It wasn’t quite the glory years period that Mercedes Benz would experience on the American Market in 1964. The seizing of the desirable luxury throne would take another decade. However, as Cadillacs, Lincolns and Imperials continued their march towards abundance and excess being synonymous with luxury, the Old World craftmanship from Germany started to appeal to a select number of fine goods consumers.
The springboard models for certain shoppers to transition away from traditional American Luxury barges where the redesigned W111 series cars from Mercedes Benz. Although the design process for these cars started in 1956, they incorporated features and technology far ahead of most manufactures for decades to come.
In a number of ways, the 220 Series Mercedes Benz and relatives were the most advanced regular production sedans on offer in the world. No wonder a certain sub-set of American Luxury buyer clientele latched onto them to become consumptive pioneers in the forever trend following American Market.
The Heckflosse (or Fintail) W111 series Benzes were indeed designed with greater North American Market penetration in mind. With their airier greenhouses and jaunty pointed quarter panels, their design speaks to the cross-pollination that continued to happen as the United States still set trends in automotive design. Granted, the newly stacked front headlamps and prominent Radiator Grille borrowed more from French bespoke purveyors of fine cruisers Facel-Vega than most brands in the US.
That new design cue might have had a curious effect on Pontiac adopting some of that design language for 1963. Despite the fleeting tributes to a number of influences, the 220 Series cars had few to pay homage to when it came to engineering excellence. The W111 chassis was one of the first cars put into production with conscious engineering of front and rear energy absorbing “crumple-zones.”
This philosophy was different than the rugged cage with no conscious consideration of where to direct energy during a collision used by most manufactures. In addition, the models introduced more padded dashboards, safer switchgear and retractable seatbelts upon introduction.Those safety concerns went into the use of Disc Brakes, and a safety spectrum speedometer as well.
Perhaps the biggest place of experiential difference between Mercedes Benz and American luxury was the powertrain, and associated experience it provided. Where even some compact American cars relied on the brute force of a small block V8 to move them along smartly and confidently over terrain, Mercedes Benz still relied on a series of high revving overhead cam Inline fours and Inline Sixes to do the duty. The 220 series cares relied on a 2.2 liter Six in varying states of tune, from 95 to 120 horsepower to move them along.
The bulk of sales went to the mid-range, dual carb 220S models, equipped with a 110 horsepower version of the M180 Six Cylinder engine. Despite what may seem like diminutive output to most, these Mercedes Benzes didn’t give up much in the way of performance to American cars. 0-60 times averaged in the 13-16 second range (the valley between smaller V8s and most inline sixes from American brands at the time) with top speeds around an honest 100 mph. The added bonus, especially with Manual Shift equipped models, was a engaging driving experience that was totally counter to the increasingly isolationist focus of most American Luxury cars.
Mercedes Benz didn’t win the crown with these cars, but the template was set. With the introduction of the directly related W108 series cars introduced in 1965, the full assault on the United States premium market was on. Soon features like Air Conditioning and Mercedes Benzes own home-grown Small Block V8 would really start to shift the tide for what would be considered the most exclusive rides for the affluent to arrive in at various posh destinations throughout the United States. Without the thoroughly modern makeover of the W111 220 series cars between the Pontoons of the 1950’s and the Classic Mercedes Benzes we’ve all come to appreciate, the shift may have never happened.