Pontons: W120, W180, W121, W105, & W128 Ponton Sedans • 1953-1962

Richard Simonds, Gary Anderson

BG Ponton 01.jpgPopular & Robust

W120, W180, W121, W105, & W128 Ponton Sedans • 1953-1962

The modern and sensible Ponton became a global best seller for Mercedes-Benz


Article: Richard Simonds, Gary Anderson

Data Tables: Daniel Stahl

Images: Daimler Archives, Mercedes-Benz Classic Center


Though not a major factor in the American car market, the unpretentious Ponton sedans, introduced by Mercedes-Benz in 1953 and produced through 1962, have a special place in automotive history; consequently, they are of interest to collectors.

The Ponton introduced a completely new style and method of construction to Mercedes-Benz automobiles. The “Ponton” name was coined by a journalist who thought the integrated shape flowing from the front fenders to the rear fenders resembled the pontoons that supported floating military bridges in World War II.

The Pontons were historically and economically significant. Though never sold in great numbers in North America, they formed the backbone of motorized industrialization in many developing countries with rough terrain, hot climates and challenging roads. The financial returns that flowed from this extraordinary global demand were key in the recovery of Daimler-Benz in the mid-1950s.



Although the postwar economic recovery gave Mercedes-Benz an influx of cash from sale of the prewar-derived 170s (W136, W191 – see The Star, November-December 2018), design bosses Karl Wilfert and Friedrich Geiger concluded that a modern design was needed to sustain the firm’s growth. They settled on a unit-body design that would be rugged but inexpensive to build. Béla Barényi conceived a “three-box” layout, which incorporated innovative front and rear crumple-zones that would deform on impact to protect passengers.

The conservative carmaker was cautious about making such a big change in vehicle design, so the introduction of the Pontons was done with just one model, the 180. When the new car was revealed, and a diesel version announced soon after, demand was high and orders flooded in; Daimler-Benz product planners breathed a collective sigh of relief and soon began to expand the model lineup. 

Unit-body construction became the new automotive standard: It was lighter, easier and less costly to build than the traditional body-on-frame system, with better handling because the chassis was stiffer. Soon, the box-frame body on an X-frame chassis disappeared.


Production evolution

The Ponton sedans were built at several different price points, with successive model introductions from 1953 to 1961. The following summary traces the evolution of the design by model and chassis.


The 180 (W120): Production of the 180 (W120.010 and the W120.011 with CoverTex vinyl roof) began in July 1953. In February 1954 the diesel-powered 180D entered production. Both of these models made use of existing 170 power units, the initial 180 being powered by the M136 side-valve engine producing 52 horsepower, and the 180D being pushed along with an overhead valve OM636 diesel engine. While neither of these accelerated fast, they could reach 70 miles per hour, if needed; and their independent suspensions and good road holding ensured that they would be pleasant to drive.

The little gasoline 180 was upgraded to the 180a in June 1957, gaining the new M121 engine, which produced 65 horsepower, endowing the 180 with respectable performance. The model was upgraded twice more in its lifetime, once in July 1959 (the 180b), and again in June 1961 (180c). Production ended in October of 1962.

The diesel 180D, Daimler-Benz’s best-selling model by the end of its production, was upgraded as the 180Db in July 1959. In June of 1961, the OM636 pushrod engine was replaced by the single overhead cam OM621 engine. The jump from 43 to 55 horsepower ensured another 10,000 sales before production ended in October 1962.


The 220a (W180-I): The first 220 sedans, produced from April 1951 to May 1954, had used the old W187 body-on-frame chassis with the new 86-horsepower 6-cylinder overhead-cam engine. The 220a, produced from March 1954 to April 1956, moved to the Ponton unit-body chassis. The gasoline engine increased to 85 horsepower and the tire size changed from 6.40 x 15 to the 6.70 x 13 – a wheel size that was also specified on the Ponton series’ sedans, coupes and cabriolets, as well as the 190SL.



The 190 (W121): This upmarket 4-cylinder sibling to the 180 appeared in March 1956. The car’s quality – with nicer upholstery and wood trim, as well as more chrome and a vinyl roof as an option – added to the Ponton line’s allure. An initial version of the gasoline 190 was built from March 1956 to August 1959. The 190b (with front-suspension improvements) appeared in June 1959, with an overlap between the two versions.

Production ended in August 1961; the 190c (W110) Fintail showed success as a worthy replacement.

The 190D, with its 55-horsepower OM621 engine, was built from August 1958 to July 1959. In the first year of sales, 20,629 units were sold. In June 1959, production began of the 190Db, with the chassis improvements of its gasoline twin, finding more than 61,000 buyers through September 1961. Both versions of the 190D were well loved, with nearly 172,000 gas and diesel sedans produced.

