• With the Mercedes-Benz Stroke Eight in South Africa.

    Text and photos: Philipp Wente

The Stroke Eight becomes a legend.

Going off-road with the G-Class? Anyone can do that. But what would it be like bringing a 45-year-old Stroke Eight onto rough terrain? We dared to try it out. In South Africa. A thoroughly dusty test report.

G. In Mercedes-Benz nomenclature, the “G” stands for “Geländewagen” (off-road vehicle), for the iconic G-Class. It was developed and has been built for more than four decades to bring drivers and their materials to their destination safely and enjoyably on all roads around the world, but above all off-road.

The G-Class was presented to the general public in 1979. Three years previously, the Stroke Eight, i.e. the W 114/W 115 model series, was replaced by the W 123 model series. So the Stroke Eight was already history when the G was born. History? The Stroke Eight was much more than that, even back then. It had become a legend.

The Mercedes-Benz Stroke Eight /8 (W 115) in South Africa.
The Mercedes-Benz Stroke Eight /8 (W 115) on a gravel track in South Africa.

Many Stroke Eights are miles millionaires.

It was the first Mercedes-Benz to surpass all models from other manufacturers in the registration statistics. Designed by Paul Bracq, the body with clear lines and minus any fashionable attachments is not just formally timeless in the truest sense – it also remains a feast for the eyes, just as it did on its presentation in 1967. Its proverbial reliability in particular is legendary. Many Stroke Eights are miles millionaires. More than a million miles! That is a benchmark up to this day. The record holder, confirmed by Mercedes-Benz, can be admired in the company museum in Stuttgart: a W 115 240 D that covered 4.6 million kilometres with three replacement engines between 1976 and 2004.

Four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2,307 cc.

So what could make more sense than to actually dare the inconceivable: we nab an old and visibly active white W 115 230.4 from 1973. And we drive it where really only off-road vehicles can drive. We go all out. We drive on gravel.

Our white Stroke Eight is driven by a carburetted four-cylinder in-line engine with a displacement of 2,307 cc delivering a maximum of 81 kW or 110 PS. This model was built from August 1973 until production of the model series ceased for good in December 1976. Top speed is indicated as 170 km/h, and average consumption as 11.4 litres per 100 kilometres.

The bonnet of the Mercedes-Benz Stroke Eight /8 (W 115) during sunset in South Africa.

G for gratification.

Off to Cape Town. Destination G(ratification). Up until we pass Oudtshoorn on our trip in the Stroke Eight, well-maintained asphalt roads make their way through the wonderful landscape of the Western Cape. It seems as if the car was originally developed exactly for this – for pleasant cruising. For enjoyment: the beautiful landscape that unfolds above the long bonnet and the contoured wings, the sonorous hum of the four-cylinder engine that works with ease in any situation.

The interior which, although sober in style, was very lovingly designed is appealing today as well, 50 years after market launch, on account of its purity, simplicity and user friendliness. Only the most exacting of observers will discover a touch of refined material: pinstripes subtly decorate the speedometer, as well as other instruments. Even driving by the speedometer becomes a pleasure.

Part of the dusty rear of the Mercedes-Benz Stroke Eight /8 (W 115).

G for gravel.

When we stop to refuel in Oudtshoorn, the friendly filling station attendant can barely contain his enthusiasm for our white companion: “Oh, man. Oh, man. You’re a lucky man. You drive a Merc 115.” We take a left just beyond the filling station. The road leads straight towards huge towering mountains. Shortly before the Swartberg Massif the gradient increases, and the road surface changes abruptly. Although, it doesn’t really change at all. All of a sudden there is simply no longer a “surface”. Destination G(ravel).

Destination: hell.

There are much more relaxed ways to get from Oudtshoorn to the small town of Prince Albert, located on the other side of the mountain. By road, for example. But we are looking for adventure, for exactly this challenge. And so we drive to the Swartberg Pass. At the top of the Pass there is a sign with “Die Hel” written on it – hell. Gravel, sand, dust and stones as big as medicine balls form the road, indicating what conditions will be like on the Pass. We take the turn for the Pass. In some hollows, the path goes through water holes knee-deep. The white, hot Stroke Eight steams up when driving through, but it manages fine. It shakes and drives on right to the top, to hell.

The Mercedes-Benz Stroke Eight /8 (W 115) driving through a water hole in South Africa.
The Mercedes-Benz Stroke Eight /8 (W 115) in South Africa.

Destination: danger.

If you manage this, nothing else can ever scare you. Indeed, we challenge the white 230.4 on a daily basis for another week. We drive on sand tracks, over endless, dusty dirt roads and through savannah-like landscapes. We often read “Pasop. Slaggate on pad.” (“Beware. Potholes in the road.”). But what are potholes really? “Gevaar. Giftige Slang.” (“Danger. Venomous snakes.”) We frequently come across wild animals that have retreated to here, away from the tarred roads in South Africa, which is relatively densely populated. Dangerous destination.

Our Stroke Eight does all of this without complaint. The designation Stroke Eight incidentally references the official year of the premiere in 1968. It finally approaches Cape Town and Table Mountain with dust in every crevice and some chassis bushings audibly creaking. Destination G: It can do it. But at times it hurt to torture this beautiful saloon like this. Even without this adventure, it occupies a permanent place of honour in the Mercedes-Benz family tree. Fortunately, in 2018, there is still the G-Class for regularly and seriously tackling gravel.

Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert Stromverbrauch im kombinierten Testzyklus

Product may vary after press date on 07.05.2018.

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