Top of the list was the adoption (for the first time) of front and rear ‘crumple zones’ – basically portions of the monocoque structure that were designed to give way in the event of a serious collision and absorb the kinetic energy that would otherwise be passed on to the vehicle’s occupants. The safety focus extended to a collapsible steering shaft which used a section of expanded metal to allow it to ‘concertina’ and so absorb an impact instead of translating the movement by shoving the steering wheel into the driver’s chest.
The same steering wheel featured a wide, softly padded centre boss in case the driver’s face made contact, while the dashboard featured a leather-covered soft ‘roll’ from side to side to protect your legs in a similar fashion. Aiding it all were burst-proof door locks and, of course, front seatbelts – a novelty back then when marketing types in the automotive industry feared their fitment as standard would make cars look unsafe.
To start, the Fintail range comprised three models, all boasting the 2.2-litre, overhead-cam ‘six’ that powered the premium variants of the old Ponton. First up was the regular 220, boasting single round headlights and twin, single-choke carburettors which made it good for 96mph. Next up was the 220S with true 100mph ability (thanks to dual twin-choke Solex carbs) and additional brightwork. The latter, and the fact the model had leather seats in place of vinyl, meant it gained an ‘S’ for ‘Super’. One of those would’ve set you back R3 531 in March 1965 when CAR magazine’s editorial team got their hands on one.
That was R300 more than the regular 220 but around R500 less than the range-topper (here in SA at least), the 220SE, with the ‘E’ standing for ‘einspritzung’ (or injection). All three models boasted servo-assisted front disc brakes and optional automatic transmission while the range was made more accessible in 1963 with the intro of the 190 model. Featuring two fewer pots and just 1.9-litres of cylinder capacity, the 190 (which later became the 200) was also available as a diesel, for the man who wasn’t in a hurry. All the four-cylinder versions were technically referred to as W110s in factory parlance and were identifiable on the road by a shorter bonnet and reduced external trim. The range expansion was the start of attempts by Mercedes to broaden appeal to the first-time customer, with a 200 Fintail costing R2 943 here in SA in August 1966.