It is a groundbreaking date for what was then Daimler-Benz AG: in November 1945, the US occupation zoneʼs economic authority granted the Stuttgart-based vehicle manufacturer permission to produce platform vehicles, panel vans and ambulances on the basis of the 170 V (W 136) passenger car, which the company had originally presented in 1936. The licence was extended to the passenger car in spring 1946. In May 1946, a platform body vehicle was the first of 214 units to roll off the final assembly production line at the Sindelfingen plant that year. It was followed by the first delivery panel van in June, an ambulance in September and a police patrol car in October. The units produced and gaps indicate that the production conditions were far from normal. It was not until mid-1947 that the 170 V four-door saloon followed the small commercial vehicles. The available photographic press documentation also demonstrates how important resuming production was for both the company and the public: there are plenty of images despite times being tough back then.
Launch: After having been granted approval, the company quickly took action. A decision was taken to relocate the final assembly for passenger cars from Untertürkheim to Sindelfingen – something which had already been planned prior to the war. The reason for taking this step was that transporting bodies from Sindelfingen through the Neckar Valley to Untertürkheim was more complicated than hauling drive unit components from Untertürkheim to Sindelfingen. On 22 February 1946, an M 136 four-cylinder engine marked the first engine produced at the Untertürkheim plant after the Second World War. The 1.7-litre unit generated an output of 28 kW (38 hp).
Solid design: The 170 V (W 136) saloon, produced in large numbers between 1935 and 1942, formed the tried and tested basis of the first post-war vehicles. The ambulance showed the most similarities: the rear-axle ratio remained unchanged, as did the wheel and tyre size (3.50 D x 16 and 5.50 x 16). Both variants reached a top speed of 108 km/h and the permissible gross vehicle weight totalled around 1.5 metric tonnes. The X-shaped, oval-tube frame was reinforced to increase the stability of the platform vehicles and panel vans, thus making it 40 kilograms heavier. The payload amounted to 750 kilograms and the gross vehicle weight was around two metric tonnes. Engineers specified 4.25 E x 16 as the wheel dimensions and matched these with 6.50 x 16 tyres. A shorter rear-axle ratio was implemented in an effort to achieve a more acceptable driving performance. For this reason, both commercial vehicles reached a top speed of merely 80 km/h.
Bare minimum: The vehicles came with very basic equipment. For instance, the vehicle’s interior design was very functional and there were no chrome parts on the exterior, thus underlining the extent to which this production was focussed on meeting basic transport and mobility requirements. The prevailing shortage of material brought about additional complications. Consequently, the vehicles were delivered without tyres – customers had to procure these from another source.
Organisational skill: Material shortages meant that there was a need to improvise when it came to producing the 170 V commercial vehicle variantsʼ bodies. There was hardly any sheet metal available. As a result, the sparse cab, a separate assembly unit, consisted of a simple, though at least lightweight, wood-fibre hardboard design, which had already been used for a host of trucks during the war. Sliding windows were installed as side windows and doors were locked by means of simple rim locks. It was cold in these cabs, particularly in winter, not least due to the lack of insulation – however, occupants were at any rate shielded from the direct head wind. The instruments with black dials were initially identical to those in former Wehrmacht all-terrain vehicles. Depending on the purpose, either a platform, box or ambulance body joined up with the cab. Police platform body vehicles were equipped with a tarp, frame and two benches facing each other in the loading area. Following the launch phase, the vehiclesʼ production figures were nevertheless respectable: by the end of 1946, 183 small commercial vehicles in various variants and 31 ambulances were produced.
Passenger cars: Production of the four-door 170 V saloon launched in July 1947. The price of 6,200 Reichsmark had been set by the government. However, these new vehicles were not available on the free market. During this period, you would only be provided with a vehicle – be it passenger car, bus, coach, van or truck – if you could prove it was a necessity. This added to the extreme popularity of the 170 V and led to its being traded on the black market at a price which was several times its original price. The vehicle would change hands for 100,000 Reichsmark or even 120,000 Reichsmark. This remained the case until the monetary reform of June 1948. From that point onwards, the vehicle was priced at 8,180 German marks. As of July 1948, the vehicle interior once again became ever so slightly more elegant when ivory-coloured instruments with black numbering were integrated – this had already been the case before the war. The overall balance in 1947: production totalled as many as 581 passenger cars and 464 vans. In 1948, this figure increased significantly to 4,500 passenger cars and 616 vans. Subsequently, the increase gained even more pace: in 1949, Daimler-Benz produced 12,719 passenger cars and 382 vans of this model, which was, at this point, the only vehicle type beyond the trucks division.
Energy source: In September 1943, Daimler-Benz presented a wood-gas generator for the 170 V, weighing only 70 kilograms. Loaded with around 24 kilograms of charcoal, a vehicle equipped with such a unit could cover 100 to 130 kilometres. Fuel also remained scarce after the war, yet wood was available. For this reason, the wood-gas system was once again produced from January 1946.
Second World War: In the years following the outbreak of the Second World War on 1 September 1939, the Wehrmacht quickly became the German automotive industryʼs biggest customer. In March 1940, Daimler-Benz converted to war-time production and produced around 1,000 vehicles on the basis of the 170 V passenger car each month, predominantly as all-terrain vehicles or vans. In November 1942, series production of the 170 V and 320 (W 142) passenger cars entirely ground to a halt. Production of the L 1500 A personnel carrier and the L 1500 S 1.5-metric-tonne truck, which was mainly used as a light fire service vehicle, continued.
