Four Decades: Mercedes Celebrates its Revolutionary Five-Cylinder Diesel
Forty years ago, Mercedes-Benz decided that diesel cars ought to go faster. But instead of building some eight-liter monstrosity to fulfill their need for speed, Mercedes got down to work and developed the 1974 240 D, the world’s first production car fitted with a five-cylinder diesel engine. If you own or have driven a particularly potent modern-day diesel, you have this vintage motor to thank. The revolutionary 240 D sported Mercedes’ 3.0-liter five-cylinder OM 617 engine, which was a compromise between the marque’s contemporary underpowered four-cylinders and larger straight-sixes that were deemed too heavy, too long and too expensive.
Diesel five-cylinders had been in use well before 1974 – in trucks and as industrial stationary units – but never had one found its way underneath a passenger vehicle. The 3.0-liter produced 79-horsepower and shot the 240 D from zero to 60mph in 19 seconds, and onto a top speed of 92mph.
That might seem like a snail’s pace today, but astonishingly back in 1974 it was quick enough to make the 240 D the world’s fastest diesel.
It’s safe to say the German automotive press was quite surprised with the new model. Auto Zeitung wrote, “the 240 D 3.0 is the first diesel car that can swim even in fast traffic without obstructing others.”
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The list of ‘firsts’ didn’t stop there either. The 240 D 3.0 pioneered a pneumatic stopping mechanism rather than a mechanical device that allowed the engine to be switched off with the turn of a key. Additionally, the new engine could be started with the turn of a key, rather than the previous lever-start system. Upon turning the key, an indicator light would illuminate and begin the pre-heating process. Once the correct temperatures had been reached, the light would go off and you could go on your way – a process we wouldn’t think twice about today.
Between 1974 and 1976, Mercedes built 53,690 240 D 3.0 vehicles, some of which you’ll probably still see puttering along on the road today.
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Source: Mercedes Passion