Mercedes-Benz 300 (1951-1962) Review
The Mercedes 300 blends pre-war grandeur with post-war technology…
What Is It?
Launched in April 1951, the imposing 300 saloon was a powerful statement that Mercedes, and indeed Germany, was back as a builder of luxurious motor cars. Although based on a pre-war separate chassis it featured all-independent suspension, 100mph performance and the choice of luxurious saloon or stately open top bodies, the latter known as the Cabriolet D.
Four generations – suffixed a, b, c and d – were built, the final of which used a stretched wheelbase for even more space. West Germany’s first post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was present at the original unveiling and took delivery of his first 300 in December 1951, his fondness for the car such that his name has forever become associated with the model. When he left office he even bought his final one from the German government and was chauffeured around in it until his death in 1967.
Also launched in 1951, the 300S was based on a shortened version of the same chassis and picked up where the extravagant supercharged 540Ks of the pre-war period left off. Where 300 saloons were cars for wealthy industrialists and world leaders the S and later fuel-injected Sc were extravagant playthings for socialites and movie stars, Clark Gable among many famous names gifting it a whiff of sophisticated Hollywood glamour.
- Saloons – commonly known as Adenauers – built in four generations, with a, b and c designated W186 and the 300d, with its longer wheelbase and Einspritzmotor engine, the W189
- 300a, b and c versions aesthetically similar, d obvious by its longer wheelbase, cowled headlights with sidelights below, bigger bumpers and squarer, fin-style rear quarters
- All four variants also available as four-door Cabriolet D models, featuring a vast Landau style roof with prominent external hinges, though these were produced in far fewer quantities
- 300S and Sc based on the same chassis but with a shorter wheelbase and increased power; all known as W188s in internal Mercedes coding
- 300S and Sc available in three body shapes – Cabriolet A with a pram-style Landau roof, Roadster (roof stows under flush rear deck) and fixed-head Coupé
- 300Sc easily differentiated from the S by twin chrome-trimmed vents on sides of bonnet and quarter-lights in side windows
- All powered by versions of the same 2,996cc overhead cam six-cylinder engine in various states of tune and with different fuelling; saloons typically twin Solex carburettors while 300S had triple carbs; 300d and 300Sc feature fuel injection denoted by ‘Einspritzmotor’ badge on rear bumper
- 300b introduced power brakes, 300c obvious for its larger rear window and gained optional automatic gearbox, 300d got automatic gearbox as standard and improved single-pivot swing axle rear suspension; power steering optional on 300d
How Does It Drive?
As imposing as the size and looks would suggest, in short. Yet in its day the 300 also dazzled road testers with its performance, The Autocar in its review of 1952 saying, “There are very few saloon cars which are capable of a mean speed of over 100mph, but to obtain this result on a five-six-seater saloon car with generous room for passengers and luggage, using an engine of three-litre capacity said to deliver only 114bhp is a notable achievement.” The road testers were also bowled over by the ride quality and high-speed handling.
The 300S was just as impressive, Swiss magazine Automobil Review saying “The 300S embodies a rarely or never before achieved synthesis between the requirements of a touring car and a sports car.” Earlier 300s have a physicality about the driving reminiscent of pre-war cars, though the engine is smooth and the (typically column-mounted) manual gearbox easy to use.
The 300b gained power brakes while a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic was available from the 300c onwards. Power steering was also an option later. The fuel-injected 300d and 300Sc have significantly improved performance, too.
Then as now, if you want to cause a stir upon arrival a 300 of any type makes quite the statement and its combination of that pre-war glamour with post-war driving manners remains beguiling. There is mechanical sophistication as well, the 300 running a less exotic manifold (rather than direct) version of the fuel injection technology used in the 300SL Gullwing with which it shared many mechanical components.
Other quirks included an electrically adjustable torsion bar on the rear axle actuated by a switch on the dash to compensate for a full complement of passengers and luggage. The looks may have been old-school but the performance most definitely was not, either.
The quality is also incredible, with thick leather on the seats, glossy wood trim throughout and chunky, mechanical feeling switchgear throughout. These cars may be 70 years old but, heavy steering aside, the performance, refinement and comfort still feel impressive to this day.
In the context of the post-war austerity into which they were born the 300 and 300S were astonishingly expensive cars to buy, the 300S costing 10,000 Marks more than the already expensive saloon and 6,000 Marks more than a 300SL Gullwing.
The optional air conditioning on a 300d saloon would have cost the same as a new VW Beetle back in the day as well. Relatively speaking they’re not that much cheaper today, either, and if you set your eyes on a 300S or Sc with matching numbers provenance and a previous celebrity owner you could be looking at seven figures.
While mechanically simpler than the 600 ‘Grosser’ that succeeded it a 300 of any type is going to require an expert assessment before purchase and similarly specialist care to keep running or restore. Parts, where available, are going to be expensive as well. A cool car. But not one to be bought on a whim.
Which Model To Choose?
While all will be equally expensive to look after properly ‘Adenauer’ saloons are the most affordable to buy by some margin, and you could get one for as little as £50,000.
The later 300d with its injection motor, longer wheelbase and more modern driving manners will be easiest to live with but the squared off rear wings (similar to the ‘Ponton’ saloons of the time) are perhaps a little less elegant than the a, b or c models.
Cabriolet D versions have few rivals if you like to share your fun in the sun with friends and family but prices will be multiples of that for a saloon and into the ‘hefty six figures’ league.
The 300S versions are another step on again, the rarity of the later Sc derivatives (just 98 Coupés, 49 Cabriolet As and 53 Roadsters) pushing them into serious collector territory, especially with the kind of originality and matching numbers provenance that level of the market demands.
Specifications: Mercedes-Benz 300d saloon
3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol
160PS (118kW) @ 5,300rpm
237Nm (174lb ft) @ 4,200rpm
Three-speed auto, rear-wheel drive