The diesel revolution began in February 1936 when the Mercedes-Benz 260 D (W 138 series) – the world’s first production car with diesel engine – was displayed at the International Automobile and Motorcycle Show in Berlin. Its 2.6 liter four-cylinder engine with Mercedes-Benz pre-chamber combustion and Bosch injection pump developed 45 hp at 3200/min and was installed in the chassis of the gasoline-engined 200 model.

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Its average fuel consumption was just above nine liters per 100 kilometers, thereby remaining significantly below the 13 liters/100 km of the gasoline-engined 200. What’s more, a liter of diesel fuel cost just 17 pfennigs in 1936, less than half the price of gasoline. Taxi drivers were among the first to opt for this car right from the start – not least because it was also available with a spacious six-seater body. The fact that this car proved itself in arduous taxi operation also attracted private buyers to the showrooms. Since then, the diesel-engined passenger car has been securing a firm place for itself in the Mercedes-Benz model lineup – thanks to the farsight-edness of its creators.

As early as fall 1933 the first test engines with six cylinders, 3.8 liter displacement and 80 hp output had been fitted in test cars of the Mannheim model. However, engine vibrations had proved to be too much for the chassis, making use of this engine in passenger cars im-possible. In response to this, a four-cylinder diesel engine with the same cylinder dimensions was developed, and production maturity was reached in mid-1935 after protracted testing. From September 1936, the 260 D was offered with different bodies. The six-seater Pullman landaulet displayed at the motor show was complemented by three additional versions adapted from the 200: an enclosed Pullman sedan, the four-to-five-seater sedan and the four-to-five seater con-vertible B.

One year after its launch in Berlin, the 260 D was replaced by an improved version (just like the 230 which had replaced the long-wheelbase 200 in the interim). The fuel tank capacity was raised from 45 to 50 liters, thereby expanding the range of the economical compression-ignition engine still further. Another important novelty was introduced in early 1938 in the form of electrically heated glow plugs which facilitated starting of the cold engine.

By 1940, the production volume of the Mercedes-Benz 260 D had reached 1,967 units – not a lot in terms of absolute figures. And yet the world’s first diesel-engined passenger car was a great success because each unit impressively demonstrated the diesel engine’s advantages – longevity and fuel economy – in the passenger car as well. Hence, the 260 D laid the foundation for the continued success of the diesel-engined passenger car.

Source: Daimler AG