Modernist Milestones: W110, W111 & W112 Finback Sedans • 1959-1968

Richard Simonds & Gary Anderson

66 Finback 01.jpgThe Mercedes-Benz “Finback” models – both the no-frills W110 range and the exquisite W111 and
W112 luxury sedans – combined advanced safety features such as crumple zones and seatbelts with Stuttgart’s traditional robust engineering, reliable engines and classically restrained modern styling


Modernist Milestones: W110, W111 & W112 Finback Sedans • 1959-1968

Article Richard Simonds & Gary Anderson

Images courtesy Daimler Archives


The Mercedes-Benz “Finback” models – both the no-frills W110 range and the exquisite W111 and
W112 luxury sedans – combined advanced safety features such as crumple zones and seatbelts with Stuttgart’s traditional robust engineering, reliable engines and classically restrained modern styling

Product management has always been key to the success of the Mercedes-Benz Cars company. Carefully planned model changes, long production runs, multiple market offerings from combinations of basic chassis series and engines, and derivatives for niche markets have been the hallmarks of the company’s product offerings both before and after the watershed of World War II.

Perhaps one of the best examples of production management was the W111 chassis series, first introduced as a mid-priced all-purpose 6-cylinder sedan in 1959. After two years of production, the series was extended with the less expensive 4-cylinder W110 series for the personal and commercial markets while at the same time enhanced with the W112 for the luxury sedan market. The hand-built bodies and V-8 engines for luxury coupe, convertible and limousine customers were added to the series.

This Buyers Guide focuses specifically on the core sedan lineup, with the obvious styling flourish of vestigial fins on the rear fenders that gave the lineup the not-entirely flattering nickname of “Heckflosse,” German for Finback – as they’re referred to in the United States – or Fintail in England.

Today, the Finback range – handsomely styled, roomy and, if purchased with care, practical and reliable – makes an excellent, inexpensive entry point into Mercedes-Benz classic-car ownership.


Mercedes-Benz engineers under the direction of Fritz Nallinger and Béla Barényi had made a major leap forward in 1951-1952 when they introduced the integrated body and frame (unibody) chassis into large-scale automobile production with the W120 Pontons. Work on the succeeding W111 Finbacks began in 1956, carrying forward the major safety concept of nondeformable passenger compartment with front and rear crumple zones, as well as the single styling line from headlight to taillight. The structural characteristics of the bodies were improved with Barényi’s introduction of crash-testing as a development method.

In styling terms, the rounded bodies of the Pontons were widened, with edges and lines straightened to provide greater interior, engine and luggage space. The exact reasons have been lost in history, but fins were added to the ends of the rear fenders, perhaps in emulation of a trend that had dominated U.S. automobile design through the 1950s, or to improve aerodynamic stability, or simply to give the driver an idea of where the car ended at the rear and sides.

Three 6-cylinder models – the 220b and 220Sb with the M180 engine, and the 220SEb with the M127 engine – with successively higher horsepower and fancier trim levels – were introduced at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September 1959 and put into production for the model year 1960. These were quite attractive cars, with up-to-date features including quad-stacked headlights on the units bound for North America and smooth single lenses covering the stacked headlights on the European units, and double bumpers all around with front and rear overriders.

In 1961, the model line was split into three to broaden market reach. The W110 chassis, similar in most respects to the W111 but with a 2-inch shorter wheelbase, 4-cylinder M121 gasoline engine or OM621 diesel engine and very basic trim, was introduced in the 190c and 190Dc to offer a lower customer price-point.

The 4-cylinder Finbacks were quite plain. While the rear shared its body panels with the more expensive W111s, including the distinctive fins, the front was almost ponton-like in appearance. Anything that did not enhance the functionality of the cars was not included. For example, the W110s had single 7-inch sealed-beam headlights with large round chrome bezels on the fenders that came straight up from the single bumper.

Many of the W110s, especially in Europe, were used as taxicabs or for other utilitarian applications, so most of them were well used up at the end of their life. The smaller engines – especially the diesel engines – were designed for longevity and economy, not for performance; and, as a result, they are quite leisurely on the road. Thus, the W110s have never been seen as collectible and certainly not worth restoring, though today if a buyer were to come upon one in excellent original shape, it would hold enough interest to be worth refreshing and enjoying.

At the other extreme that same year, the more desirable and expensive 300SE sedan was created by inserting the more powerful fuel-injected 3-liter M189 engine from the 300d into the W111 chassis, with additional interior trim and exterior design features, as well as power steering and air suspension. With the improvements, the chassis was designated W112. A year later, recognizing that the 300 Adenauer limousines were getting long in the tooth – but executives and diplomats still needed to be transported – the 300SEL long-wheelbase version was created to meet high-end demand until the 600 Grosser could be introduced.