The 219 (W105): The economical 219, introduced in March 1956, used the slightly more spacious front end of the 220a (W180), and the cabin and trunk of the 190 (W121), joined with the M180 6-cylinder engine with one dual-downdraft carburetor from the 220 series.

The 219 was built from March 1956 to July 1959, with almost 28,000 units sold. These are, by and large, the fastest of the small Pontons, but top speed was just 92 mph, and acceleration was only slightly better than a 190.

The 219 also offered the Hydrak transmission designed by Fichtel & Sachs with a hydraulically actuated mechanical clutch controlled by a column shift. In contrast to contemporary American automatic transmissions with fluid couplings and planetary gears, the Hydrak still shifted gears as a regular manual transmission. It was an early idea for an automatic transmission, but was prone to burned-out clutches if the driver rested a hand on the shift lever while the car was in motion. As many drivers were in fact used to using the column shift lever as a convenient hand rest while driving, it turned out to be a poor product decision.

The 220S (W180-II): The 220S was an evolution of the 220a with the M180 6-cylinder engine. Two carburetors helped produce 112 horsepower, a substantial increase over the 220a and 219. The 220S was produced from March 1956 until August 1959; more than 55,000 units were sold. Significant options included fitted luggage, a front bench seat instead of two bucket seats, reclining seats, whitewall tires, a large Webasto folding sunroof, and Hydrak transmission.

The 220SE (W128): This upgrade had refinements over the 220S in several key areas, including two-plunger mechanical fuel injection, an improved rear swing axle with load-compensating spring, and better drivability. The 220SE was offered from October 1958 until August 1959. The options list carried forward from the 220S.

End of Production: After model changeover in August 1959, only the W120 180 series and the W121 190 series continued to be built; production of the 190 models ended in September 1961 and the manufacture of 180 models ceased in October 1962.


Reasons to buy

Pontons, above all, are easy to work on, especially for a do-it-yourselfer. Structurally, they are sturdy and capable. Diesels are particularly simple mechanically, with no need for battery or generator to keep the engine running, no distributor or points – and fuel efficiency that boasts 30-plus miles per gallon.

With simple valve trains and solid gearing, power trains are simple and a great way to learn basic auto mechanics. Interiors, once restored, are comfortable and spacious. Values are creeping up, making refurbishment cost-effective if you do your own basic labor.

All postwar Mercedes-Benz vehicles have hardened valves and valve seats to cope with unleaded fuel – mandated in the 197os – and do not require lead additives. However, the addition of ethanol to fuels will require changing some parts of the fuel system (e.g., rubber hoses) for reliable operation.

Model appreciation for the Ponton range among enthusiasts is very strong and replacement parts are available through Mercedes-Benz Classic Center’s parts department or the numerous overseas owners networks – including a disc brake conversion for owners who want to use their beloved Ponton as daily drivers. As proof, Fred and Elisabeth Smits, a retired couple from New Zealand, is four years into a round-the-world tour, having clocked over 100,000 kilometers so far, finding support with the Mercedes-Benz clubs in every country they have visited in the Americas and periodically sharing their experiences and adventures with The Star’s readers.


Reasons not to buy

Highway performance is marginal on diesels, barely adequate on 4-cylinder gasoline models, and nothing to get excited about on the 6-cylinder 219. High-speed traffic is not a good idea if you own a 180 or 190. Early cars had non-servo assisted drum brakes. Unless you live in an area with lots of flat terrain, the brakes require familiarity and firm pressure on the brake pedal.

Interiors usually need work at this age and can get expensive. Air conditioning and a real automatic transmission were never available on these models. Parts on these cars are expensive or hard to find, especially if they are trim items (chrome, wood, etc.).







While Pontons are easy to work on, a comprehensive prepurchase inspection is essential because some repairs are challenging and others impossible short of a complete down-to-chassis restoration, which only pays if the work is done yourself and is satisfying in itself. A complete brake job should be the first step on one of these cars, even before road testing.

With its unit-body design, a Ponton should be carefully checked for rust. Walk away if you find rust in connections between the front and rear boxes and the floors, where the sub-frame attaches to the body, in the rocker panels and around jack points. Minor rust on floors and the inner side of double-layer body panels can be repaired.

If the engine and transmission haven’t already been rebuilt, that will almost definitely be required, though it is possible to do for an owner who is comfortable with a workshop manual and has the assistance of a good machinist. If the engine has been rebuilt, then inspection can focus on the fuel-delivery system, bushings and gaskets, and electrical system.

