Many of us probably associate Mercedes' diesel sedan era with the W123 and its long tenure, but diesel Mercedes sedans arrived a little before the W123 became a legend of diesel-flavored indestructibility.
In fact, the first diesel Mercs arrived stateside well before the late Malaise era made them a staple of a northeast college faculty parking lot, they came to the U.S. in the 1950s: the 180D and the 190D, in the old ponton sedan bodies. That midsize forerunner was the W114/W115 duo, the former powered by six-cylinder engines, and the latter by four- and five-cylinder units.
This makes the 240D we spotted a W115, hailing from the mid 1970s and produced between 1973 and 1974—right before the W123 arrived to pick up the baton.
Known as the Strich Acht, or stroke 8, the W114s of this generation were the fancier versions with larger-displacement gas engines on board, while the W115s were a little more modest, with smaller engines doing the work under hood. In the oil crisis years of the 1970s they were just the ticket.[image id='80ca28bd-70e0-4776-9db8-0ab49e246e2f' mediaId='a3acd751-aa82-4a1d-96ad-fc719d070aaa' align='center' size='medium' share='false' caption='The 240D diesel model was popular in the mid 1970s, just as the gas crisis took hold.' expand='' crop='original'][/image]
Powered by a 2.4-liter inline-four diesel, the 240D is indeed one of those Mercedes cars whose displacement and preferred fuel you could tell just by reading the badge—an era that has irretrievably faded into the past. Four-speed manuals and automatics were on the menu for most varieties of the W115, with the 240D becoming one of the more popular choices as the oil embargo took effect in the mid 1970s.[editoriallinks id='570a06a3-4c3f-4805-85ef-1fbe1cc40258' align='left'][/editoriallinks]
Of course, as these are the 1970s we're talking about, a little something got lost in the translation.
In the European market and everywhere else really the W115 featured elegant, vertical twin-filament headlights. But US models received something quite different, with single sealed-beam headlights integrated into the vertical housing, with additional amber turn signals just below. The US model also received revised bumpers, as well as prominent rectangular turn signals for the front and rear wings.
In all, the W115 probably got off easy, if one were to soberly survey the cast of other European cars also undergoing federalization at the time, such as the Peugeot 604.[image id='2902f074-a6e3-4fdb-a62e-541b3342df33' mediaId='a84388a6-3344-4a9f-a777-9fa3c1f2a7f9' align='center' size='medium' share='false' caption='This 240D gets bonus points for wearing an old German license plate up front.' expand='' crop='original'][/image]
But one thing that was not part of the W114/W115 range, as popular as it was back in the day, was the station wagon body style.[editoriallinks id='1f5c8e53-7b24-4ca4-b3d4-2bca02f5da99' align='left'][/editoriallinks]
For years European specialist companies hand built such things to order for well-funded buyers, in addition to variants like stretch limousines, hearses, and ambulances. But back in the W114/W115 era you just could not buy a Mercedes station wagon easily, or at all. You could, however, get a two-door coupe.
Over 50 years after it debuted, the Strich Acht is perhaps best remembered on this side of the Atlantic for being the forerunner of the W123, and for its indestructible body and engines, even if this was the "small" Mercedes-Benz of the day.
In the 1980s its successor would spawn the W124 E-Class, while Mercedes would launch a smaller sedan to take its place, known as the W201, that would become the C-Class. So quite a few of the smaller and midsize Mercedes sedans that we grew up with in the 1980s and 1990s can trace their lineage to the W114/W115 cars.
Do you know anyone who still uses one of these W115 diesels today? Let us know in the comments below.