The lightweight among commercial vehicles: The history of the Mercedes-Benz vans
Stuttgart
Mar 31, 2010
New start with vans
  • Snazzy racing car transporter and plain and solid L 319
  • Panel vans, pickups and buses
  • Production far in excess of 100,000 units
In every respect the so-called high-speed racing car transporter launched in 1955 by Daimler-Benz was a little different. Although designed as something more than a toy, it certainly did not target ordinary commercial vehicle customers, serving strictly the company's internal needs. Its purpose was to ferry the Silver Arrow racing cars of the days as quickly as possible between factory and racetrack so as to allow the mechanics the maximum amount of time to do their work.
So, naturally, only the best was good enough. The factory gave the transporter a modified chassis of the 300 S road model, and the motive power was supplied by a 41 kW type 198 petrol engine, otherwise found in the Mercedes 300 SL. Streamlined curves gave the 165 km/h speedster a striking appearance; fuel consumption amounted to 25 litres of premium fuel for every 100 kilometres.
But this little automotive jewel was never given a chance to demonstrate its talents in practice, for in October 1955 a guillotine arrived in the form of the Board of Management decision to cease racing activities. The high-speed racing car transporter was unceremoniously consigned to the scrapyard.
Debut of the L 319 in 1956
A year later Mercedes-Benz got down to building vans in earnest. Since discontinuation of the L 1100 in 1941, the light segment had been left unattended. It was now time, it seemed, to turn attention once again to this large market that had emerged during the post-war period. At the Frankfurt International Motor Show in autumn 1955 Daimler-Benz introduced its first genuine van, the new L 319. Although experts had their doubts, customers received it with enthusiasm.
They appreciated in particular the rustic and robust design which had caused offence to certain connoisseurs: a simple chassis with rigid axles and leaf springs, and a choice of 1.8-liter diesel engine with a restrained 32 kW or a 1.9-litre petrol engine with a hefty 48 kW. In both cases a standard four-speed transmission delivered the power to the rear wheels. The rigid axles front and rear were equipped with so-called half-springs, the braking system was hydraulic. Servo was available at extra cost.
The panel van had a payload of 1950 kilograms, for pickup versions (available in two wheelbase lengths) and low-loaders (each equipped with an extra frame) the payload was 1800 and 1750 kilograms. In the case of the panel van, the body had a supporting function.
In true commercial vehicle tradition Daimler-Benz also brought out a bus variant on the same basis. The O 319 was a bus which came in three versions – petrol, diesel and luxury bus, each with the same 2850 millimetre wheelbase as the panel van.
Trucks from Sindelfingen, buses from Mannheim
Sindelfingen built the trucks, however, while the buses came from Mannheim. From autumn 1961 a 37 kW diesel with two-litre displacement replaced the lower-powered premium engine, and a short time later production of vans and buses came under the same roof. From now on they were both produced in Düsseldorf. Separate production lines in Sindelfingen and Mannheim came to an end in 1962.
In 1963 the plant renamed the small trucks: the L 319 D became the L 405, while the L 319 petrol engine subsequently answered to the name L 407. The LO 319 bus on the other hand kept this designation. This process of redesignation also saw an increase in the number of variants; more powerful springs and better brakes, for example, enabled a payload of two tonnes, and there was also a twin-cab variant, much loved by construction site workers.
By September 1965 Daimler-Benz was able to celebrate production of the 100,000th example of this new genre, which in total went on to sell 123,234 units. In addition, the plant shipped almost 19,000 parts kits for assembly in Spain, until the advent of the T1 successor model in January 1967.
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