(Paul N. co-authored this post)
Tatra87 recently gave us the full back story of how Mercedes came to have a FWD van (L306D “Harburger”) in its stable of commercial vehicles. Mercedes was firmly in the RWD camp until fairly recently, and still generally prefers RWD for its vans. It came about when Mercedes bought Hanomag, which had been building FWD vans that it had taken over from Matador. It was renamed the Mercedes L306, and was built until 1977.
But that wasn’t the first and last Mercedes FWD van. In 1987, Mercedes started selling the MB100D van in Germany, the boxy FWD van you see here. And like the L306, it too had origins going way back, in this case to the 1949 DKW Schnellaster; Paul made a strong case for it being the mother of all modern FWD compact vans. The MB100D also found its way into Mercedes’ lineup through acquisitions, but in a much more complicated way, via Spain, where these were built.
The FWD DKW Schnellaster was a counterpoint to the rear-engine VW Transporter/Bus, and its big advantage was of course a very low and totally flat floor, thanks to its little 3 cylinder two-stroke engine neatly tucked away in front of the front axle, just like pretty much all minivans today.
The Schnellaster went into production in Spain in 1954, by IMOSA. But by the early ’60s, it was showing its age, having been designed in 1947-1948. In 1963, IMOSA contracted with the Italian firm Fissore to design a replacement, and Josef Dienst, who had designed the Schnellaster, was also hired to help with the development. Its design and construction used many of the same basic concepts and engineering solutions as used in the Schellaster, such as structural configuration, suspension, drive train, brakes, etc., but in a new package that was wider, longer and lower.
The new van was called DKW F1000L, and first shown at the 1963 Turin Motor Show. It was powered by the 981 3 cyl 2-stroke DKW engine with 40hp, built in Spain along with the rest of the van.
In 1964, a locally-built (by ENMASA) Mercedes four cylinder diesel engine was adapted, the venerable OM636 1.7 L as used on Mercedes 170 and 180 sedans, and also making some 40hp. This was now the F1000D. The DKW 2-storke was dropped after 1967. The small script above the headlight says “Mercedes Diesel”.
The ownership stakes of both VW and Mercedes in various Spanish entities was complicated at the time, but to make a long story short, Mercedes gained control of the IMOSA facilities in 1976, and thus the three-pointed star now graced the revised front end of what was now called the Mercedes N1000 and N1300. And the diesel engines were now the newer OHC OM615 unit as used in millions of W114/W123s and other Mercedes vehicles, including their RWD T1 van built in Germany.
This cut-away shows how the chassis and body construction of the N1000, which still has the transverse leaf spring front suspension and trailing arm rear suspension from the Schnellaster. What’s not so clear is whether this transaxle is essentially the same as the Auto Union one or was either revised or a new design.
In 1981, the N1000 was repackaged again, now called the Mercedes MB100D. It was boxy, as was the style at the time. And it had the larger 2.4L diesel four making 73 hp, still driving the front wheels.The engine sits in its central “dog house”, ahead of the transaxle, making the weight distribution rather front heavy until some load is added in back.
And starting in 1987, the MB100D was available for sale in Germany, to round out the lower end of the M-B commercial lineup, and to provide some more direct competition against the VW T4 (Vanagon in the US).
I captured this van late afternoon last week at a bicycle cyclocross event in Calgary. The owner was a competitor at the event, so spoke with him briefly while he was changing equipment. He was in bit of a hurry, so did not get any interior shots. Quick look showed a very basic camping layout with enough room for several bikes and gear. Said his van is a private import, and that a company in Quebec can import them, but asks “crazy money” as in CDN$ 35k. I’m assuming that’s for a camper version in very good condition, perhaps trying to ride the coattails of the VW Vanagon Wesfalia. There is currently one for sale on Kijiji in Montreal. The white one below is one on mobile.de The owner appears to be a Motorsport enthusiast!
The basic layout of the van is front wheel drive, cab over engine (“doghouse”), the most space-efficient configuration possible. FWD permits a low flat load floor. Note interesting linkage of gear lever. Most versions were powered by a 2.4 liter 4 cylinder non-turbo diesel giving 72 HP (DIN). Gasoline powered versions were available in some markets. Owner of featured van said it cruises at 105 km/h (65mph). Didn’t tell me its year of manufacture, but it’s post-1991, as a facelift that year slanted and extended the nose somewhat, possibly slightly improving frontal collision safety.
An intriguing version was modified by AMG, yes, the tuning outfit, but upgrades seem limited to interior and cosmetics. Website indicates a 3 liter 5 cylinder turbo diesel was offered, although it lists the same power output as the standard non-turbo 4 and 5 cylinder engines, so something doesn’t add up. The turbo 5 would further increase the forward weight bias, steering effort, torque steer, understeer, etc. It would not have fit in the doghouse of the standard version. AMG also stated that, “… The predecessor of the Vito was equipped with an extremely robust, aerodynamically fine-tuned car body …” Aerodynamic fine-tuning ?? OK, maybe the front spoiler helped a bit.
So our bicycle racer has himself an economical and practical, albeit slow vehicle to travel to events across western North America. At least engine parts are reasonably available, and hopefully the bright paint job will help prevent collision damage.
With the growing popularity of vans of all sorts, don’t be surprised to see more of these on the streets.
The MB100 was replaced in 1995 by the Mercedes Vito (V-Class), which has evolved over several generations. It was RWD and AWD, but the latest and current generation (W447) is available in either FWD, RWD or AWD. It’s sold in the US as the Metris, but only in its RWD configuration. So if you happen to want a FWD Mercedes van, the MB100 is the one to look for.
Or you could head to Asia and pick up the latest generation, the MB100 and MB140, an even further development of this family, designed specifically for Asian markets including Australia. It was license built by SsangYong, which also sold a version under its own brand, the Istana. In 2009, production was shifted from South Korea to China, and seems to have ended in 2014.
Ironically, its sloping front end more closely resembles its great-grandmother, the original Schnellaster. The family genes just can’t be suppressed, no matter what part of the world they find themselves.