I was intrigued by WB’s notes on the pre-war Mercedes transporters which appeared in the recent MOTOR SPORT and I thought I ought to write about a unique hearse on a supercharged Mercedes in Japan.
According to the Daimler-Benz archives, this particular Mercedes 15/17/100 (chassis/engine no 48218) was supplied new to the Japanese Finance Ministry in 1926 with a factory standard limousine coachwork. During WW2 it was converted to an ambulance which necessitated a stretch of the rear part of the bodywork but otherwise it remained more or less original. Then right after the war it was yet again given a new lease of life as a hearse. The Buddhist shrine style coachwork, a lot of elaborate carving in oak and copper and brass, is very typical of the Japanese hearse from the man-carrying era to this day. It is very heavy and weighs no less than 3.5 tons whereas it was 2.8 tons with the original limousine body. In this form the grand old Mercedes remained in active use until as late as 1968 when it was finally pensioned off, not because of the old age of the car, but the lack of drivers. The one and only driver/custodian of the Mercedes became too old to carry on and nobody among the fellow drivers dared to step forward and sit behind the huge (and apparently very heavy) Mercedes steering wheel! Sadly it was scrapped in the mid-Seventies.