Buyers Guide – On the Road Again W136, W191 & W187 Series • 1947-1955

Richard Simonds, Gary Anderson

Buyers Guide 01_0.jpgThe first automobile series produced by Mercedes-Benz after World War II linked the golden era
of the 1930s with the postwar world while reviving the firm’s reputation for quality and luxury


On the Road Again

W136, W191 & W187 Series • 1947-1955

The first automobile series produced by Mercedes-Benz after World War II linked the golden era
of the 1930s with the postwar world while reviving the firm’s reputation for quality and luxury





At the end of World War II in Germany in May 1945 – and with Daimler-Benz AG’s production facilities laid to waste by Allied aerial bombardment – the firm’s directors declared that it “had, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist.” Fortunately, Daimler’s factories were located in the western military occupation zones. The first task was to clear the ruins of rubble and slowly begin to rebuild. Then, to enable some cash flow, Allied Forces allowed Daimler to repair and maintain vehicles, including large trucks, for U.S. military use.

When it was discovered in 1946 that the production equipment for the prewar W136 chassis was largely undamaged, military authorities permitted Daimler to begin building utilitarian vehicles (delivery trucks, ambulances and police cars) that were essential to restore the German economy to a self-sustaining level. By mid-1947, the company was authorized to bring passenger cars back into general production: The 170V, first released in 1936, was reborn into a stark postwar world.

Though the W136 and the two chassis series that followed – the W191 and W187, all with limited changes to the prewar design – were exported from Germany, they were never formally imported into the United States. However, some American servicemen did return stateside with examples in tow, and upscale versions of the later W187s found their way into American hands; they do occasionally appear on the market. Performance is limited, but they are interesting for their historical significance: They are desirable for some automotive traditionalists or for those filling out their classic-car collections.


Into the modern era

First released in 1936, the W136 170V (V denoting a front-mounted engine) had been one of the most technically advanced cars of its day. These vehicles had an oval tube X-frame chassis, 4-cylinder (three main-bearing crankshafts) L-head gasoline and diesel engines, with the body panels and fenders separate from the frame.

In other respects, the 170V was typical of its era. Headlights with separate cowling were mounted on the fenders, there were running boards, and rear-hinged (“suicide”) front doors. By 1942, when Daimler-Benz ceased building passenger cars, nearly 90,000 W136 vehicles had been built – resounding proof of their popularity in Europe.
The updated 170S sedan was added in 1949. In January 1952, more luxurious gasoline-powered 170Sb and diesel-powered 170DS sedans were introduced by mounting the larger body from the prewar 230 sedan on the new W191 chassis. In addition, because diesel fuel was more widely obtainable and less costly than gasoline, diesel engines became available across the range. The W191s had the shift lever on the steering column, improved heating, a hypoid-gear differential, a 4-inch-wider rear track and a starting knob on the dashboard.

Largely as a cost-efficient transition strategy, company engineers introduced a 6-cylinder version of the 170V in April 1951: The 220, aimed at upper-middle-class professionals. Though it was given a new chassis designation, the W187, the model was simply a 170S body and frame with a highly efficient new 6-cylinder 2,195cc engine. However, stylists had done a very neat job of concealing the similarities to its predecessor by designing fenders with faired-in headlights.

In addition to sedans, the 220 was available in fashionable coupe and cabriolet body styles that caught the attention of high-ranking American military officers in Germany and minor celebrities in the United States. At least one well-equipped sedan example was imported to California by European auto dealer Max Hoffman, though he continued to focus on Daimler’s 300s and 300SLs.
Using a cost-efficient leapfrog development strategy, body-on-frame 170s and 220s were replaced in August 1953 by new W120 unibody chassis Ponton sedans. Early power trains and suspensions were simply shifted into the new chassis, with an overlap in production of both designs as stocks of the earlier chassis were depleted.

Although never officially imported, there are 170- and 220-series vehicles in the United States that were shipped here by members of the armed-services and tourists. Examples do appear occasionally at MBCA events and at classic-car auctions. Never having been valuable enough to justify a show-quality restoration, the few survivors that do show up are not usually in great condition, though they generally are in good operating condition. Exceptions do sometimes appear.

Reasons to buy a W136, W191 or W187

The primary reason to consider buying one of the postwar 170s or first-generation 220s is for historical interest; they represent an important stepping stone that helped rebuild Mercedes-Benz and the German economy after the destruction of World War II. With these cars’ timeless styling and classic prewar architecture, they will always capture attention at section events and regional classic-car meets.

