As is often the case, the import bug bit the poster’s father, and the two successive 1950s Beetles soon gave way to this handsome 1961 Mercedes 190 sedan, perhaps the last year they were sold here before being replaced by the “fintail”. This is the poster’s older brother, looking a bit less than thrilled at having to pose with the shiny new Benz.
The 190 was a common entry point for the first-time Mercedes buyer. It was priced at $3441, about the price of two VWs and is about $30,000 adjusted. The diesel version cost almost 10% more. A lower-trim and lower-power 180 was also available, for $200 less.
With its 90 hp 1.9 L gas four, it wasn’t exactly a road-burner, but it was considered a fairly lively car, and it conveyed an aura of solidity and quality. As well as exclusivity, unlike today.
Perhaps he got the Mercedes bug when they visited an acquaintance who had a 300S Coupe, one of the most expensive and desirable cars in the US in the ’50s.
The fact that they were already a bit “retro” at the time only seemed to enhance their exclusive reputation. It made quite the contrast to a finny ’59 Cadillac.
They were priced at some $13k ($120k adjusted), which was in Rolls-Royce territory. Given the high marginal tax rates (92%) in the fifties, one had to be pretty flush to afford something like this.
Another friend had a new Porsche 356, in a stunning shade of red that works so well with the colors of the Southwest.
I never get tired of gazing at these. And pretty much my favorite vintage (356 A), the last version with the original gracefully-curved front headlights and fenders.
I’d like to hop in that right about now, right where it is.
The photographer obviously got the sports car bug too, and here’s a couple of shots of a Morgan in a sports car race right through the heart of Jerome, AZ. We were there just two winters ago, and in the past too; a wonderful old mining town situated on a high mesa, and the road up is a great drive. Perfect place for a hill climb, which this undoubtedly is.
A TR-3 with whitewalls is next. Whitewalls on sports cars were still semi-ok in the 50s, but not at all cool within a couple of years.
The photographer worked for the NPS, and was stationed at one of the entry gates at Zion when a sports car rally or such came barreling through, headed up by this magnificent 300SL roadster.
The 300SL’s little brother, the 190SL was close behind.
Followed by an Alfa.
And a Porsche Speedster. In the distance is a ’59 Olds, most likely not part of this group.
And there’s even another 190 sedan in the group. So we’ll end with what we started with.
And that’s it for this set. One more left to go…
Beautiful photos, quaite the time capsule.
I’d like to see a really high-res scan of the driver’s side hub-cap of the 356… maybe we can see the photographer.
I’m really enjoying this series. Even though I’m stuck at home in a virtual ZOOM fueled existence, I long to get out and explore. These posts sort of scratch that itch so thanks!
Our neighbor bought a 190 in ’61. I probably wasn’t quite as disappointed as the kid in the picture, but I was certainly unimpressed. His previous car was a Lloyd station wagon with a 2-stroke engine. MUCH more interesting.
But for me here in Holland it was the 1960 ninety eight Oldsmobile hardtop coupé that was the most impressive car I’d ever seen or been in, the pillarless electrically operated tinted ! windows, the air conditioning, the electrically operated front bench, the courtesy lights, the Olds radio with wonderbar, quad headlights,the metallic blue paint…….. I mean my dad had an old 180 D as a tempory car while waiting for his 403 Peugeot Diesel, but who needed a European car? Who wanted a European car?
I believe that it is a miracle that foreign cars were sold in America, American cars ruled the world back than!
I can relate to this kind of feeling, from both views. I’m long spoiled by the large, comfortable full sizers ( either affordable or not so affordable ) and I take it for granted when a sedan is roomy, smooth with V6 at least. For the first 25 years in my life, I’m too often associated with either driving or riding Mercedes W126, Cadillac SeVille, Lincoln Town Car, Lincoln Mark VIII, and I still have a ’95 Cadillac Fleetwood in the garage, with a plain large FWD sedan for winter use. ’50s large Cadillac isn’t stranger to me, and a pickup from that era, it is quite cute fitting me as well. Occasionally, a Chevy Malibu or Ford Taurus is the smallest vehicle I can tolerate ( other than work ), only if I have to.
But then after working directly and indirectly within Detroit big three at different times, I’m craving for slimmer, plain, humble, fun and understated European and Japanese cars. It was quite a sensation to drive Peugeot 508, something I rarely feel inside anything from big three ( including Dodge Viper, HellCat Durango, Ford Mustang or half cylinder working Cadillac CT6-V blackwing, I almost completely forget ) The driving dynamics is interactive and smooth, engaging with comfort ( I used to drive Alfa Romeo Giulia for work and it’s the closer comparison among those I drove ) I’m craving for last generation Nissan President too ( or late ’90s Infiniti Q45 ) If time and cost allows, maybe one day I will aquire a Citroen 2cv, or GAZ-24.
