Last year I was able to assess the all-round excellence of the Mercedes-Benz 220SE on the roads of Europe and last month I was able to spend an all-too-brief week-end motoring in the less expensive and even more economical Mercedes-Benz 190.
As I waited to take over the car at the Brentford depot of Mercedes-Benz (Great Britain) Ltd., and watched proud owners collecting their 190SLs and 300SLs, I was reminded of how I once stood, an enthralled schoolboy, in the London showrooms’ and saw through the windows great 36/220s and 38/250s arriving from and departing to far-flung destinations. The awe and magic imparted by the products of Daimler-Benz is as alive today as it was then, all those long years ago. . . .
Soon I was sitting high in that well-shaped and generously proportioned seat and looking over the smooth bonnet to the shining three-pointed star that rides steady and reassuringly above every Mercedes-Benz radiator. So well sited are the minor controls, so precise the steering-column gear-change, so entirely vice-free and light the steering, that in no time at all a driver new to the 190 feels securely at home in it. At the first set of red traffic lights on the Great West Road the big saloon rolled smoothly to a standstill and I thought the engine had stalled, so quiet is it at idling speed.
Then the lights changed, silence was exchanged for the subdued sound of high-grade machinery exerting itself, and as I went up through the gears other struggling cars—a sports Sprite, a zizzing Zephyr—fell far astern. The Mercedes-Benz 190 is that kind of car—in spite of having the ample body shell of a 220 (which means seating space for four in the back, three in front if the “bolsters” that are an available accessory are placed between the separate seats, as well as an enormous luggage boot) and an engine of only 1,897 c.c., the engineers of Daimler-Benz Aktiengesellschaft have contrived to get 90 b.h.p. from this efficient overhead camshaft power unit, so that acceleration is extremely impressive and top speed, which is also cruising speed, in the region of 90 m.p.h.
This, in itself, would be a notable achievement, but to extract this power from an engine that runs so smoothly and quietly that it can easily be mistaken for a 6-cylinder instead of a modest-sized “four” is a truly creditable accomplishment. It is significant that the outstanding Fiat 1500 owes much to ex-Ferrari engineer Lampradi, and the Mercedes-Benz to Rudolf Uhlenhaut, a Chief Engineer who is thoroughly at home in a G.P. racing car.
Experimenting with the impressive acceleration I had to brake hard as the next set of traffic signals jumped to red. The Mercedes-Benz came to rest easily, in calm contrast to a family car of popular make that arrived beside me, tyres squealing, and overshot the stop-line. It did not take long to appreciate how very restful travel in the latest Mercedes-Benz is—even in the 190 with its “little” 1.9-litre engine. There is no discernible road-noise from the big 7.00 x 13 Continental tubeless tyres, the aforesaid quietness of the engine is matched by that of gearbox and final drive, and windnoise at speed is but a whisper, which dies away as the quarterlights are wound tight-shut with the knurled knobs provided, the very well planned and effective heating and ventilating system enabling the occupants to remain comfortable with all the windows closed.
This Mercedes-Benz ran smoothly, too, undulations ignored by a suspension system that seemed too supple, until I came to the rather sporting roundabout at the approach to Staines and that ridiculously “tight” one in the middle of the Staines By-Pass, when it was apparent that roll is effectively suppressed and that this big car can be held close in round fast corners without effort, directional stability unimpaired. This impeccable cornering ability was to be enjoyed time and again during the week-end, on wet roads and dry, but on first acquaintance with it I became baulked in a corner by a 3-litre British car of good breeding, until the 190 proved willing and able to take it on the outside. . . .
I will remark, as did the late Charles Faroux, that I am not a bloody fool (only he was speaking of vintage Bentleys) and that those who tell me that independent rear suspension isn’t necessary presumably have never driven a modern Mercedes-Benz. This excellent controllability enabled Bohringer and Lang in their big 220SE to finish second to the Saab in this year’s Monte Carlo Rally—had there been no handicap they would have won outright.
Coming off the much-publicised By-Pass round Staines on to the older semi-circular one that avoids Egham, the 190 settled down to cope with the cluttered homeward-bound traffic of this Friday evening. The penetration of the Hella headlamps, both on full-beam or dimmed, and the accuracy of the steering enabled this big saloon to keep up with the Minis, which are notorious for getting through gaps where none exist. In driving of this kind the 190’s gear ratios are found to have been plotted with discernment, suiting admirably an engine able to run up to 6,000 r.p.m. (although peaking at 5,000 r.p.m.) and giving maxima in the indireats of 26, 42 and 69 m.p.h. without exceeding Stuttgart’s recommendations.