The 4-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines of the 170s and the 6-cylinder gasoline engines of the 220s were exceptionally durable for the era and are relatively easy to work on and maintain. With their oval-tube frames, these models are very solid in construction, especially relative to other models of their period.
Acceleration is adequate for contemporary driving in the city, and the 65-75-mph cruising and top speeds are sufficient for highway transits, though perhaps not for long-distance trips. The independent rear suspension provides a comfortable ride.

Reasons not to buy a W136, W191 or W187

The typical prewar construction of the 170s – steel panels over wood frames make up the main body panels – can be very expensive to repair if neglected (see The Star July-August 2015, “Sleeping Beauty,” pp. 38-43, for one owner’s experience with a prewar 170). The rear-hinged front doors can sag if the wooden frame has deteriorated.

On the W191 and the first-generation W187s, the body was all steel except in the Cabriolet A, which still had a coach-built body. On all three body-on-frame series, rust – especially in the lower body (trunk, floor, chassis frame) – is a specific concern, as it is in all cars of this era.

Mechanically, the front suspension can wear if the central lubrication system was not used regularly and grease has hardened (the lubrication system had to be kept filled and the lube button should have been pushed every 100 miles; it often wasn’t).

The limited top speed limits, and more particularly the leisurely acceleration of the low-powered engine, makes routine highway driving impractical. Similarly, weak lighting at front and rear makes night driving challenging and perilous.
Because these models were not officially imported to the United States, parts are difficult to find, putting great emphasis on finding a car that is largely complete and operational.

A vehicle that has not been well maintained can look good externally but still become a money pit. If you’re in the market specifically for one of these cars, then be very patient and focus on condition, not price. In any case, don’t let your desire to have one override your willingness to perform due diligence with a prepurchase inspection focusing on both structural and mechanical aspects.


Check the vehicle’s structure very carefully. The wooden frame underlying the steel panels in the W187 is subject to dry rot. Body rust on all chassis is always a major concern, especially in the floor pan, trunk and box-beam frame rails. Check doors for alignment with striker plates and sagging when opened.

Electrical wiring is cloth covered; evidence of fraying can lead to the risk of shorts and needs attention. Be very cautious with a car where electrical repairs have been made by running secondary wires rather than repairing or replacing the original wiring harness. Because circuitry is relatively straightforward, replacement wiring harnesses can be built to order, if necessary.

Starters and generators are rebuildable, though it is becoming more difficult to find companies that can perform this service. Similarly, Solex carburetors, which are subject to warping – creating air leaks that will affect idle and driving performance – can be rebuilt by specialist companies.
Sedans and commercial vehicles – particularly the most basic police-car versions – are quite spartan and may easily cost far more to restore than their market value; do so out of passion and interest, but with careful regard for your pocketbook.

Buying tips

Buy the cleanest, best-maintained, most complete vehicle available; although a large number were built, few sedans once used for basic transportation were well cared for in their later years and fewer have survived in good condition. Barn finds are pretty much only valuable for parts and rarely make sense as restoration projects. The Cabriolets, if one can be found, are most likely to be in fair condition, but they are relatively rare.

The 170Sb/170DS, as well as the first-generation 220s, had the larger body of the prewar 230 sedan; thus, they offer a bit more interior space. In addition, the cabriolet models are quite attractive and – in appearance, at least – might even be considered sporty.

During this period of transition and trial-and-error strategic planning, Mercedes-Benz model nomenclature bounced around quite a bit as Daimler figured out what it was going to produce and how it would be named. Also, models overlapped in production, so it pays to be as knowledgeable as possible about a potential purchase.

For those who are simply interested in acquiring something quirky but functional from the early 1950s, the Ponton-chassis-series cars that replaced the 170 and early 220 examples should be considered as part of an informed buying decision. They are both larger and fitted with more convenience features while being considerably more practical and easier to maintain.
When considering the purchase of one of these early postwar automobiles, personally drive the car, if at all possible; otherwise, be sure to have a knowledgeable friend or mechanic drive the vehicle in question to determine the actual operating condition – not just how it looks in posed photographs on the internet. A formal inspection of the chassis and inner body panels may very well be worth the money because restoration costs are very likely to exceed long-term value if any body repair at all is required.


