Car legend: the world’s first diesel passenger car was german

Sonke Kruger

T oday, millions of them are rolling on roads all over the world. They are considered to be reliable and economical, some nail unmistakably, and they have a long service life. There hasn’t been a major automaker in the world for a long time that doesn’t have them in its lineup: passenger cars with diesel engines.

The inventor of this type of engine was rudolf diesel, who developed the first half-functioning diesel units in the 1990s. The car had been built in the early twentieth century. However, first-generation diesel engines were initially used exclusively in trucks and ships; they were too heavy, the vibrations too violent and the "rattle-rattle-bang-bang" too loud for them to have had a serious chance in passenger car construction.

Race for the first diesel car

This remained the case until the 1930s, when various automakers experimented with diesel engines for passenger cars. At the 1936 automobile exhibition in berlin, mercedes-benz presented its 260 D to the general public for the first time as a diesel passenger car, as did competitor hanomag, which presented the rekord model.

However, it was to be several months before the race for series production of the world’s first diesel passenger car was decided: In 1937, 75 years ago, the 260 D finally went into series production at mercedes, while hanomag’s record was not ready for series production until a year later.

Top speed: 97 km/h

Externally, the mercedes-benz 260 D did not differ from the 230 gasoline model, which had been built since 1936. Under the imposing hood, however, things looked different. The diesel had just under 2600 cubic centimeters of displacement and four cylinders. This was enough for 45 hp and a top speed of 97 kilometers per hour.

The gasoline engine had less displacement, ten horsepower more, and it achieved an impressive top speed of 110 kilometers per hour at the time. On the other hand, the diesel clearly did better in terms of economy: it got by on 9.5 liters of the comparatively inexpensive diesel oil per 100 kilometers, while the gasoline engine swallowed 16 liters of fuel.

The first diesel-mercedes was an economy car

The 260 D was available as a six-seater pullman landaulet for 7900 reichsmarks, while the 230 cost considerably less at 7025 reichsmarks. However, this difference in price was "already made up for after six months of operation by the economical mode of operation," wrote the trade journal "motor und sport" in september 1937.

The "allgemeine automobil-zeitung," published in Berlin, the capital of the German Reich at the time, also came to the conclusion that "the fuel costs of this car are about the same as those of the most economical small cars on the German market. This is probably the strongest argument in favor of diesel passenger cars." diesel passenger cars were an economical alternative right from the start.

Choice of two or three rows of seats

The diesel mercedes was available in four versions: as a pullman sedan with six seats, four doors and three windows on each side. the pullman landaulet was just as big – with the difference that the vehicle had a folding top over the rear seat. The four- to five-seater saloon was more spacious.

the passenger compartment with two side windows was smaller than in the pullman, there were only two rows of seats instead of three. There is still room in the rear for a trunk. "the shape and line of the body is delightful," praised a factory brochure in 1937 in equally delightful PR german.

Fresh air fans also had the choice of the cabriolet "B. This had – unlike the other models of the 260 series – only two doors and retractable side windows. All diesel-powered vehicles also had two spare wheels in the front fenders.

Upholstery fabrics and roller curtains

the equipment and style of the cars were already typical of mecedes at that time, namely of the finest: "the bodies are particularly quiet in form, elegant in line, distinguished and stylish in color and equipment. Thanks to these characteristics and the quality of the chassis, mercedes-benz cars retain their value for years to come," stated an advertising brochure.

Inside the car, there were "selected upholstery fabrics of beautiful and discreet patterns, upholstery in selected fabrics, brightly polished fittings, practical and valuable hardware, fine woods, . Interior lighting and patented roller blinds on the rear windows of limousines."

By 1940, just under 2,000 of the 260 D had been built. However, civilian vehicle production in germany collapsed as a result of the world war. like everywhere else in the empire, daimler-benz switched to military production.

Cab drivers love the 260 D

Most of the 260 ds produced up to that time were used as "kraftdroschken," as cabs were called at the time. Within a short time, mercedes-benz had succeeded in becoming the market leader in the cab sector – the adler favorit and adler standard 6 models, which had been in demand among cab drivers until the mid-1930s, were superseded by the new six-seaters from daimler.

The main reason for this was the reliability and economy of the diesel units. daimler-benz was able to maintain its initial success: mercedes vehicles are by far the most driven cabs in germany to this day.

Car testers are enthusiastic about the comfort

The diesel vehicle indeed promised a remarkable driving comfort. "on any pavement and at any speed, the wheels remain firmly on the ground, potholes are hardly felt, curves are quickly negotiated," praised the factory brochure of 1937.

These positive driving characteristics were fully confirmed by the vehicle testers of "motor und sport": "when you have brought it up to 30-40 km/h, there is no difference at all, neither in terms of noise development nor in terms of vibrations, compared to a good carburetor engine. You don’t even know you have a diesel engine under the hood."

Criticism of oil smell and loud nails

despite all the praise — the car testers did allow themselves a little criticism back then. the "allgemeine automobil-zeitung", for example, complained that the test car was "not entirely free of the smell of gas oil, which gets on the nerves of many people".

In addition, "it would be good," it continued, "if the daimler-benz factories would also make this car recognizable as a diesel to the outside world, because not in all cases is the driver’s self-confidence so great that he lets himself be asked by parking attendants, with regard to the idling of the engine, what he actually did to get all the bearings out."a problem that diesel drivers fortunately no longer have today.

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