It seems as if diesel cars are everywhere now, with cars such as the Volkswagen Jetta TDI scoring big points with consumers by delivering fuel mileage in the 50s range. However, it was not long ago that few cars, if any, were diesel powered here in the United States, despite the fact that they are common in most of the rest of the world.
With the ever-growing interest in diesel powerplants in general, and the growth in the automotive industry of diesel cars and light trucks, we decided to take a look at some vintage diesel cars. We went back in time and found the video above, describing the first diesel production car built. It’s focus is the 1937 Mercedes-Benz 260D.
Unlike the behemoths you are most familiar with that are currently available in pickup trucks, the engine under the hood of the 260D was what today we would call a small displacement diesel. It was a 2.6-liter four-cylinder that made 45 hp at 3,000 rpm, and it could get the 260D moving as fast as 59 mph. Not bad, considering the car weighed about 3,000 pounds.
The engine was first developed as an inline-six for commercial use, but by 1934 the Mercedes-Benz engineers decided to modify the six-cylinder into the four-banger they used in the passenger car. Smooth combustion from the pre-chamber design had been perfected, through the use of a four-plunger injection pump from Bosch. The four-cylinder already had overhead valves, a very modern feature, and a crankshaft running in five bearings contributed effectively to vibration damping and high revolving speeds.
The car was built for just three years, and then discontinued with the start of World War II. We know of very few that survive to this day, but years after the war, the next-generation of Mercedes-Benz diesel cars, the 170D, was launched successfully. Stay tuned to Diesel Army for more stories on vintage diesel vehicles.