This vehicle launched the proud tradition of post-war conventional trucks from Mannheim and at the same time laid the foundations for the new cosmopolitan appeal of the trucks with the three-pointed star.
From as early as 1952 Daimler-Benz supplied the L 3500 in CKD kits for assembly to Argentina, for instance, and from 1954 also to Brazil and India. And that was not all. Before long, the Indian TATA factory even engaged in license production of the L 3500.
And in South America, these imported vehicles laid the foundations for the first truck plants of Daimler-Benz on this continent.
Back in 1949, this truck had come onto the scene rather modestly, as one of those pragmatic workhorses which ushered in the economic miracle in the Federal Republic of Germany which had come into being in the same year. The light-duty L 3250 truck with its 3.25 ton payload capacity was the company’s first newly developed post-war commercial vehicle, and it was premiered at the Export Fair in Hanover in May 1949 – an event that was to develop into today’s Hanover Trade Fair.
In keeping with the meager times, the post-war newcomers – the L 3250 truck and the O 3250 bus derived from it – were simple but sturdy designs. The chassis, for instance, was reminiscent of the Opel Blitz which the factory had had to continue to produce under license until 1949. And the rounded, all-metal truck cab with wooden frame elements had a strong similarity with designs dating back to the late 1930s.
A new six-cylinder diesel establishes itself in a gasoline-engine market
And yet the ensemble had potential considering the fact that it incorporated modern engineering: together with these two new models, the equally newly developed OM 312 six-cylinder diesel engine with an output of 66 kW from 4.6 liter displacement set out on its triumphant march around the world. With its excellent power-to-weight ratio, the engine had a specific output at almost the same level as contemporary gasoline engines – and it excelled in particularly smooth running characteristics. As early as 1954, Daimler-Benz offered a turbocharged version of this engine, though only for fire-fighting vehicles.
In the early 1950s, this category of vehicles was still dominated by gasoline engines. Nevertheless, the OM 312 rendered a crucial contribution to an about-turn in this respect, by giving the diesel engine a firm place in the medium-duty category as well.
It was also to this new engine that the new truck owed its highly favorably unladen weight, considering it was a diesel-engined truck. The light-duty truck came off the assembly lines with model designation L 3250 for just a few months before being rechristened L 3500 in January 1950, capable of carrying an extra quarter of a ton of payload. This increase had become necessary because competitors like Borgward and Magirus already offered 3.5-tonners.
Incidentally, it was only until 1955 that the figures in the model designation indicated the payload capacity of the complete truck with platform body. From 1955, reference to the payload was replaced by design codes. This meant that the light-duty truck which had started out as L 3250 and been rechristened L 3500 came to be known as the L 311.
Regardless of its name, the truck remained everybody’s darling, supported by a slightly heavier brother which came onto the scene in 1953: the L 4500 – renamed L 312 – became just as successful as the 3.5-tonner with its virtually identical design and simply one more ton of payload capacity. These new models instantly became the market leaders in their respective categories and defended their top positions in superior fashion until they were replaced in 1961.
This did not come as a surprise since these vehicles had a lot to offer right from the start. There was the cab with a three-seat bench, for instance, and with a heating system that was far from being a standard feature in passenger cars at the time. Quarterlights opening toward the front and fitted with glass wind deflectors on the inside provided for draft-free cooling in the summer. In terms of both visual appeal and engineering – examples being the undivided windshield and the smooth-running six-cylinder diesel engine, respectively – the vehicle was ahead of its time.
Where handling characteristics were concerned, the producer did not fear comparison with contemporary passenger cars but praised the talents of the L 3250, designed for a top speed of 80 km/h, in a brochure as follows: “The new Mercedes-Benz truck easily filters into modern high-speed traffic.” In addition this truck had the “dynamism, easy maneuverability and speed of a passenger car”, combined, however, with “the enormous economic efficiency of the refined diesel engine and the sturdy reliability of a design that is well-thought-out down to the smallest detail.”
The basis for sound buses
Production of the O 3250 bus on the same basis started in December 1949. It was joined by the heavy-duty O 6600 in the summer of 1950. With this duo of elegant as well as impressive conventional buses, Daimler-Benz became a serious contender in the post-war bus business. Bus customers, however, demanded cab-over-engine vehicles much earlier than truck buyers. It was not before 1953 that the company responded by supplying the OP 3500 chassis, for instance. This is why the O 3250, O 3500 and O 311 buses made in Sindelfingen did not remain in the limelight for quite as long as their goods-carrying relatives. Production of conventional buses was discontinued as early as 1955. Nevertheless, the Mannheim plant continued to produce the OP 3500/OP 311/OP 312 cab-over-engine chassis derived from these buses until 1961, together with the light-duty L 311 truck.
Messengers of a new era
Cab-over-engine versions of the L 3500 truck were indeed available but still few and far between in the early 1950s. Initially, however, the fitting of the superstructure and the associated relocation of the seats toward the front was left to external partners such as Kässbohrer, Wackenhut and Binz. In response to growing demand, the company decided to produce a complete series of additional cab-over-engine chassis as soon as possible. The series became available in 1954, though still without cab and superstructure.
New life far away from home
The international career of the light-duty trucks from Mannheim began in the mid-1950s. India and Brazil (and also Argentina for a while) were the countries where the L 3500 and its successors were produced for a much longer period than in Germany. In Mannheim, the last trucks from this model series came off the assembly lines in May 1961. Production of bus chassis had already been discontinued in January 1961.
This brought the successful career of the first post-war development of Daimler-Benz to an end, at least in Europe. A total of 145,739 conventional trucks had been produced in Europe, plus 37,366 cab-over-engine units derived from them. Almost a quarter of these vehicles were destined for overseas assembly and set out on their journeys in the form of parts kits. Far away from home, the L 311 began a new life. As early as 1962, TATA celebrated the completion of the 60,000th Mercedes-Benz truck.
After the expiry of the 15-year contract, cooperation with TATA continued in a more informal manner. From then on, TATA sold the Mercedes-Benz trucks produced in India under its own brand name and without the Mercedes star on the radiator. Shipments of trucks packed in crates to South America continued in large numbers until the mid-1960s but declined toward the end of that decade. Governments insisted on local production of components to a growing extent.
And so, the assembly plants in Brazil and Argentina gradually developed into production sites in their own rights, which today occupy their firm place in the company’s global production network. The transmissions for European medium-duty trucks, for instance, are all produced in South America today.
Source: Daimler AG