1958 Mercedes-Benz Type 180a Ponton sedan

owner: Prithvi Tagore / prithvitagore@gmail.com / West Bengal, India

Sometime in the beginning of 2000, a friend of my dad's told him about a Mercedes-Benz that was for sale.  Despite the car's bad condition, my dad loved the looks of the car and bought it, becoming only the 2nd owner.  He decided to nickname it "Panzer", as he thought that it had all the air and build of those famous German tanks. 

It had to be towed to our garage, as the former owner, Mr. P. K. Das, said that the engine was not working due to some minor problem.  I was still in high school then, in another city, and my dad left the car in our garage in the condition he bought it so that I could come back during my holidays and work on it. 

The first time I saw the car was when I came back for my holidays.  A good inspection of the outside by our team of mechanics showed it would need a lot of hard work to get it back into any shape worth mentioning.  The lower half of all four doors were completely rusted out.  There was a gaping hole at one side of the trunk floor.  The front floorboards were nowhere to be seen, except for something that looked like mud (we figured later that the wood planks had turned to dust!).  Even the front chassis cross member was badly rusted out.  The interior was also in bad shape, with the headliner hanging down around eight inches.  On the plus side, all four tires and spare were good.  Electrically it was pretty decent and most importantly, almost all the trim parts and fittings were present and intact.  The original tire jack, instruction manual, tool kit with most tools and canvas pouch were all there, besides two suitcases that contained new and old spare parts which Mr. P. K. Das kindly gave us (the parts were of great help later during the restoration).  One look at the inside of the engine however, had us in misery; the overhead camshaft was broken in two pieces and just resting on the engine head.  Definitely not a "minor problem"!

In spite of all these shortcomings, we decided to give a shot in restoring her.  So, for the next two years or so, we gradually brought her back in to shape.

This is a photo from half way through the restoration.  So you can imagine how bad the condition was when I bought it!  By this time, with a lot of work, we had the engine running and had the rusted out floor and trunk boards and body panels replaced or repaired.

This particular car (chassis # 120 010 850 7426 and engine # 120 923 850 7608) was made in November, 1958.  The new car went from the factory in Stuttgart to Jeddah, a port city of Saudi Arabia, to its new owner, Mr. S. K. Das (the former owner's father) who was posted there. 

Mr. P. K. Das told me some time back, that he was with his father when he went to the Mercedes-Benz showroom in Jeddah, and the choice was between a Type 190 and this Type 180a.  In the end, he decided on the 180a due to its lower price and better fuel economy.

In 1961, when Mr. S. K. Das returned to Calcutta, India, he brought the car along with him.  Since the car was originally intended for Jeddah, it is left hand drive, which is the opposite of the layout used in India.  The car also came fitted with two heaters and blowers, though I really do not think that it was ever needed in Jeddah and I am quite sure one did not require extra heat in India!

On bringing this car to Calcutta, the former owner's father used it extensively as his daily transport.  A few years later, he passed it on to his son, the former owner.  He too used the car as his daily driver (this was his only car) and kept it in great shape, always ensuring that genuine replacement parts were fitted whenever required, which was not always easy, since Calcutta had more American and British cars then German ones.

From 1961 to the early 1990s, the car had been used on several occasions as a wedding car for relatives and friends of the former owners.  In fact, after my dad bought this car, one of his friends recalled that he too rode in this car on the way to his wedding!

In 1993, Mr. P. K. Das had some serious health problems and was forced to stop driving.  For the next seven years, the car lay abandoned in an open field, the torrential rains and harsh summers having done a good job of making the car almost impossible to recognize as a Ponton when my dad bought it.

The restoration was challenging but thoroughly enjoyable and some of my personal experiences in finding replacement parts were really something to write about!  Now she is more or less restored, though almost continuously some work or the other goes on to make my car even better. 

Of course, the end result with the car would never have been as good as it turned out to be without the invaluable help provided by the members of the International Ponton Owners Group (IPOG) and Jeff Miller, the man at the forefront of IPOG and the excellent Ponton website.

Thanks guys, and best wishes!
Prithvi N. Tagore
Calcutta, India
February 4, 2003

After the two year long restoration

The interior photo is a bit dull.  Notice that I have had all the Bakelite painted.  Some is in a rust brown and some is in ivory.  Also note the left hand drive.  This is unusual for India.  The car was originally sold in Saudi Arabia.

This photo was taken at a car display event, held at a local golf club.  That is me in the red hat.  Both this event and the vintage rallye (see below) were held at the beginning of 2002.

One of my garage mechanics desperately cleaning the car before the start of the rallye parade!

This photograph was taken at the start of our city's annual vintage car rallye, and you might not believe this, but at this time there were nine people in the Type 180a Mercedes-Benz!  Three in front and six at the back.

The two men on the left are my dad (in front) and me behind him.  Inside the car, at the wheel,  is our head mechanic and driver, and on the right are three of my mechanics; paint, body and engine.

In a vintage and classic car rallye

Created: January 29, 2003 / Jeff Miller

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