In details as well as in performance and handling characteristics a Mercedes-Benz displays, albeit discreetly, its unchallengeable superiority. The doors shut nicely and their pull-out interior handles operate as easily as squeezing the sensitive trigger of a craftsman-made sporting gun. It is nice to discover that the window-winding mechanism is equally well contrived and to hear your wife remark that she has never found a seat more easy to adjust. Bonnet and boot-lid open readily, the horn-ring is ideally placed, for the passengers there are rigid grips on the roof incorporating neat sliding coat hooks, and the cubby-hole in the dignified dark-veneered facia just holds a camera and its lightmeter, which so many don’t. Interior stowage is limited otherwise to a deep rear parcels-shelf, Mercedes-Benz believing that loose objects are better in the boot. The Vdo vertical ribbon speedometer, flanked by discreet temperature, rail-pressure and fuel-level gauges and indicator lights (including one for choke in use), is none too easy to read but as its ribbon changes colour at 31 m.p.h., again at 37 m.p.h., yet again above that speed, it is adequate for a quick check in restricted areas. The clock also suffers from reflections in its glass. A left-hand stalk not only actuates the direction flashers but provides for high-beam headlamps flashing in daylight. The ignition key turns anti-clockwise to start the engine and separate keys lock doors and hoot, rendering luggage secure in public garages. The interior door-locks are of sill-pattern. A neat turn-button controls all the lamps, Including parking lamps, and, with the wipers switch. comes immediately to hand. The only other knobs are for choke and cigar-igniter; they work with the anticipated precision. The facia has aircraftstyle air vents and a rather stiff toggle under it operates a powerful screen-wash; I prefer the foot-operated washer of the larger models. Crash padding is thorough, even to protection on the hub of the steering wheel.
Because the steering wheel is set low visibility is unimpaired. The clutch action is notably light and the pedals well placed. Incidentally, there is nothing ostentatious about the latest Mercedes-Benz, which derives dignity from its proud three-pointed star instead of drawing attention by garish chromium trim and gimmicks. Beneath the bonnet this theme is carried out, for Daimler-Benz eschew even a polished valve cover, preferring stark efficiency to be the keynote of their 85 x 83.6-mm. o.h.c. engine.
In the short drive from the outskirts of London, where Mercedes-Benz have extensive premises flanking both sides of the Great West Road, to my home in Hampshire I had decided that the 190 is a very remarkable motor car, its performance far greater than study of its imposing dimensions and small engine suggest.
In due course, driving it fast about deserted B-roads in Wiltshire, down to the Sussex coast and about Hampshire country limes, I had no reason to change these first good opinions. This is a big-dimensioned car that contrives to feel compact (its turning-circle endorses this) and one that imparts a great sense of security for its brakes, with turbo-fins on the front drums, kill speed effectively at the expense of harshness when applied to some purpose (probably on account of hard fade-free linings) and are fully in keeping with the facility with which steering and suspension heed the driver’s intentions. After 237 miles a light indicated that petrol would soon be needed. The absolute range was 277 miles, which is useful. Fuel consumption worked out at 25 3/4 m.p.g., the 8.7-to-1 compression-ratio not calling for 100-octane petrol. No oil was required in 435 miles, and in that two-day distance nothing went wrong apart front the rubber seal at the base of the gear-lever h wing to be pushed into place, and there was nothing to criticise except a mild rattle front the region of the bonnet on the over-run, no doubt peculiar to this hard-used demonstration car, which was not a specially-prepared Press car.
Silent, smooth travel among luxury appointments sums up this beautiful motor car. Do not, however, run away with the idea that this is expensive luxury. The Mercedes-Benz I tried is one of the small models of a versatile range; just as Rolls-Royce once made a 20/25-h.p. car to supplement. their 40/50, so the MercedesBenz 190 is an economical version of the more powerful 2.2-litre cars. The 190’s basic price is £1,362, making it a commercial traveller’s vehicle in its native country. In Britain the Government protects our Motor Industry by adding Import Duty and, all on, you have to pay £1,987 9s. 9d., which isn’t expensive by the high standard the car sets. (If you are actually poor. there is the 180, and if the thought of petrol bills worries you, diesel engines are available for both these models.) Anyone who can afford one of these cars is not likely to regard the outlay as in any way wasted. A number of worthwhile extras in keeping with the car’s demeanour, such as six fitted suitcases and a steel sliding roof, are available if required. Incidentally, a sensible detail is a plate listing tyre pressures under varying conditions on the back of the rear number-plate, which hinges down to reveal the fuelfiller.
I returned the 190 with genuine reluctance. Mercedes-Benz do not claim to make the Best Car in the World—which would be presumptuous—but, in my opinion, on all-round merit, this description can be fairly applied to the products of present-day Stuttgart.