Other points to check include the fuel tank, which should be removed and cleaned if that hasn’t been done; or replaced if rusty. Suspension systems that haven’t been properly maintained can be frozen solid by hardened grease; they aren’t easy to rebuild. All rubber parts on the car, including front sub-frame and rear-axle mounts, as well as suspension bushings, should be replaced if this hasn’t already been done. Ponton electrical wiring is durable, but should be checked.



Charming, reliable and solid, a well-sorted Ponton inhabits an enviable sweet spot between traditional Mercedes-Benz automotive grace and style, and modern convenience and dependability. The right Ponton can make either an economical and satisfying entry point for an enthusiast into the classic-car hobby or qualify as a worthwhile addition to an existing car collection, and it’s sure to bring a smile to the faces of owners and onlookers alike.


Specifications: W120, W180, W121, W105, & W128 Ponton Sedans  • 1953-1962


MODEL    YEARS        CHASSIS                ENGINE               POWER

                                                                                                 (SAE gross hp)

180       1953-1957    120.010/120.0111    1,767 cc Inline-4    58 at 4,000

180a     1957-1959    120.010/120.0111    1,897 cc Inline-4     74 at 4,700

180b     1959-1961    120.010/120.0111    1,897 cc Inline-4     78 at 4,500

180c     1961-1962    120.010/120.0111    1,897 cc Inline-4    78 at 4,500

180D     1954-1959    120.110 /120.1111    1,767 cc Inline-4    43 at 3,200

180Db    1959-1961    120.110 /120.1111     1,767 cc Inline-4    46 at 3,500

180Dc    1961-1962     120.110 /120.1111    1,988 cc Inline-4    52.4 at 3,800

220a      1954-1956    180.010 /180.0111    2,195 cc Inline-6    92 at 4,800

219        1956-1957    105.010/105.0111    2,195 cc Inline-6    92 at 4,800

219        1957-1959     105.010/105.0111    2,195 cc Inline-6     100 at 5,000

190        1956-1959    121.010/121.0111    1,897 cc Inline-4    84 at 4,800

190b      1959-1961    121.010/121.0111    1,897 cc Inline-4    90 at 5,000

190D      1958-1959    121.010/121.0111    1,897 cc Inline-4    55 at 4,000

190Db    1959-1961    121.010/121.0111    1,897 cc Inline-4    55 at 4,000

220S      1956-1957    180.010/180.0111    2,195 cc Inline-6    112 at 5,000

220S      1957-1959     180.010/180.0111     2,195 cc Inline-6     120 at 5,200

220SE    1958-1959    128.010/150.0111    2,195 cc Inline-6    130 at 5,000

Note: 1 indicates a Ponton model manufactured with a sunroof



180       85 at 1,800               M-4                                31 sec.              78.3             20.5

180a     104 at 2,800             M-4                                21 sec.              84                22.4

180b     107 at 2,500             M-4                                21 sec.              84                22.4

180c     107 at 2,500             M-4                                 21 sec.             84                 22.4

180D     77 at 2,000              M-4                                 39 sec.              70                 29.4

180Db    77 at 2,000             M-4                                 37 sec.              71               29.4

180Dc     82 at 2,200            M-4                                 36 sec.               75              29.4

220a      119 at 2,500            M-4                                19 sec.               93              17.4

219        119 at 2,500            M-4 Hydrak Option        17 sec.               92            16.2

219        130 at 2,700           M-4  Hydrak Option         17 sec.              92             17.4

190        107 at 2,800           M-4                                    20.5 sec.          86             20.4

190b      111 at 4,300           M-4                                   19 sec.              89             20.4

190D        83 at 2,200           M-4                                   29 sec.              78             27.7

190Db      83 at 2,200           M-4                                   29 sec.              78              27.7

220S      129 at 3,800            M-4  Hydrak Option         17 sec.               99             17.4

220S      137 at 3,600             M-4  Hydrak Option         17 sec.              99              17.4

220SE    146 at 3,800             M-4  Hydrak Option           15 sec.            99              18.0



Worldwide Production Totals  • 1953-1962


180          1953-1957          52,186

180a        1957-1959          27,353

180b         1959-1961         29,415

180c          1961-1962           9,280

180D           1953-1959        116,485

180Db          1959-1961         24,676

180Dc          1961-1962         11,822

220a             1954-1956         25,937

219               1956-1959         27,845

190               1956-1959          61,345

190b             1959-1961           28,463

190D     1958-1959    20,629

190Db    1959-1961    61,309

220S     1956-1959    55,279

220SE     1958-1959    1,974