History of the 1959-1965 Mercedes-Benz
Mercedes-Benz hit the 1960s running in 1959, with the “fintail” W111 series of sedans. Karl Wilfert’s design was a dramatic statement for such a conservative company, an unexpected gesture to contemporary style, with wraparound front and rear windshields.
The design was a hit, with nearly 300,000 sold between 1959 and 1965. European-models, with their cowled headlights, were particularly handsome. The 2.2-liter, 6-cylinder engine was fitted with twin carburetors in the “S” model, while the “SE” utilized Bosch fuel injection. That system proved thirsty and expensive to repair, and was replaced by the twin-carburetor 230 series from 1965 to 1968.
The 4-cylinder 190 range received the same body treatment in 1961 and the 55-bhp 190D diesel could return up to 35 mpg, at a leisurely pace. The slightly larger-engined 200 series replaced the 190 from 1965 to 1968.
At the luxury end of the market, the very striking W111 220SE and 300SE coupe and Cabriolet debuted in 1961, but without the “fintail” rear fenders. The very expensive 300SE models (double the cost of the 220, thanks to the 3-liter, fuel injected 6-cylinder engine) lasted until 1967. All have column automatic or manual floor-shift transmissions and nice cabriolets can bring six figures.
The ultimate fintail was the 300SE and extended SEL sedan, with a Bosch fuel-injected 3-liter, 6-cylinder engine, self-levelling air suspension, and disc brakes from the 600 limousine. Built in small numbers (5,204 for the SE, 1,546 SELs), the 300s can be recognized by their extra brightwork. They were notable for their performance and cost, but their mechanical complexity makes them rare today.
Trim parts are getting hard to find for the fintail Mercedes, but the cars tended to be bought by conservative owners, so the survival rate for the bigger models is fair. At the other end of the scale, many of the 190 diesels are still running, sometimes driven by their original buyers.