The attention-getting 170 models are a much less common sight at car shows and club meets in the United States than other, more typical postwar Mercedes-Benz classic vehicles. The W136, W191 and W187 models are straightforward and robust, yet evocative machines capable of transporting owners back to an earlier era. The simple beauty and classic detailing of the 170 and body-on-frame 220 range played a decisive historic role in the rebirth of today’s Daimler-Benz as the world’s leading manufacturer of luxury cars. This makes the model series a worthy candidate for consideration by the Mercedes-Benz enthusiast interested in enjoying the classic-car hobby.


Chronology: W136, W191 & W187 Series • 1947-1955

1946      June     170V utility vehicles production starts
        (delivery vans, ambulances, police car and a limited number of basic sedans)
1947      May     170V sedan production expands
1949      May     170D, 170S Sedan, Cabriolet A, and Cabriolet B production starts
        (Cabriolet A = two doors, two passengers; Cabriolet B = two doors, four passengers)
1950      May    170V, 170D production stops; 170Va gets larger engine; 170Da production starts
1951     April    220 models with 6-cylinder engines introduced
1951      November    170s Cabriolet A and B production stops
1952       January    170Sb, 170DS (W191) production starts
1952       February    170S sedan and 170S Series IV convertible production stops
1952       April    170Va, 170Da production stops
1952       May    170Db, 170Vb, 220 Cabriolet B production starts
1953       April    220 Cabriolet B production stops
1953       July    170S-V production starts (170V engine, 170SB chassis, 170V front axle, 170S body);  
              170S-D diesel production starts (170SB chassis, 170V front axle, 170S body)
1953       August    170Vb, 170Sb and 170DS sedan production stops
1953       October    170Db production stops
1954       May    Body-on-frame 220 sedan production stops; replaced by Ponton 220
1955       February    170S-V production stops
1955       July    Body-on-frame 220 Coupe production stops
1955       August    Body-on-frame 220 Cabriolet A production stops
1955       September    170S-D production stops





Mercedes-Benz 220 • 1953 Sedan



YEARS          MODEL                   TOTAL BUILT
1947-1953    170V, Va, Vb Sedan    49,367
1949-1953    170D Sedan                33,823
1949-1952    170S Sedan                28,708
1949-1951    170S Cabriolet A             830
1949-1951    170S Cabriolet B          1,603
1951-1954    220 Sedan                   16,066
1951-1955    220 Coupe                          85
1951-1955    220 Cabriolet A             1,278
1951-1953    220 Cabriolet B                997
1952-1953    170Sb                             8,080
1952-1953    170DS                           12,857
1953-1955    170S-V sedan                 3,002
1953-1955    170S-D sedan               11,800


Mercedes-Benz 220 • 1955 Cabriolet A


Model    Years    Chassis    Engine    Horsepower (SAE)    Torque (lb-ft)  

170V       1947-1950    W136     1,697 cc Inline-4                38    72.3

170Va     1950-1952    W136     1,767 cc Inline-4                45    79.6

170Vb     1952-1953    W136     1,767 cc Inline-4                45    79.6 

170S       1949-1952    W136     1,767 cc Inline-4                52    82.5

170Sb     1952-1953    W191     1,767 cc Inline-4                52    82.5

170D       1949-1950    W136     1,697 cc Inline-4 Diesel     38    70.9

170Da     1950-1952    W136     1,767 cc Inline-4 Diesel     40    74.5

170Db     1952-1953    W136     1,767 cc Inline-4 Diesel     40    74.5

170S-V    1953-1955    W136     1,767 cc Inline-4                45    79.6

170DS      1952-1953    W136    1,767 cc Inline-4 Diesel     40    74.5

170S-D     1953-1955    W136    1,767 cc Inline-4 Diesel     40    74.5

220           1951-1955    W187     2,195 cc Inline-6               80    104.9


Model    Years       Trans    0-62 (MPH)   Top Speed (MPH)     MPG (US)

170V       1947-1950    M-4    36 sec.    67    21.4

170Va     1950-1952    M-4    34 sec.    72    23.5

170Vb     1952-1953    M-4    34 sec.    72    23.5

170S       1949-1952    M-4    32 sec.    75    19.6

170Sb     1952-1953    M-4    32 sec.    75    19.6

170D       1949-1950    M-4    58 sec.    62    31.4

170Da     1950-1952    M-4    50 sec.    62    31.4

170Db     1952-1953    M-4    50 sec.    62    31.4

170S-V    1953-1955    M-4    39 sec.    72    20.5

170DS     1952-1953    M-4    56 sec.    62    27.7

170S-D    1953-1955    M-4    56 sec.    62    27.7

220           1951-1955   M-4    21 sec.     87   16.8