Peace restored: In March and April 1945, Allied troops occupied the Daimler-Benz plants. The Second World War ended on 8 May 1945. 70 per cent of the Untertürkheim plant, 85 per cent of the Sindelfingen plant, 80 per cent of the Gaggenau plant and around 20 per cent of the industrial facilities at the Mannheim plant had been destroyed. The Untertürkheim plant was already reopened on 20 May 1945. However, 1,240 workers and employees did not resume their former activities, but started with the reconstruction of buildings and facilities. During this time commercial vehicles were initially more important than passenger cars. For this reason, production of the L 701 three-metric-tonne truck already resumed in Mannheim in June as part of a licensed replica production of the Opel “Blitz”, as had already been the case since August 1944. In Gaggenau the production of the L 4500 4.5-metric-tonne vehicle relaunched in August. By the end of 1945, a workforce of 12,850 was employed at all plants in West German zones. This figure increased to as many as 17,850 by the end of 1946.
Challenging framework conditions: Vehicle production was still facing a number of stumbling blocks two years after passenger car production had been resumed in Germany. Daimler-Benz commented in detail on the political and economic framework conditions in a press release published on 20 May 1948 in the run-up to the Hanover Export Fair, which had been held for the second time that year. An excerpt read: “It is a known fact that last yearʼs Export Fair was a particular success for Daimler-Benz A.G., considering that it was possible within a few days to land orders totalling around one million US dollars to supply goods to almost all European and several countries overseas. In actual fact, it has only been possible to deliver a fraction of this order volume over the past months and there are many reasons for this. Firstly, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands, Austria and France have issued import embargoes, leaving us with opportunities to supply only Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg in Europe.” A whole range of other adverse conditions exacerbated this, as the press release went on to explain: “The ability to export […] is also impaired by the lack of numerous auxiliary materials. […] These include – to name but a few – abrasive and polishing paste, waterproof abrasive paste, in short: things needed to produce high-gloss polish. As little as the lack of these elements may influence German buyers, they are still crucial for the export market.” Chairman of the Board of Management at Daimler-Benz, Dr Wilhelm Haspel, addressed the press, saying the following: “The industry has largely been left to its own devices in terms of the procurement of wood, textiles, upholstery materials, paint, etc. as the result of a completely inadequate assignment of these materials or a total lack thereof.”
Mercedes-Benz 170 V (W 136): In February 1936, the International Automobile and Motorcycle Exhibition (IAMA) in Berlin was dominated by the “50th automotive engineering anniversary”. Exhibits included the Mercedes-Benz 170 V with the internal designation W 136. The “V” indicated that the engine was installed at the front (“vorne” is the German word for front) and, correspondingly, the 170 H (W 28), which was also available but much less successful, featured a rear-mounted engine (“hinten” being the German word for rear). The X-shaped, oval-tube frame forms the backbone of the new design. It is around 50 kilograms lighter and also more rigid than the box-type frame used up to that point, despite the longer wheelbase. At that time, the chassis was at the cutting edge of technology. The front wheels were suspended individually on two transverse leaf-spring packs. A swinging axle featuring coil springs was installed at the rear. The M 136 engine with a displacement of 1,697 cubic centimetres, upright valves and vertical carburettor generated 28 kW (38 hp). In an effort to achieve good levels of refinement, the unit was suspended as a floating assembly on rubber bearings. The M 136 was considered simple and reliable.
Success on the market: A host of body variants were available for ordering when the 170 V was launched in March 1936: a saloon with two and four doors, cabriolet saloon, two-door open-top touring car (succeeded in 1938 by the four-door version), Cabriolet B and two-seater roadster. In May 1936, the ample model range was supplemented by the sporty and elegant Cabriolet A. Prices ranged from 3,750 Reichsmark for the two-door saloon to up to 5,980 Reichsmark for the Cabriolet A. From the first pre-series unit in July 1935 to November 1942, 91,048 Mercedes-Benz 170 Vs were produced as saloons or open-top vehicles. This made this vehicle the companyʼs most successful model by far up to that point. A 1939 brochure accurately summed up this circumstance: “The extent to which this new vehicle type […] meets the requirements of the automotive market is evidenced by the fact that the Mercedes-Benz 170 V has reached sales figures which had previously been unattainable for vehicles of its category.”
Important basis: The 170 V, once again produced from 1946, was not just pivotal to the mobility of the first post-war years, it also formed the starting point for the first new Mercedes-Benz passenger car model developments after the war. In May 1949, Daimler-Benz presented the Mercedes-Benz 170 D at the Hanover Export Fair – the brandʼs first post-war, diesel-powered passenger car. It was supplemented by the 170 S, a vehicle derived from the 170 V, but with larger dimensions and a more representative character. The continuously enhanced model range represented the backbone of the companyʼs passenger car production until 1953.
Media coverage: In the 16/1950 issue of “Neue Kraftfahrer-Zeitung”, the German motoring magazine stated that “in terms of handling characteristics, output and equipment, etc., the Mercedes-Benz 170 V and D definitely form part of the pinnacle of German passenger cars”. “Automobil-Revue”, a Swiss motoring magazine, noted in its 12/1950 issue: “The Mercedes-Benz Model 170 V has long since passed the motoring equivalent of adolescence. But is it not a vehicle which, in terms of its performance, modesty, economy, safety, durability and – last but not least – beauty, can still stand comparison with the latest chrome-plated creations of car fashion?”
Source: Mercedes-Benz Classic