Friday December 14, 2018
There are some cars whose line-ups make the plot of the average Alfred Hitchcock film appear comparatively straightforward, and the W114/W115 range belongs in this elite category along with the Citroën DS and the Triumph 1300/1500/Toledo/Dolomite.
It was also the first Mercedes-Benz to sell more than a million models, and one of the keys to its success was that whether you were a taxi operator or a managing director, its quality remained uncompromised. And for anyone who enjoyed ITC dramas of the 1970s, it will forever be associated with fiendish sun-shaded villains chasing our square-jawed hero.
The six-cylinder 230 and 250 W114 and its four-cylinder 200, 220, 200 D and 220 D W115 stablemates replaced the last of the “Fintails” in January 1968 and the styling of its new monocoque coachwork - courtesy of Paul Bracq - was as understated as it was elegant.
The entry-level versions were intended to tempt Volvo 144 drivers to their local Mercedes-Benz dealer as well as encouraging existing owners to trade in their old W110. However, British import duties meant that a 220 that would be typically driven by a bank manager cost £2,439 15s 3d and for virtually the same amount you could have bought a Daimler “420” Sovereign.
However Motor thought the 220 displayed ‘the traditional Mercedes hallmarks of quality, comfort and excellent road manners’. Car magazine compared the W115 with the Citroën DS21 Pallas and concluded ‘No Mercedes has any really weak points. On the other hand they may well be accused of lacking character’ - and for countless drivers, this was just what they required from a car.
As for the flagship 250 with its trademark double front bumper, the price was over £2,500 with power steering an additional £91 7s 10d. But Autocar considered that it continued ‘the high standards of construction for safety and durability which have been traditional from Mercedes-Benz’ and such a car would have enjoyed even more of a social cachet in the UK than in its homeland.
Mercedes-Benz also offered an eight-seater LWB saloon that became a familiar sight around the world as an airport and hotel courtesy car and a coupe that practically defined the word ‘chic’. The 250 CE represented another ‘first’ for the marque with its Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection power plant and the 280E saloon with its DOHC engine was the perfect car for all aspirational stockbrokers.
The “Executive” version with its five-speed manual transmission, PAS and alloy wheels would have set you back £5,779.40 in 1974 – or the price of approximately seven Mini 850s. For the slightly more practically-minded, the 240D 3.0 was the world’s first production car powered by a five-cylinder engine.
The replacement W123 debuted in January 1976, but the older model remained in production until the end of the year, such was its popularity. Daimler-Benz had built nearly almost two million examples. Perhaps the ultimate monument to its legacy is the late-model 240D that was acquired by Gregorios Sachinidis, a Greek taxi driver in 1981.
At that time there were 220, 000 miles on the clock but when he donated the W115 to the Mercedes-Benz Museum collection 23 years later the car had used four engines – and amassed an overall mileage of 2,858,307…