Mercedes of Legend: The Ponton

Mercedes-Benz Ponton
Mercedes-Benz Ponton.

“More precious but not more expensive”: This ad campaign for the Ponton Mercedes describes it perfectly. In 1953, Mercedes introduced a new series of models known as the Pontons; they were named thusly after their iconic pontoon inspired front fenders. It established the intermediate class of Mercedes, with its modest engine, refined yet small design and tasteful but not extravagant interior. There were many different body style and engine combinations offered.

 

The 180b was the first Ponton and it was introduced in 1953. It was a brand new design for Mercedes and it introduced a design aesthetic that was utilized for over a decade to follow. The design was rooted in passenger comfort and safety. The Ponton offered both front and rear crumple zones, which was nearly unseen on cars prior, and a major safety advance. Also, it had a low drag coefficient which greatly reduced wind noise, making the experience that much more enjoyable. This design was translated to the 220sl and the 190sl by shortening the overall height of the car and changing the front grille design but keeping with the iconic pontoon fenders. 

German car manufacturers generally do a lot of branding with just their cars front fascia. They want to make sure people know at first glance what is to pass them in their rear view mirror on the highway. Throughout history you will notice that the fronts on BMW, Audi, and Mercedes are always very distinguishable and unmistakably their respective marque.

With the Ponton, the exterior told the world you owned a Mercedes Benz, and what was under the hood was what diversified the car from the other Benzes. Customers were given an incredible amount of options when it came to body style, engine size, engine type, and fuel type. 

The unibody design and expert manufacturing that Mercedes-Benz was renowned for made the Ponton nearly indestructible.

Many of them still exist today and they are used for anything from going to car shows to participating in the treacherous Peking to Paris rally. The sedan was so well built that, it quickly became the car of choice for German cab drivers because they knew it would last forever and that they would be comfortable whilst the car was doing so. Many of the 180’s were modified for taxi use, and they were used all over Germany. 

In total, 553,998 Ponton bodied cars were sold. 442,963 of those were the 4-cylinders and 111,035 were 6-cylinder. To put this in perspective, the Ponton sold an average of 39,571 cars per year; the comparable c-class of today sells over 80,000 per year. Meanwhile, the human population has nearly doubled, so we can see that the percentage of the population buying entry level Benzes has remained nearly the same since the 1950’s. I guess Mercedes has always had a niche in the entry level luxury market.

The Ponton class of Mercedes was the introduction to the classification of Mercedes models to follow. From there on out, Mercedes has always sold cars as if they were selling the animal kingdom. It's just like how I remember my 10th grade biology class: Mercedes first divides things into kingdoms like the C-Class, E-Class (including the CLS), and S-Class, and then things get further divided.

The bodystyle is the phylum, while the fuel type divides things into class. Finally, the specific engine defines the species. For example, a modern-day Mercedes-Maybach S600 is in the S kingdom, the sedan phylum, the gasoline class, and the species itself is the Maybach S600. 

It is a relatively simple system that has garnered much success to Mercedes as a brand as well as a company. Of course, my analogy is not entirely accurate, and there are anomalies, but this is a good representation of the formula Mercedes uses each time it introduces a new generation of design.

The Ponton was known amongst luxury car brands for being one of the first models to truly solidify the entry level luxury market. Today that would be a BMW 325, Audi A4, or a Mercedes Benz C300; respectable cars that aren’t necessarily powerful, yet carry a reputation of wealth.

The classic “I’m able to afford a Mercedes” mentality was fostered with this car. It was a smart, efficient, and elegantly designed way to enter the world of the luxury car. The Ponton helped begin it all and it put a defining touch on a market that Mercedes was built to have.