a bit more mundane for the W108/109 and W114/115. That vertical speedo was both ugly and rather hard to read. Those kinds of misguided innovations are best left to the likes of Citroën or Lancia.

Underneath its straight-laced exterior, the Stroke-8 hid a pile of new technology. The body’s architecture in itself was allegedly all new, but the big improvement lay in the new suspensions, both front and rear. The former was a type of coil-sprung double-wishbone setup, while the latter was dubbed a “diagonal swing axle” by Mercedes-Benz. They still cling to this term today, but really it was a bolted-on subframe with a semi-trailing arm IRS – a big improvement over the previous models’ “non-diagonal” swing axle.

Other technological innovations included rear disc brakes, improved crumple zones, the aforementioned 5-cyl. Diesel, a 5-speed manual gearbox (only seen on a few late-model coupés), central locking and electronic fuel injection. The Stuttgart boys really pulled all the stops on this one. The only thing they forgot, really, was decent rust protection.

Finding a late-model 280 saloon as nice as this one is not commonplace: only 25,000 of these were made from 1973 to 1976 and I bet a good many of them have oxidized themselves into early retirement – certainly before their engines and/or transmission gave up the ghost – like all the members of the Stroke-8 family. This one obviously has a careful owner, who got it an appropriate license plate number and all that. Just don’t get that beauty wet.


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Curbside Classic and Driving Review (With Video): Mercedes 220 Diesel – I Drive The Second Slowest Car Sold In America, by PN

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

Curbside Classic: 1976 Mercedes 280C (W114) – Pricy Hardware, by PN

The Factory Mercedesamino, by PN

Through The Windshield Outtake: Mercedes 302C 5.0, by PN

COAL: 1970 Mercedes Benz 220D – Finally a Family Classic, by David Saunders

Curbside Classic Outtake: Late ‘60’s/Early ‘70’s Duo; Nissan Skyline GT (C10) and Mercedes 250 CE (W114) – Parking, Tokyo Style, by Jim Brophy