During my junkyard travels, I document plenty of discarded Mercedes-Benzes from the 1970s and 1980s. Earlier Stuttgart machinery is a bit tougher to find, though I had managed to run across a couple of 1950s W120 proto-E-Class sedans prior to now. Here’s the third boneyard W120 to fall before my camera: a very solid 1960 180b in a Denver yard.
The W120 (and W121, which was identical except for engine type) was built from 1953 through 1962 and was the first unibody Mercedes-Benz. It is the direct ancestor of the present-day E-Class, beginning a line of midsize cars that included the legendary W110, W114 and W123 as the decades went by.
This one had been popping up on Denver-region online classifieds for quite a while, with an asking price of around $500. There were no takers, and the seller finally gave up and sold it to Pick Your Part. Junkyard shoppers bought most of the interior and dash components (or perhaps someone bought it for parts, then sent the rest on that final tow-truck ride), so some of its parts will live on in other W120s.
There isn’t rust to speak of, though a few holes had been cut into the floor for some reason.
The engine is a 1.8-liter straight-four, rated at 78 horsepower and 107 pound-feet.
If you think the Nissan L-series engine resembles this one, you’re right. The Prince Motor Company licensed Mercedes-Benz engine technology to use in the new Skyline (yes, the ancestor of that Skyline), which ended up in Nissan’s hands when Prince was bought by that company. By the time the L engine was being installed into 510s, it had evolved sufficiently that no licensing fees needed to be paid to Stuttgart.
The only transmission available in the W120 was a column-shifted, fully synchronized four-speed manual. The four-on-the-tree went into a few Detroit vehicles (mostly forward-control vans); the three-on-the-tree was much more popular here.
The W120’s rear suspension used the same sort of swingaxle design that made it so easy to flip over the pre-IRS VW Beetles and, more famously, Chevy Corvairs.
The MSRP for this car was $3,250, or about $39,921 in 2023 dollars. You could get a new 1960 Oldsmobile Super Eighty-Eight four-door sedan for 74 fewer dollars, getting four times the horsepower (plus an automatic transmission) in the process. The 180b was a better bet to last a half-century, of course.
A 1960 180b in beautiful condition is worth decent money, but restoring one like this would have been prohibitively expensive. That’s why its final parking spot is next to a doomed ’54 Plymouth in Denver.
I had an old film camera (a 1940s-vintage Ansco Shur-Shot) with me, as I often do, when I visited this car, so I took this photograph.