Mercedes Benz has always been a premier luxury marque, but they have also been a producer of basic workhorse transportation. Pick a movie from the sixties and seventies set in Europe, the Middle East, or the third world in general, and you will note their legendary role as the taxi cabs of the world. That legend started with the W110 in the early 1960s, and in particular with the Diesel variant. Mercedes was never the cheapest sedan, but in the case of the 190D and 200D, they quickly built a reputation for running millions of kilometers, tolerating heavy loads, and being generally indestructible. Those are the key attributes of a commercial vehicle, but in this case, they were embodied in a sedan.
The W110 series began in 1961 with the introduction of the 190 cars., replacing the W111 series and confounding the once logical Mercedes nomenclature. They were part of the Heckflosse (Fintail) series covered here before (see The Heckflosse Champion), and had the signature appendages in the rear. In the front, they looked like the preceding Ponton cars (see Ponton Production) with the round headlights and the snub nose. Inside, wood was replaced with Bakelite, and luxury seats were replaced with fixed back items. But the key gamble that Mercedes continued to take was in promoting the Diesel engine. At the time, diesel engines were noisy and visibly produced soot out of the tailpipe. They also had extremely sluggish performance. The press was not kind to these machines, and the traditional Mercedes customer did not view them positively either.
However, the taxi cab industry had quite the opposite view. These were robust, relatively fuel efficient vehicles with enough comfort to be the ideal conveyance. If it was good for taxicabs, then it was good for others desiring rock solid transportation, and sales grew along with the reputation. Between 1961 and 1965, the diesel variant outsold the gasoline version by over 95,000 units. In 1966, a second series of the W110 was introduced. The inline 4 diesel in the 200D now had a 5 bearing main crankshaft, twin carburetors, and increased bore to yield 1988cc. This produced a whopping 60hp, and a top speed of 130kph in a vehicle weighing 2794 lbs. This was not a performance sedan! However, it also went on to outsell the gasoline variant by over 51,000 units between 1966 and 1968.
Overall, over 387,000 of the W110 diesels were produced by the time they were replaced by the W115 series in 1968. They cemented the legendary status of the Mercedes Benz Diesel engine, which also became popular in marine applications. It also provided a reputation for reliable, durable vehicles to complement the image of premier luxury automobiles. Remember the 600 Pullman was produced in the same timeframe, as were trucks and vans. No other manufacturer at the time had such an effective grasp of both ends of the spectrum.