CC Capsule: 1959 Mercedes-Benz 220S W180 II – Like No Other

At first, this car didn’t look all that familiar to me, but as I contemplated it, it began to seem very familiar.  It’s every old Mercedes I ever knew.

Much of the reason I don’t know too many specifics on this car is probably that I’m in my mid-30s, but another part is because I was (for a time) a Volkswagen technician and have managed to suppress that horror rather successfully.  Any car that shares its country of origin with a Volkswagen is now suspect, at least deep in my distrustful subconscious.

This is not to say all German cars are bad.  In fact, it isn’t even to say all VWs are bad.  It’s just to say that, to me, a bad German car is worse than any other kind of car, due mostly to unfulfilled potential.

They used to build them differently, perhaps like this 1959 Merc 220S.  They were well-engineered, with materials and construction quality to match.

I don’t generally subscribe to the idea that German cars were or are over-engineered.  Instead, I think that people used to American cars are just surprised to see something well-engineered, so it seems overdone to them.

And thus it was for many years with Mercedes and their cars.  The quality went into them, and owners got out of them what went in.

At some point along the way, German carmakers decided the near-universal respect of all people great and small was not enough, and so they began “improving” their cars.  More style, more power, more sport, more pizazz.

Up till then, I always thought the coolest thing about German cars was that they screamed competence.  Intelligence, ability, craftsmanship…these are what I saw as the defining traits of a German car, a Mercedes in particular.  Just look, for example, at those little red reflectors built into the rear bumper guards.

Of course you’d have the occasional V8 sleeper that could beat up on 95% of all the other cars on the road and not break a sweat, but those were the exception and just added to the mystique.  You’d either have to spot an extra-flared fender, or the badge, or perhaps a fat set of tires to know if you were about to be ambushed.

The pictured car features a dual-carbed SOHC 2.2 liter inline-6 worth about 100 horsepower, but could still kiss 100 mph–not terrible for 1959.

The grille is not too flashy, but has enough high-quality chrome to let you know this is no cheapie, and you also know it’s a Benz from a mile away.

Ah, well, things change.  I’m sure there there are 3-dozen ways a new Benz is better than this old one, at least on paper, but let’s look at that paper again and see what’s still on it in 53 years.

(Thanks to CCer Davo for the shots of this very nice old Merc!)