Here at the Gentleman’s Gazette, we deeply appreciate the rich quality and workmanship, as well as the style, of the first half of the 20th century. In the 1950’s, though the US was industrializing on an even greater scale than centuries past, many early-decade cars continued to evoke the charm and sophistication of their predecessors. In terms of style, not many things could so completely bestow glamour upon an entrance as a classic automobile.
Seeking just such an inspiration, we attended the 17th German Car Fest here in Minneapolis, and we were lucky enough to come across a 1951 Mercedes 220 Cabriolet A in fantastic condition. Our first sighting of the car – as style-oriented observers, rather than as pure auto enthusiasts – elicited immediate sighs of appreciation.
History of the Mercedes Benz 220 Cabriolet A
Firstly, a bit of history on this particular model: the W187. For every car made by Mercedes-Benz, there is an internal model number assigned, hence the W187. The system allows the company to discern between two different models, though they may have the same external model number. For example, this model, when changes were made, was then succeeded by the W180, W128, and the W105, even though they were externally labeled as the 220A and 220S. These successor models are often considered to be the first of the mid-size E-class series, though Mercedes did not officially label them as such until 1984.
The W187 Cabriolet
Produced between 1951 and 1955, the W187 came in three body types: the sedan, coupé, or cabriolet A or B. Interestingly, the term cabriolet can be traced back to a certain type of early 19th century French two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, in which a folding textile cover can be drawn or retracted to suit the two occupants. Notice the similarities between the elegant metal framing along the side of both the carriage and the 220. Furthermore, the modern use of the term cabriolet also indicates that the vehicle is a convertible with two doors, once again recalling the cabriolet carriage. Despite the demise of the original cabriolet in favor of the 4-wheeled hackney cab decades before the automobile, this little carriage clearly left its mark on classic automobile manufacturing.
In total, Mercedes-Benz produced 18,514 W187s before the model was changed in 1955. Only 1,278 of these cars were Cabriolet. As such, making this vehicle quite rare in the modern day. This lovely navy version featured the standard six-cylinder, inline engine with a displacement of 2195 cc, or just shy of 2.2 liters. The W187 engine could exert a maximum of 79 horsepower at 4850 rpm. Especially in America, this remarkable Mercedes throws off the modern concept of a “well-powered” car. However, the 220 could only achieve a maximum speed of 90 mph, which is more than adequate for modern use, if not for boasting or autobahn purposes! With a heavy steel and wood frame, the 220 weighs a substantial 3200 pounds. By comparison, a recent E-class cabriolet is powered by more than 250 horsepower for a 4000+ pound curb weight. Surprisingly, for the gas-conscious modern driver, the 220 Cabriolet A is estimated to get 16.2 mpg. For the price of 18,860 German marks, or roughly $4,490 in US currency, you could purchase your own 220 in 1951.
However, aside from a few wealthy individual importers, Mercedes-Benz did not enter into a large scale distribution agreement in the US until 1958, compounding the rarity of this vehicle on American soil.
Doubtless, few would argue with the sleek styling of the Mercedes 220 Cabriolet A. From the front, the 220 is trimmed with a chrome bumper, two small independently mounted headlamps, a large crisply angled grille for airflow, and two large headlamps.
In past models, the large headlamps had been styled in a similar fashion as the smaller lamps, attached as a separate unit, but streamlining them into the fenders supposedly modernized the look of the car.
Below the fenders are some rather spectacular original hub caps that are painted to match the body color, in addition to whitewall tires. In the early 50’s, this tire choice would have been considered flashy, as all-black tires had been available for 20 years. Originally, whitewall tires were produced from naturally white rubber on the side and black rubber underneath, which was far more durable. Whitewalls became a style choice due to the difficulty associated with keeping them clean. However, I think you will agree that, stylistically, they partner extremely well with the overall charm and feel of the vehicle.
The Details Of The Mercedes W187
In the interior, the bench seats are covered in very fine cognac leather, accompanied by chrome and wood accents throughout.
The large, white, Mercedes-emblazoned steering wheel is the centerpiece, with nary a seat belt in sight. In this photo, you will also notice the unusual position of the door handle at the left side of the driver’s door; these rear-hinged suicide doors are a real curiosity, since they are rarely used in modern automobiles due to their far more dangerous characteristics.
Finally, in the open trunk, one expects to see a spare tire – but it is the custom luggage that really astounds!
Made from beautifully textured cognac pigskin, the luggage is designed to fit the available trunk space perfectly. This set is in pristine condition, and from a style perspective, they were my favorite touch to an already impressive vehicle.
For a fantastic additional gallery of Mercedes 220 Cabriolet A photos, click here.