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People usually play golf here.

And suddenly we arrive at a golf course and the road ends. Ooops! While all the other people present are quietly putting golf balls around the green, with their large SUVs parked neatly in the car park, here we are with a Mercedes-Benz 220 “Ponton” unexpectedly parked in the middle of the green. That might raise a few eyebrows.

“Excuse me, but this road is actually closed to traffic. People play golf, here, you see …” With our heads lowered, we mutter something about open barriers, confusing route guidance and enticing sandy tracks and we’re just about to mumble some form of apology when we realise there is a growing number of golfers standing around. Soaked to the skin, some of them pull their caps down tighter while others appear to have given up the fight with the elements, but they all seem to be grateful for the historical change on this rainy morning on the green. Phrases like “That was my dad’s first car …” or “Wow! A ‘Ponton’ Mercedes, and the long-wheelbase version, as well, look at that, Egon …” replace the well-meant instruction about who is allowed to be where and who isn’t.

60 years ago, the tyres were not anywhere near as wide as they are now.

60 years ago, the tyres were not anywhere near as wide as they are now.

Tiny tail lights and no third brake light. The laid-back 1950s.

Tiny tail lights and no third brake light. The laid-back 1950s.

An eye-catching spectacle, wherever, whenever.

They are all evidently very pleased at the unexpected appearance of this predecessor of the S-Class, and, anyway, it’s lunch time. And what about us? Somehow we have to find a way to get the Ponton off the green, and preferably without it getting stuck …

The Mercedes-Benz series W 180 models leave smart, look-alike hipsters with full beards and thick-rimmed glasses (but no hair on their heads) in town centres more or less cold. To them, cars began somewhere around the turn of the current century, and these much older, technological classics mean virtually nothing to them. The rain-drenched golfers were a completely different audience. Some still remember the “Ponton” themselves from their younger days, and either their parents or an uncle will have had one at some point. Its smaller brother, the W 120, and its variants (equivalent then to today’s E-Class) were produced from 1953 in their hundreds of thousands and, fitted with diesel engines, were highly popular and ubiquitous as taxis.

More elegant and dignified.

The large “Ponton” model that was launched a year later was a total of 17 centimetres longer, of which ten centimetres were allocated to the straight six engine and the remaining seven centimetres in the back to the passengers. Although the extended length was visually not very evident at first sight, it did make the vehicle’s lines more elegant and dignified. More than 80,000 of the variants 220, 220 S and 220 SE alone were sold between 1954 and 1959. In the 1950s, designers knew full well how to blend an elegant appearance with the need for mobility. And the “Ponton” was impossible to overlook when out on the road.

The Ponton looks good here – if only it weren’t a golf course.

The Ponton looks good here – if only it weren’t a golf course.

When smoking in the car was common practice – plenty of room for a real cigar butt.

When smoking in the car was common practice – plenty of room for a real cigar butt!

Sitting-room charm.

A few hundred vehicles of these series are still registered in Germany today. What a pity there are so few of these luxurious vehicles from the 1950s that contribute to slowing down the pace of life in their own very special way. Mercedes-Benz introducing the new monocoque self-supporting chassis design signalled the end of the ladder-type frame constructions used until that time. This meant that the exterior of the vehicles changed completely, and, as a result of the concealed wheel arches, they did not look much different from the cars we know today. Inside, however, the charm of the old carriages with their high-quality materials was retained, especially in the six-cylinder models. Fine leather, deep-pile carpets and, above all, plenty of wood, turned the spacious interior into a salon for the well-to-do and, if one so wished, a smoker’s lounge. The chromium-plated ashtrays came in a size reminiscent of today’s drink holders. Drink holders, on the other hand, had not even been thought of, as nobody in 1955 felt a need to eat or drink while sitting in their car. So, gentlemen (and ladies), please direct us into a nice parking space and then you can get back to striking balls with clubs.

Still drives like a modern car.

In the last sixty years, nothing has changed in terms of the basic actions involving driving a car. The clutch is on the left, the brake pedal (drum brakes) is in the middle and the accelerator is on the right. The gear lever – a dying relic similar in this respect to the classic three-box limousine designs – is located on the steering column. Once one has gotten used to all this, the model 220 gracefully turns and leaves the golf course without the wheels digging up the rich, sodden green thanks to the independent rear suspension. Thank you, gentlemen, for your gesticulatory hand and foot guidance to get us off the lawn. I promised to make a kind mention of that point.

