1958 Mercedes-Benz 190 Ponton Ambulance W121
This Mercedes-Benz “Ponton” ambulance has been meticulously restored over several years. We take it for a drive outside Bloemfontein
SOMEBODY CALL 911
Type the word “ambulance” into the search bar of Mercedes- Benz’s official online archive and a host of links and pictures pop up. There were Unimogs converted into Krankenwagens and the oldest version of an ambulance – a Daimler Type UK1 with a 10/25 hp engine – dates back to 1912. In the ‘50s, there was the Type 170 S-D version, based on the Mercedes-Benz 114/115 chassis built by C Miesen, a company founded in 1870 that specialises in emergency vehicles. Miesen manufactured three wagon versions: a family station wagon, a hearse and an ambulance. There have since been several Mercedes-Benz-based ambulances. The owner bought this particular car in 2010 and, two years later, tackled the mammoth restoration. He is an absolute perfectionist and has restored several Mercedes-Benz models over the years. He often tries to source one-of-a-kind cars to add to his collection, and this Ponton Ambulance is a perfect testament to this approach.
The previous owner used the vehicle as a station wagon. It had a tow hook fitted and the interior divider was removed. It was not in a good state as two of the doors had been yanked off with a crowbar and left the car badly damaged. Even the engine bay had a few missing parts. As the owner started his research, he discovered intriguing elements such as the hole in the roof for the main emergency light and the side “door” that reveals the spare wheel. The owner admitted people have often mistaken this for a passenger door.
“A colleague’s daughter approached me when I started the restoration. She was in grade eight and asked if this could be her matric farewell car. I promised her the car would be ready. Everything at the bottom is pure Ponton but the roof was raised; so, the top of the car is unique to this model including the doors, the windows, rubbers and chrome, as was the interior trim. The car is also longer than a standard Ponton.”
Several of these parts had to be handmade but having previously restored Pontons, he knew where to start his search.
The range was quite extensive at the time, divided into several models that included petrol and diesel variants with four- and six-cylinder engines. Today, Mercedes-Benz classifies the four-cylinder models as a predecessor to the E-Class and the six-cylinder models as the predecessor to the S-Class.
No wonder this ambulance is fairly luxurious on the inside with its leather seats and real wood trim. The 190 was built for just a short period: 1956 until 1959 and 60 991 units were produced. At its launch, the standard vehicle was priced at DM 9 450, slightly more than the 180 model (DM 8 700) but more affordable than the 219 (DM 10 500), both from 1956.
Thankfully, the car was still road registered and the owner only had to pay the outstanding licence fees, which is a lot easier than reregistering a vehicle that has never been on the system.
Numerous details stand out. There is the “Karosserie Miesen Bonn” plaque on the front fenders; on the rear doors there are small metal fittings that click snuggly into rubber mountings to keep the doors in place when open; and that emergency light in the shape of a red cross works perfectly. The ceiling of the car is a lot higher than a standard Ponton and the level of luxury associated with the range is still evident. Now fully restored, the owner has added all the period-correct equipment: the jump seat, a stretcher for the patient, as well as the medical aid kit. Beneath the rounded lid at the front, the engine bay is pristine.
Driving to the outskirts of Bloemfontein, the ride was supple and absorbent. The seats have been pushed far forward to provide as much space as possible for the rear loading area. As a result, the driver is seated close to the steering wheel.
The steering column-mounted gearlever of a modern Mercedes is not something new, either, as the Ponton range also featured this. There is a wonderful mechanical feel to the shift action as you guide the lever towards you and up for first gear, followed by an easy single-motion downward pull for second gear. The thin-rimmed steering wheel transports you back in time.
The speedometer, odometer, oil pressure and water temperature gauge are all visible through the steering wheel. It sports organ-type levers with a neat clock situated in the centre of the dashboard above the 190 sign. The most impressive aspect is how each lever operates and the quality feel when you push, pull and turn them. In typical Ponton fashion, the doors only need a soft push to close.
The rebuilt engine pulls the car along nicely and it is happy to cruise in a leisurely fashion all day long. Although, no doubt, it was probably driven hard in its day when called out to an emergency.
And about that matric farewell … of course, the ambulance was ready in time, adding to the impressive list of memorable stories this Mercedes-Benz can share.
TECHNICAL DATA 1958 MERCEDES-BENZ 190 PONTON AMBULANCE
- Engine: 1897 cm³, four-cylinder petrol (M121)
- Transmission: 4-speed manual, RWD
- Max Power: 75bhp/55 kW @ 4600rpm
- Max Torque: 137 N.m @ 2800rpm
- Top speed: 140 km/h
- Acceleration 0-80 km/h: 20,5 seconds
- Fuel consumption: 8,90 L/100 km
- Fuel tank: 56 litres
- Weight: 1200 kg
- Manufactured: 1956-1959
01 Immediately recognisable as a Mercedes Ponton ambulance.
02 Colour-coded wheels look the part.
03 Not original but added by the owner in the correct spirit of the car.
04 Organ-type levers below with the speedometer above.
05 The side door that leads to the spare wheels.
06 Ball-08 type points to hold the rear doors in place when open.
07 Classic but tight cabin.
08 Mercedes-Benz emblem and star at the end of the long bonnet.
09 Period emergency light sits proudly atop the roof.
01 This ambulance rides very comfortably on the road.
02 All the correct accessories have been sourced and fitted.
03 This important plate indicates its ambulance conversion.
04 Perfectly clean 64-year-old engine.
05 Arguably the best example of its kind in SA, with only another two we know of.