By 1965, the world was literally passing Mercedes-Benz cars by, so the entire lineup was refreshed with more powerful engines. At the bottom of the line, the 4-cylinder gasoline engine was increased in capacity to two liters, and two carburetors were used for fuel to create the 200 model and the 190Dc became the 200D. The 2.3-liter M180 engine replaced the earlier powerplant on the rest of the series, creating the W110 230 and the W111 230S.
However, the world really was by this time tired of fender fins, so the high-end W112s were discontinued in favor of the “new-look” W108s and W109s, with their rear-end styling treatment adapted from the essentially hand-built bodies of the W111 coupes and convertibles with their rounded rear fenders.

By February 1968, the transition was essentially complete and the last of the Finbacks, the W110 200s, were shipped.

200 (W110) • 1965 -1968


220 SE (W111) • 1959-1965


300 SE (W112) • 1961-1965


Reasons to buy a Finback sedan

All three Finback chassis series shared a proven unibody chassis with built-in safety features. Though the Finbacks were not quite up-to-date by the time the series was discontinued, the styling has proven to be handsome among the best of the traditional Mercedes-Benz cars – and quite timeless.

Cabin visibility is excellent, and the spacious seating and trunk space are great for families and touring. The ride is comfortable, especially in the W112 series, even with the leisurely performance. The 4-cylinder models (gas and diesel) offer quite good fuel economy. Overall, if purchased carefully, these cars can offer great value for the money.

Reasons not to buy a Finback sedan

Many examples of the Finbacks, especially the W110s, have been pretty much used up; their intrinsic desirability isn’t sufficient to justify any restoration costs, especially if body work is needed. That’s not necessarily a reason to turn down a good example if one turns up, but simply means that for someone who wants one of these icons of period styling, the hunt may take some time.

For the same reasons, many of the basic trim pieces and even some of the mechanical parts are no longer available; an incomplete example, though in good running order, won’t provide the satisfaction of owning a car that is representative of its historical period.


The holy grail of these cars is the one- or two-owner car that was carefully maintained in its lifetime and then tucked away: Most examples are probably on their fifth or sixth owner and have been used as a beater for too long, with repairs and maintenance needs ignored because of the costs.

Start by checking carefully for rust in floors, inner fenders and structural members. Depending on extent, any more than superficial rust will make it financially impossible to make one roadworthy and safe to drive.
Buy the best one you can find. Poor repairs to the body or any of the major systems (engine, fuel, cooling, drivetrain, etc.) can be expensive, whether you want a car that can be shown with pride or just a daily driver that will mark you as having distinctive tastes.

Front suspension on cars of this era required regular lubrication – even when not used regularly – to prevent the grease from drying into a concrete-like consistency that will break components. A rarely driven low-mileage model can be worse than a well-maintained, high-mileage car because of corrosion, fuel-system rust, dried-out seals that leak oil, and so forth.
A vehicle inspection by a mechanic who knows the cars of the era – preferably one who knows the characteristics of the Finbacks – is seriously recommended: You need more than a modern-car technician to perform a thorough assessment.
Trim pieces, knobs, chrome and emblems should all be intact; short of finding a junkyard cache of Finbacks, they are nearly impossible to get. The W112s were produced in very low numbers and most of the W111s and W110s have already been crushed and reincarnated into the metal of modern cars.

Check the air suspension on all W112 cars; it is expensive to rebuild/replace. At the very least, it will probably need to be disassembled and rebuilt. An alternative is to replace the whole system with a modern air-suspension system, a practical strategy in today’s low-rider world.

Buying strategies

If you’ve taken a liking to this period piece, with its interior space, practical approach to motoring and evocative styling, the best bet is to look for one of the last examples built that incorporated all the improvements made over the life of the cars, especially engines, brakes and mechanical components.

The W112s are the most satisfying of the line because of their luxury touches and good performance, though perhaps the most challenging to find in good, complete condition. The downside of this model is the air suspension, but that can be serviced, rebuilt or replaced with a modern system. If price appreciation is part of the equation, these cars likely will be more collectible over time.

On the other hand, the 220S and 230S are more practical to own, with less chrome, no air suspension, much greater choice and availability of parts from donor cars due to higher production numbers. Should a W110 in good condition cross your path, think about the possibilities of owning a piece of automobile history.

Alternatively, you can look for one of the custom-bodied vehicles – limousine, ambulance, hearse or station wagon – that were built for many years on the sturdy, sensible chassis.

Finally, the bottom line is that if you can find a Finback that appeals to you for sale in excellent condition at a reasonable price, buy it. On the other hand, think very carefully before attempting anything like a restoration.


