A solid classic that's useable daily. We take a closer look at the Mercedes-Benz W110 "Fintail"...

Unlike today, where avant-garde designs rule, Mercedes-Benzes used to be conservatively styled. Witness this “Fintail”, which followed the “Ponton” models but stuck to that tried-and-tested formula ensuring a classic look which has stood the test of time. Spot a Fintail, a precursor to the E-Class, on the streets today and the elegant lines and appearance of solidity are immediately evident.

Packaging

The W110 range offered two series of four-cylinder models in petrol and diesel, with the later iteration seeing the front indicators move from above the fenders to below the headlamps. The W111, meanwhile, was a range of upmarket, six-cylinder petrol vehicles distinguishable by elongated front headlamps.

Models included 190c and 190Dc, followed in 1965 by the 200, 200D, 220S, 220SE, 230 and 230S, indicating numerically accurate engine capacities.

Independent suspension with coil springs all-round was used and the steering system employed recirculating balls. Boot capacity was capacious at more than 600 litres.

Powertrain

The 190c we tested in April 1963 used the 190b engine with a raised compression ratio (8,7:1) and altered valve timing to deliver 67 kW.

Twin Solex 38 PDSI carbs were employed on the popular 200, while later models switched to twin Zenith carbs. These companies combined and later were joined by Stromberg, which means you may find Zenith-Solex and Zenith-Stromberg carbs, for example. A four-speed transmission with column shift transferred power to the rear wheels, while a four-speed automatic gearbox was introduced in the 230 models.

The diesels (naturally aspirated) lacked power; 40 kW in a fairly large body meant lethargic performance. The petrol fared better, with the 200 also developing 67 kW, the 220 79 kW and the 230 85 kW.

Which one to get

All Mercedes-Benz vehicles up to the 1980s are desirable but, generally, the ones with more power will always be in greater demand across every range of Benz. Between 1965 and 1968, diesel sales were just 25 percent less than petrols, which was a rare occurrence and means oil-burners are nearly as easy to find.

So, the W111 models are more satisfying on the open road thanks to having more power, but that desirability also means they’re now more expensive.

What to watch out for

Suspension bushes, shock absorbers and ball joints should be inspected. If the rear-end is sagging, the coils springs may need replacing. A compression test would help indicate engine condition and the rest is down to visual cues. Generally, the Fintails that remain are in great condition as most owners fastidiously maintain them.

Availability and prices

If, like many of us, you keep a keen eye on classic cars for sale, you may have noticed once-affordable Mercedes-Benzes have been quietly heading northwards on the price list. It’s getting too late for any bargains from the W110 and W114 (circa 1970) ranges but the W123s remain good value and are fantastically well built. If you have your heart set on a Fintail, expect to pay anywhere from R150 000 to R275 000.

Interesting facts

Back in the day, diesel-powered Mercedes-Benzes were favourites of farmers because they did not pay duty on the farm diesel they used for their tractors and trucks (and, therefore, their Benzes, too). That’s why, in the early 1960s, waiting lists were long…

Thinking of the Solex/Zenith/Stromberg carburetion as mentioned above, the W123 Mercedes-Benz 200 used a Stromberg, a constant-depression design like the SU. Other descriptions for constant depression are “constant vacuum” and “constant velocity”, meaning the design aims to keep the air velocity through the carburettor constant.

We also noticed the 190C test unit of 1963 had a white steering wheel, while later cars featured black wheels (with the exception of the six-cylinder models, which retained white). VW similarly changed the colour palette from white to black on the Beetle in the early 1960s.

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