The Mercedes-Benz 320 (factory designation W 142) appeared in 1937 as a replacement for the aging 290. Times were dark and gloomy, but this “impeccable German” managed to evoke bright feelings.
Source: Arthur Bechtel
“Three hundred and twentieth” was far from being the most expensive in the second half of the the1930s Mercedes range. However, it could hardly be called the cheapest either. The amount of steel and chrome, exquisite wood, and expensive leather was impressive. The car even had two spares! The manufacturer didn’t use synthetics or cheap materials: everything here was natural, done on a grand scale, and perfect to the smallest detail. The base chassis without a body cost 6800 RM (Reichsmarks) or $17,000, the cheapest sedan – 8950 RM or $22,380, but the convertible – 13,500 RM or $33,750! Just imagine, a six-cylinder four-door BMW 326 then cost 5500 RM ($13,750), and the Opel Kadett cost only 2100 RM (5250).
The Mercedes-Benz 320 (W 142 series) debuted at the International Motor Show (IAMA) in Berlin in February 1937. It replaced model 290 – a middle-class vehicle of the Stuttgart plant. With this novelty, the brand intended to close the gap between mid-range automobiles and the largest models. Mercedes-Benz set a new emphasis with the newly launched automobile, in a vehicle class characterized by great competition at the time. Interestingly, the famous German automaker’s main competitors had traditionally been Horch with its 930 V and 830 BL models, Opel with the Admiral, launched in the same period, and Ford with its 3.6-liter V8. First, the manufacturer offered two-wheelbases. As it was mentioned before, 320 was a further development of the 290 (W 18), which was offered from 1933 to 1936. Its M18 engine offered a modest engine output of 68hp (50 kW), which only allowed for measured driving performance. When the engine was revised for the successor, the focus was on smooth running and a significantly higher engine output, which could be achieved without departing from the concept of the side-valve six-cylinder engine with vertical valves. In general, each 30s’ vehicle’s place in the company’s hierarchy was determined by the number of cylinders and the size of its engine. The “Three hundred and twentieth” was the most prestigious of the three mid-range 6-cylinder models. It was produced from 1937 to 1942 in two series, not counting the army SUV Kubelwagen developed on its basis.
The first series (1937-1938) was equipped with a 3.2-liter lower-valve in-line 6-cylinder engine with 78 hp. The model had a transverse spring suspension in front and swing axles in the rear, hydraulic drum brakes on all wheels, and a fully synchronized 4-speed gearbox. In total, 4326 units of the 3.2-liter version and 885 units of the 3.4-liter version were produced. To increase engine performance, the Untertürkheim engine designers under Albert Heebb resorted to well-known methods. By expanding the bore from 78 to 82.5 millimeters, the displacement was increased from 2.9 liters to 3.2 liters. To further improve the running smoothness of the engine, the crankshaft was equipped with 12 counterweights – a measure with resounding success. Another step towards more performance was the transition from a single updraft carburetor to a twin downdraft carburetor. As a result of all the measures, the power increased to 78 hp (57 kW). The downdraft carburetor also led to a more spontaneous throttle response when accelerating. The Mercedes-Benz 320 was available in short (2880 mm) and long (3300 mm) wheelbases. A 3-seater convertible (Cabriolet A) and a coupe with a removable hardtop were installed for the body styles. For the long chassis, the choice of bodies was much wider: a 4-door sedan (Limousine), 6-seater limousine (Pullman Limousine), 6-seater phaeton (Tourenwagen), 2-door 4-seater convertible with four (Cabriolet B) or two ( Cabriolet C) side windows, 4-door 4-seater convertible (Cabriolet D), 4-door 6-seater convertible (Pullman Cabriolet F), 2-seater roadster and aerodynamic 4-door fastback sedan (Stromlinien Limousine).
1937 320 Convertible B was involved in the famous episode of World War II. In 1942, in Prague, the head of the imperial security department Reinhard Heydrich, who, de facto, was the head of Bohemia and Moravia (into which the Nazi invaders turned the Czech Republic), was deadly shot. The assassination was made by Josef Gabczyk and Jan Kubiš, participants in the Anthropoid operation prepared in Great Britain. Armored versions of 540 and 770 models were developed after this episode for the Nazi leaders. Fortunately, this did not save their lives.
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