The utilitarian W110 range – engineered to the same high standard as the much more luxurious and powerful W111 and W112 Finback models – came equipped with smaller, more efficient 4-cylinder engines.


Offering identical interior and luggage space to the longer W111, these no-nonsense machines, particularly the diesel model, were a popular choice with taxi drivers.



Chronology: W110, W111 and W112 Finback Sedans 1959-1968

1959     August: Three W111 Finback models  – 220b, 220Sb and 220SEb – with many new safety features – introduced to replace the Ponton 219, 220S and 220SE

1961     April: Automatic transmission becomes available in 220SEb

1961     April: 4-cylinder Finback models 190c (1.9-liter gas) and 190Dc (2.0-liter diesel) introduced as chassis W110, replacing Ponton models 190b and 190Db

1961    August: W112 300SE introduced with standard automatic transmission, air suspension, dual-circuit brake system and 4-wheel disk brakes, a first for Mercedes-Benz

1962     January: Last of Hydrak transmission availability in W111s

1962     April: 220Sb, 220SEb fitted with front disk brakes

1962     August: 4-speed automatic transmission becomes available in 220b, 220Sb and 190c

1963     March: 300SE long wheelbase introduced with 4 inches of extra legroom for rear passengers; 4-speed manual available in both versions of 300SE

1963    July: 4-speed automatic transmission is offered as option on the 190Dc

1963    August: 190c, 190Dc and 220b fitted with dual-circuit power brakes with front disks

1964      January: 300SE gets higher compression ratio and larger injection pump to increase horsepower

1965     July/August: 220b, 220SEb and 300SE production ends; W108/109 production begins; 230S replaces 220b

1965     August: 200 (2.0-liter) and 200D replace 190c and 190Dc

1968     January: 230S production ends

1968     February: Finback sedan production ends; total sedan production of W110, W111 and W112: 973,033


The update of 1965 brought slight improvements to both gasoline and diesel engines, relocated front indicators, simpler taillights, revised rear trim and new C-pillar cabin air outlets


A beautiful 1965 example of the stylish and desirable Mercedes-Benz 300SE sedan, with its luxurious interior trim, opulent leather seating and unique exterior design features, as well as power steering and air suspension, powered by a fuel-injected 3-liter M189 engine rated at 195 horsepower.


Specifications: W110, W111 & W112 Finback Sedans • 1959-1968

CHASSIS SERIES            W111         W111          W111          W112         

MODEL                           220b           220Sb         220SEb       300SE        

YEARS                            1959-65    1959-65      1959-65      1961-65          

TOTAL BUILT                 69,691        161,119      66,086        5,202         

ENGINE                          180.940      180.941      127.982      189.984     


HORSEPOWER (SAE)    105             124             134             185-195     

TORQUE                         133             139             152             205-203     

TRANSMISSION             4M-4A        4M-4A         4M-4A         4M-4A        

LENGTH (INCHES)         191.9          191.9          191.9          191.9         

CURB WEIGHT (LBS)    2,904         2,959          3,036          3,476         

0-62 mph                      16               16               14               12-13         

MPG                              15-17          15-17          17-23          15-22   


CHASSIS SERIES            W110         W110          W112          W110         

MODEL                           190c           190Dc         300SEL       200            

YEARS                            1961-65      1961-65     1962-65      1965-68          

TOTAL BUILT                 130,554      225,645      1,546          70,207       

ENGINE                          121.924      621.912      189.984      121.940     


HORSEPOWER (SAE)    90               60               185-195      105            

TORQUE                         113             87               205-203      122            

TRANSMISSION             4M-4A        4M-4A         4M-4A         4M-4A        

LENGTH (INCHES)         186.2          186.2          195.9          186.2         

CURB WEIGHT (LBS)    2,816         2,904          3,586          2,805         

0-62 mph                      18-22         29-30          12-13          15-16         

TOP SPEED                    93-90         81-79          109-124      100-98       

MPG                              19-20         15-22            15-22          17-19  


CHASSIS SERIES            W110         W110          W111

MODEL                           200D          230             230S

YEARS                            1965-68    1965-68      1965-68

TOTAL BUILT                 161,618      40,258        41,107

ENGINE                          621.918      180.945      180.947


HORSEPOWER (SAE)    60               105-118      135

TORQUE                         87               137-145      145

TRANSMISSION             4M-4A        4M-4A         4M-4A

LENGTH (INCHES)         186.2          186.2          191.9

CURB WEIGHT (LBS)    2,915         2,871          2,970

0-62 mph                      29-30         29-30          13-15

TOP SPEED                    81-79         104-103      109-108

MPG                              14-16       25-26         17-23



From the cover of a W111 220, 220S and 220SE sales brochure, 1959.