The solid, flowing shape of the inferred wings is embellished by the chromium highlights and, if we remember that today’s compact cars weigh around 1,300 kg, our old friend, with its 85 PS (63 kW), is still very competitive. In those days, 150 km/h was a realistic top speed, but who would really want to put that to the test in such a dignified car? In those early days, there was no need for higher top speeds and today it’s hardly possible anyway. And so we leave the golf course. A few of the men ecstatically wave the W 180 goodbye, and the others disappear into a dry building near the sixth hole.

Good quality sound and a clock, both of which were not fitted as standard at all in 1955.

Good quality sound and a clock, both of which were not fitted as standard at all in 1955.

A car ... and its world.

The rain is now thundering on the roof of the big Ponton as we wind our way through the hilly countryside. My co-driver has now turned on the satnav just in case, rather than end up somewhere that we did not want to visit, like the golf course. To be fair, the golfers were all very friendly, if rather wet – perhaps one should try after-work golf again. The small windscreen wipers remove the raindrops from the windscreen, the radio plays quietly and the image of the cosy (dry) sitting room will not go away. The wooden trim all round me is just too solid. Fantastic.

“Made in Germany”.

Sitting upright on a single front bench like a settee with no side support, seatbelts or head restraints, with a battery of large buttons under the broad speedo like the stops of a church organ – this is what I call dignified, it feels good and keeps travellers relaxed even after many kilometres on the road. Plenty of electrics, and no electronics. The outside world is outside, but not so hermetically locked away that you lose touch with it. That feels good. Anyone who has to travel long distances every day in modern times has, of course, become accustomed to a different level of comfort and safety. And that is the way it should be. But for a short break, this Ponton takes us back to the middle of the last century, into the times of the economic miracle and the factories making articles “Made in Germany”. And that doesn’t feel so bad, either.  

The enormous, thin steering wheel, and a settee with no side supports. But you didn’t need them anyway.

The enormous, thin steering wheel, and a settee with no side supports. But you didn’t need them anyway.

Tail lights like little works of art, by day and by night.

Tail lights like little works of art, by day and by night.

Mercedes-Benz 220 (W 180).

  • Year of manufacture: 1955
  • Engine: Straight 6
  • Displacement: 2,195 cc
  • Power output: 63 kW (85 PS)
  • Transmission: 4-speed manual gearbox
  • Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
  • Top Speed: 150 km/h

Image gallery.

Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert Stromverbrauch im kombinierten Testzyklus

Product may vary after press date on 31.01.2019.

1 Die angegebenen Werte wurden nach dem vorgeschriebenen Messverfahren ermittelt. Es handelt sich um die „NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 1 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

2 Die angegebenen Werte sind die „gemessenen NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 2 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153, die im Einklang mit Anhang XII der Verordnung (EG) Nr. 692/2008 ermittelt wurden. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Aufgrund gesetzlicher Änderungen der maßgeblichen Prüfverfahren können in der für die Fahrzeugzulassung und ggf. Kfz-Steuer maßgeblichen Übereinstimmungsbescheinigung des Fahrzeugs höhere Werte eingetragen sein. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch und die CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

4 Angaben zu Kraftstoffverbrauch, Stromverbrauch und CO₂-Emissionen sind vorläufig und wurden vom Technischen Dienst für das Zertifizierungsverfahren nach Maßgabe des WLTP-Prüfverfahrens ermittelt und in NEFZ-Werte korreliert. Eine EG-Typgenehmigung und Konformitätsbescheinigung mit amtlichen Werten liegen noch nicht vor. Abweichungen zwischen den Angaben und den amtlichen Werten sind möglich.

6 Stromverbrauch und Reichweite wurden auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Stromverbrauch und Reichweite sind abhängig von der Fahrzeugkonfiguration. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

7 Angaben zu Stromverbrauch und Reichweite sind vorläufig und wurden vom Technischen Dienst für das Zertifizierungsverfahren nach Maßgabe der UN/ECE-Regelung Nr. 101 ermittelt. Die EG-Typgenehmigung und eine Konformitätsbescheinigung mit amtlichen Werten liegen noch nicht vor. Abweichungen zwischen den Angaben und den amtlichen Werten sind möglich.