Mercedes Benz introduced its first compact car in 1982. It soon became to be called the "Baby Benz".
Besides extending the Mercedes Benz product range to the bottom, the car was a design milestone that brought Mercedes from the round and chrom-laden post-war years into modern times. It was the first car designed under the leadership of Bruno Sacco, an Italian in Stuttgart, and should become the clearest embodiment of his design philosophy. (photo credit: wikipedia)
Sacco was poised to create what was later dubbed sustainable design. If a Mercedes took three years from planning to production, was built to last 20 years and was produced for a period of eight years - it's design needed to not go out of date for more than 30 (3+8+20=31) years. At least.
Now in 2015, more than thirty years have past since the car's conception. And today still, the car seems so remarkably clear in its appearance, it could be called the definition of the four door saloon.
above: Airbus A380 taking off from its final assembly line in Hamburg-Finkenwerder. When the 190 was conceived Airbus was still partially owned by Daimler. But spillovers from aerospace to automotive design have been – if at all – minimal.
below: Two Milestones of German automotive engineering, 30 years between them: While the BMW i3 is the beginning of a new (electric) era, the Mercedes 190 symbolises the end of the mechanical era. It was the last generation of Mercedes cars for which computers had played virtually no role at all. In a way then this means: mechanically engineered cars never got any better than this. It's simple, clear presence stands out in contrast to the detail laden BMWi. (Picture taken in front of the BMWi factory in Leipzig.)
Sacco's design philosophy also stated that "a Mercedes must always look a Mercedes". Solid. Confident. Conservative. But not without elegance.
Something about the car appears to make it profoundly German. It never seems out of place. Of this particular model the colour might play a role too. Mercedes called it "Smoke Silver", it was very popoular with the elderly Mercedes Benz target group of the time. The colour fades almost perfectly into a grey German winter sky - as you can see on the picture with the Airbus above.
Lutz Fügener, one of Germany's most renown professors for automotive deisgn, once said that good design expresses itself by means of good proportions - not by means of details screaming for attention. The 190 seems neither big nor small, neither long nor short. In fact, from a picture its actual size is hard to judge. This becomes especially obvious when the 190 is seen next to its big brothers, the respective E and S Class models of the time (W124 and W140) which somehow just seem overweight.
The longer I have studied the details of the 190, the more I realised how much finesse and attention to detail it takes to design such a simple looking car.
Indeed, when taking a closer look, the lines are not as rectangular as might appear on first sight. They flow. The lines have a start and an end point. Every surface appears deliberate. Look at how the rear bumper continues the shape of the tail light for example. The dual-colour exterieur (which was introduced with the 1988 facelift) adds confidence to the appearance.
The front is where the car most clearly retains elements of previous Mercedes generations. Shape and proportion of the grill for example. The three pointed star can quickly fall victim to treasure-hunters though. Not only in Berlin most older Mercedes are missing their star.
It was the smallest Mercedes built at the time. With tall people occupying the front seats, rear leg room shrinks below Ryan Air standard. The cabin does comfortably fit four average size adults and their luggage. Very tall people should not have to sit in the back though.
The car drives and feels heavier than it actually is. The suspension is soft, it doesn't like quick turns or tight round-abouts. It doesn't "long for curves". The car feels most in its element when driven with around 90 km/h along quiet cross-country roads.
Clarity was king in the Mercedes design studio. Instruments, knobs and buttons are easily readable and very usable. I appreciate the simplicity and the quality of it. I am the third owner and the car has run more than 270.000km to this date – yet the condition of body, paint and interieur are - seriously - almost like new. No rust, no cracks. Just some minor signs of wear too small to call them patina.
Besides being an indication for the very solid built quality, the car's good condition is also a reflection of the good care previous owners took of the car. The front seats for example were covered in sheep fur for the longest time - a feature often to be observed with these 190s. Another feature popular with many of the 190's elderly owners.
Photographs and text contributed by Lukas von Rantzau (www.LUPHO.de). All rights reserved.
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