I am still not as far as some others. One day I saw a Lada 2107 with a Michigan plate from magazine, with location as Warren Michigan, I guessed the owner is someone from GM Tech Center simply spending too much time on GM cars ( and other American cars in general ) and he needs something refreshing. It turned out exactly like that, and he bought the Lada from Europe after being happy with a Trabant!!
Coming to other recent choices, instead of buying one easily outright among full stack of Ford Bronco, Chevy C/K, endless Jeeps, International Scout RC vehicles in the shop for off road fun on my snowbank backyard, I rather have an understated Range Rover Classic, patiently waiting it slowly arriving from Hong Kong. And instead of Camaro, Ford GT for on track RC racing, I bought a Kyosho Renault Megane instead. They’re both refreshing to me as well after a lot of time inside Tech Center seeing large SUVs and crossovers. Only if Kyosho makes a body of Škoda Felicia, I would gladly buy it, and I can feel why that GM engineer is delighted with his both Eastern-European cars: It is too refreshing to resist.
My dad’s first Mercedes was a 190, which he got after his 356 (both used). I don’t remember the 356, but do have some memories of the 190’s scratchy wool seats, which I hated to ride on when I wore shorts. And I think it had a manual choke and a starter button on the dash? For some reason, my mom had a hard time finding the right combination of choke to start it. There were some anxious moments on chilly mornings.
If I’m not confusing it with the 220S that followed, she had some trouble with the balky column gearshift as well.
I’m not sure if we have any pictures of the 190, but the pictures of the 356 are bluish, which I guess means they were Ektachrome?
I too wanted to upgrade my Beetle to a diesel MB 200. But someone suggested I check prices. A $25 oil filter was enough to keep me in a VW for a couple more years.
I have very dim memories of my Grandmother Cavanaugh owning one of these Mercedes. I recall my father saying that her son in law (dad’s brother in law) talked her into it, but she must not have been impressed because it was replaced by a 1963 Olds Super 88 2 door hardtop. It was a new blue Oldsmobile every 4 years from then on until she got thrifty in her old age and bought a Monte Carlo.
That Mercedes was the only one I ever rode in until the 80s, I imagine.
My friend’s dad had a 1958 (I think) 180, which passed to my friend when he got his license in the early 1970’s. By then the car was well-worn and a bit troublesome, but roomy and with a trunk that easily swallowed our backpacks for weekend trips. It had a four-speed manual with a column shifter; still the only four on the tree I’ve encountered. Larry drove it for maybe a year before doing the reverse of Paul’s dad… he sold it for a well-used early ’60’s Beetle, complete with full length canvas sunroof.
Just to clarify: these are no from my family. They’re from someone’s Flickr page.
That Mercedes sounds great value at 2 Beetles or $30k. After all, you’d have known it do 30 years without too much bother.
356A looks great, as do the Mercedes roadsters but the Giulietta Sprint might just get the nod.
Wowza! Loving those period pics of the Speedster, 356 and ultimately the 300SL roadster. Gorgeous cars!!
Ponton in the first few photos does look to be the first vehicle to be sold in the United States with side turn signal repeaters as standard equipment, predating the 1968 Toyota Corona by more than a decade.
There’s a 1958 300 SL Roadster, splendidly restored by Brabus Classic, offered for sale. If you must ask, the price is princely €1.9 million.
Mercedes hubcaps of that era were all same size (13″) and interchangeable with every MB model. So if one was lost, it could easily be replaced and the drivers reputation was saved.
Once again very cool shots. That last 190 Sedan is a long way from home, being sponsored by a London Ontario dealership.
If you’re jumping into the red 356 I’ll take the blue TR3, whitewalls and all. Meet me in Jerome!
Another Flickr page with info and documents regarding the rally pictured:
The winning car? A 1959 Rambler!
Fantastic series, Paul. Really enjoying this and the previous ones. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a 356 in red, but it looks great in that color. To drive around the west in those days like this guy did, back when it was much less developed, would have been a kick in the pants!
Whomever the Flickr photos are of, the little kid has massive forearms. Would have been a formidable boxer in his teenagehood.
Thanks for posting the MB pics, Paul! Except for the color, this could have been our Mercedes at the same time (ours was black). These, and most from ’59 to ’61, were officially labeled ‘190b’; the main differences were the taillights, the width of the grill (to match the new fintails coming in), and the uprightness of the front fenders. Plus some interior trim. There were 180b’s as well. Those of you who really, really care, can tell a 180 from a 190 by the lack of the bright trim right below the windows.
