Even before the W 15 model series was introduced, the engineers and technicians at Daimler-Benz once again embarked on the task of developing an even more reasonably priced and compact entry-level model.

Board member Wilhelm Kissel, from 1937 to 1942 Chairman of the Board of Daimler-Benz AG, had not forgotten the success which had been achieved with the Benz 8/18 hp. He constantly pushed his designers to build more reasonably-priced cars meeting Mercedes-Benz standards. The 130 model (W 23) fulfilled this requirement. It was presented in March 1934 at the International Automobile and Motorbike Exhibition (IAMA, in German) in Berlin. At the time of its unveiling, it was not only the smallest series production passenger car, the first rear-engined car and the first four-cylinder model from Daimler-Benz, but also the first German rear-engined car to be mass-produced, not counting various microcars. Officially it never bore the ‘H’ as part of its model designation.

The 130 model was based on a completely new design. An original brochure from the time summarises the aspirations for the vehicle: ‘The design of the Mercedes-Benz 130 model has undoubtedly been one of the most interesting tasks which the automotive industry has ever had to solve: to create a car which combines the driving character­istics of a larger swing axle vehicle, the spacious comfort of a modern mid-size car and the operating costs of a small car.’

The vehicle caused a stir and almost gave rise to the expectation of being bigger on the inside than on the outside – yet it did not disappoint. It had an amazingly spacious interior, not much smaller than the six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz 170.

The water-cooled 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine was a new design with vertical valves and an updraught carburettor, producing 19 kW at 3400/rpm and capable of a top speed of 92 km/h. As such the vehicle was even slightly faster than the 170 model. Its shape, which for the time was considered streamlined, was perfectly appropriate.

Mercedes-Benz supplied the 130 model as a two-door Saloon and also as a two-door Cabriolet-Saloon. For special official purposes, versions were also available in the form of an open touring car and a ‘Kübelwagen’ (bucket seat car). In addition, there had also been plans to offer the bare chassis for special bodies, however there is no evidence that this was actually implemented.

A disadvantage which is often cited in the case of rear-engined cars is their handling, which can be heavy due to the weight distribution – cornering too fast can lead to oversteer, causing the rear to slide forward. There is no question that this tendency does exist, given the laws of physics, and in general it can occur in the rear-engined cars of all manufacturers. Contemporary road tests of Mercedes-Benz vehicles examined this tendency and although there were some criticisms, they did say that drivers could, and should have to, brace themselves for such instances to ensure their safety in all driving situations.

The innovative 130 model did not live up to the expectations which were placed on it. Clearly it was way ahead of its time, particularly in terms of its shape which was very unusual for a Mercedes-Benz. Admittedly almost 4300 examples were built up to the beginning of 1936 – however, some 6000 units of the 170 model were built during the same period. Nevertheless, two years later it was replaced by a model with a similar basic design: the 170 H model (W 28), which was more powerful and somewhat larger, but at the same time also more expensive. The role of entry-level model was now taken over by the front-engined Mercedes-Benz 170 V (W 136), which was introduced at the same time as the 170 H model as the successor to the 170 model (W 15). The 170 V model was able to build further on the success of its predecessor to rank among the Mercedes-Benz models produced in the greatest numbers prior to 1945. Furthermore, it also formed the basis for the resumption of passenger car production after the Second World War.

The engineer Josef Müller, who was involved in advance design, also provided some decisive input into the W 25 formula racing car of 1934, did not just content himself with the concept of the 130 model. In 1934, his drawing boards saw the creation of two extremely remarkable ideas. One was a car with a rear-mounted engine fitted across the rear axle, as well as an axle drive between clutch and transmission. The aim of this design was to have as little a rear overhang as possible. Müller’s second proposal, which also acknowl­edged the ideas put forward by Prof. Wunibald Kamm on the advantages of front-wheel drive, shifted the entire drive unit to a position at the front. Müller anticipated the better straight-line stability and larger luggage compartment. However, the concept did not make it into series production.

Mercedes-Benz 130 V (W 144)
Even while production preparations were under way for the 170 V, a new attempt was also being made at Daimler-Benz to develop a smaller vehicle. Gustav Röhr, the new head of passenger car devel­opment from 1935, planned a completely new passenger car model range based on a modular design. The smallest model was to be the 130 V model (W 144), an exceptionally advanced automobile for its time. It featured front-wheel drive and a 24 kW water-cooled four-cylinder horizontally opposed engine with a displacement of 1.3 litres. It was fitted with a five-speed transmission, the fifth gear of which was designed as the overdrive. It had a top speed of 100 km/h and as such was positioned below the Mercedes-Benz 170 V. Some 18 prototypes were made in two and four-door variants. After the unexpected death of Röhr in August 1937, the entire project was stopped in favour of established models. Perhaps the outstanding sales success of the 170 V also played a part here – by the end of 1936 alone some 12,600 vehicles had been produced, and by 1942 the total had risen to almost 73,000 units.

In addition, the powers that be also had their own project for a reasonably-priced car – the ‘Volkswagen’ (people’s car). Speaking from their political vantage point, they set a price which could only be achieved through subsidies: 995 RM. Based on real business calculations, it was not possible to achieve this. To put this into perspective at this point, we can take another price by way of comparison: in 1944, for the Volkswagen-based ‘Kübelwagen’ (bucket seat car), which in comparison to the Volkswagen saloon is an extremely simple car, the German armed forces paid 3500 RM.

At the board meeting held on 10 February 1939, Kissel remarked in a rather resigned way that ‘the appropriate authorities are opposing the repeated declarations of the Führer, that the Volkswagen will not eliminate anyone, but should create additional business’. Kissel dropped the 1.3-litre car, and with it all of the company’s own projects for a smaller vehicle, and channelled the company’s efforts into the models making up the previous Daimler-Benz ‘Mittellage’ (literally ‘central position’), as it was called, meaning the medium-size category.

Source: Daimler AG