The Mercedes 170 S (1949 – 1955)

Today in 2012 very few people have an idea what a Mercedes 170 S is all about. Most of them have never even seen one. If asked they might consider it as part of the modern A-Class series and when confronted with the fact that a 1.7 l powered car with a top speed of 105 km/h (65 mph) was once regarded as the ultimate in German luxury engineering, they have understandable difficulties to believe that.

So, let us dive a bit into the history of Mercedes after the war and have a look at what made this strange car so special. In the late 1940s, when this car was launched in Germany, times were very different. And not only in Germany. It was a similar situation all over Europe. Human resources were available in abundance, but there was an acute shortage in raw materials, machinery tools and most of all money. So most automobile manufacturers in Europe tried to launch cars that were either already available before World War II or were mildly upgraded to make them look at least from the outside somewhat more modern. Technically they were all just copies of what was already available ten years earlier.

The first Mercedes after the war was no different. Launched in 1947 the first “new” Mercedes was called the 170 V. It was a direct copy of what Daimler-Benz had introduced already in 1936. Towards the end of the 1940s people had grown a bit tired of prewar cars and wanted something different. But as money was still in short supply, Daimler-Benz used a body that was slightly bigger than the one of the 170V, but was also very similar to cars launched before the war.

The engine was upgraded from 38 hp to 52 hp and the car was launched as the Mercedes 170 S, “S” standing for “super”. Prices started in 1949 at 10,100.- DM ($2,400.- at contemporary exchange rates). It meant that very few could afford the car. As a first in the history of Mercedes: a four-cylinder car for the rich and famous. In the US that kind of money bought you an eight-cylinder Packard. None of 170 V or S cars would have found a buyer in North America. But if Daimler-Benz would have made an attempt to sell the Mercedes 170 S to potential American customers, there would have been no dealership yet to shoulder such a task. That came a few years later only.

But at least in Germany the car played its role surprisingly well. One of the reasons was of course that competition didn’t have anything better to offer. The General Motors subsidiary Opel had the prestigious and well received six-cylinder Kapit, which was priced at around the same level. But that was the end of it, no other manufacturer at least in Germany had a car that could rival the four-cylinder Mercedes 170 S. In typical Mercedes tradition its built quality, its road holding manners and its image were second to none and those three factors were the very foundation on which Daimler-Benz slowly started to re-build its road to recovery.

The icing on the (image-) cake was the introduction of two elegant convertibles, the two-seater Cabriolet A and the four-seater Cabriolet B. Both cabriolet interiors were trimmed more elaborately than the sedan’s. In typical Mercedes fashion, they also had a price tag that made them the most expensive German cars money could buy. Although very few could afford them, and even if Daimler-Benz was most probably not able to make money with these hand built beauties, image wise they were unbeatable.

When production of the Mercedes 170 S was finally halted in 1955, the car looked with its 1930s style fenders like an ancient pelican compared with the more modern ponton limousines, and very few still wanted to buy the car. But together with its predecessor the 170 V this car was in the history of Mercedes an instrumental first step in the company’s later dominance of the luxury car market.

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