I’ve never found anything about them in a reference book, but a junkyard owner (er, collector) in southern Illinois in the 70’s claimed there were also round-body 180 and 190 ‘c’ versions, sold after ’61.
Yes, this is a 190b. And yes, the 180c/180Dc was built in ’61-’62, as the lowest end of the Mercedes range. They’re listed in the Wikipedia section for the W120/121:
$3441 for a Mercedes 190 in ’61 would also get you an Oldsmobile Dynamic 88, Buick LeSabre, or Chrysler Newport, with a few optional extras.
$13,000 for the 300S is 1957-58 Eldorado Brougham territory; well above the normal luxury offerings of Cadillac/Lincoln/Imperial, which topped out in the $7000 range.
Big Three auto executives probably couldn’t understand why Americans would pluck down such big $$ for a European car with pre-war styling and a lack of gee-whiz power assists. I think this was the beginning of the Big Three “not getting it.” That S coupe has charisma in spades!
BTW, the photos (and the cars in them) are beautiful!
That, say I brushing off some desert dust, was a sweet little excursion.
The Roundie Mercedes is as good as they can look here, gussied up with a deep color and whitewalls, but ever since I years ago read a description of them as being like a Morris Oxford done right, I cannot unsee their hat-accommodating dowdiness. The industrious side of the Germanic personality, perhaps.
The 300SL, that completely arresting but not pretty car, is quite something else, though on my excursion, I couldn’t help but stare at those 1950’s high-sidewalled crossplies, think of 130 mph round desert corners, and shiver a little.
The 300S is hard not to stare at – though I waited with Southern courtesy till the rotund white-suited Alabama gent had alighted – but also hard to be stared at by. What I mean by that is that I cannot think of another car of such goodness that is so bespoiled by such horrible headlights. Presumably the blank googly stare was to intimidate lessers in the tycoonic way, but it instead ends up more like Sophia Loren wearing a Marty Feldman mask.
For the benefit of our esteemed Editor, I counted up a total of 16 swing axles present in this collection, and must report to my surprise that all the people sat above them onboard were indeed still alive and complete.
While in high school in the early ’70s, I acquired a ‘fixer’ ’61 Ponton 180b for $200.
My brother commented it looked like an “old lady’s shoe”!
I learned to drive a stick and fix cars on that thing, and drove her for 20 years.
Happy Motoring, Mark
A friend I went to high school with’s parents had a 60 or 61 Mercedes 190 but a 190D it had the early front sheetmetal but a fintail back it could even have been later but respective parents took turns at shuttling us 3 back and forth on weekend leave from the boarding establishment the Benz was terminally slow those same hills that challenged small engines in British cars and gutless VWs did the same to the naturally aspirated diesel, on flat going it got along just fine keeping up with other traffic but show it the Dome or the Brynderwin hill and it got terrified.
“Kodachome…They give us those nice bright colors / They give us the greens of summers / Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah…” With apologies to Paul Simon, these are another great trove of photos, Paul. June 29, 2009 was a somber day for photographers all over the world – the day Kodak announced production of Kodachrome would cease. It did all the things that Simon said.
But what knocked my hat in the creek was your dad’s ’61 190 Ponton. My first car, bought in 1966 with $500 from Nana, was a ’59 190. Bankers’ gray, a bit faded, blue leather interior (!), with that big white steering wheel and column-mounted 4-speed. It got me reliably from home in the Northeast to school in Philadelphia and back again for two-plus years, until one night, having parked it as usual, but having failed to head the weather and winterize it, the radiator froze overnight and cracked. At the time, my bank balance was flirting with zero and my discretionary funds were nowhere to be found, so I abandoned it reluctantly on the street and let the City tow trucks claim it. Driving it did, however, kindle my admiration for Mercedes – I moved to the West Coast in a ’63 220S Fintail, and later, ran a ’59 220S Ponton Coupe (with a Hydrak!) in San Francisco. After a hiatus of 43 years, three years ago I became the owner of a 1990 300CE Coupe with 57,000 original miles. Thanks for the memories. It feels good to be back.
Unless I missed something, this would be the American International Rally of 1959 (which I’d never heard of), with details and a map here:
The pictures are stunning—it’s the Kodachrome look I grew up on.
BTW, I’m not a photo-sophisticate, but I’d guess the camera used for these–like the cars themselves, wasn’t a cheapie, either.
What a great article. Thank you.