Soon after the inception of the car companies of Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, both firms had been actively involved in producing commercial vehicles. This gained further momentum when both companies merged to created what we now know as Mercedes-Benz. In the 1950s however, Mercedes Benz realised that they needed a presence in the light truck category: all their previous commercial vehicles had had payload capacities larger than 3 tonnes. What further initiated this development was the success that manufacturers like Volkswagen and Opel were having with their light trucks.
Mercedes’ solution to this was the L 319 truck and its bus variant, the O 319. Shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1955, both were mechanically identical, the Mercedes Benz O 319 Bus being geared towards commuter transport and touring coach applications. The O 319 was unique because of its cab over engine design. This freed up space and made the design more car-like. The engine choices on offer further differentiated it from full blown commercial vehicles. There were two options at launch, a 1.8-litre four cylinder diesel good for 43 hp from the 180 D and a 65 hp 1.9-litre petrol from the 190. Understandably, the Mercedes Benz O 319 Bus’ engines were tuned more towards load carrying ability rather than out and out top speed. The petrol had a top speed of 95 kmph (59 mph) and the diesel maxed out at 80 kmph (50 mph). More powerful engines with up to 55 hp (diesel) and 80 hp (petrol) were offered later in the production run. Power was put down via a 4-speed auto and the suspension was a combination of leaf springs and rigid axles.
The Mercedes Benz O 319 / L 319 were notable for their front-end design. The cab over engine design, panoramic windscreen, curved front panels and the signature Mercedes round headlight/ three point star combination made the car look quirky but appealing. The top of line O 319 further added to this with roof edge glazing, a folding sunroof, two-tone livery and luxury seats for ten passengers. The interiors were also well appointed having individual seats with red velour upholstery covers, armrests, adjustable backrests, parcel racks and chrome-trimmed ashtrays.
The car seen here is one such example. Completely original in terms of exterior design, this Mercedes Benz O 319 Bus has seen extensive modifications under the skin. It features a modern, fuel injected Mercedes Benz engine and auto transmission. The original suspension has been worked on to accommodate a modern air-ride suspension system. The interiors have been heavily reworked to make it better suited as a campervan. The original dash is faced with modern leather seats and a rear bench. A cabinet houses the sink, stove, and provides storage. Other cabinets hold the new age audio systems and a solar panel to power appliances. Propane and water tanks, updated circuitry and interior lighting are other additions.
This example up for sale at RM Sotheby’s Arizona 2018 auction or any other O 319 for that matter is a unique piece of Mercedes’ automotive history. It blurred the lines between the robust and workman-like Mercedes commercial vehicles and the luxurious passenger cars the company has to offer. It provided a unique combination of both functionality and luxury and was a pre-cursor to Mercedes minivans such as the Vaneo and Viano which have gained worldwide popularity. Photos: Gabor Mayer for RM Sotheby’s