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The Mercedes-Benz W120 was an inline-four cylinder sedan introduced by Mercedes-Benz in 1953. Powered initially by the company's existing 1.8 liter M136 engine, it was sold as the Mercedes-Benz 180 through 1962. The Mercedes-Benz W121 was introduced in 1956, powered by a 1.9 liter M121 engine. It sold as the Mercedes-Benz 190 through 1961.
The 180 continued to use the 56 PS (41 kW; 55 hp) M136 engine from the Mercedes-Benz 170 Sb until 1957, when it received a downtuned version of the 190's M121. Various diesel powered 180s were produced from 1953 to 1962.
Often referred to as "Pontons" the pair were the mainstay of Mercedes' lineup during their production runs. Together with the more luxurious and somewhat larger 2.2 liter inline-six cylinder Mercedes-Benz W128 220 they constituted 80% of Mercedes-Benz' production between 1953 and 1959.
The 180-190 and W128/W180 220-220S 'Ponton' models looked very similar in appearance from the windscreen back to the six-cylinder somewhat longer 220s-220S-220SE models. From behind, one could not easily differentiate even the top of the line 220SE (E for Einspritzung, or fuel injection) from a 180, but the longer bonnet (and wheelbase) and chrome touches identified it as an upscale, six-cylinder model.
The Mercedes-Benz 300 W186 Adenauer company flagship used a much larger frame and body, and was an entirely different car.
The 180-190 four-cylinders were widely used as German taxis. Only these shorter Pontons featured low-wattage parking clearance lights at front bumper top rear. A simple left-right toggle above and to the left of the driver's knee selected which side would illuminate, so as not to needlessly run down the battery in winter, no small concern when restarting diesels. Heater air intakes were on both sides of the radiator grille only on the 120/121.
The form and body of the car changed little during its production run. However, in 1957, a year after the introduction of the 190 saloon, the Mercedes star atop the faux external radiator cap was made spring-loaded to give when bumped: reports at the time indicated that this was either to pander to the requirements of certain export markets, notably Switzerland, or to reduce the risk of pedestrian injury in the event of an accident. By 1959, the star was spring-retained on a ball base.
A related roadster variant, the R121, better known as the 190SL, was produced from 1955 to 1963. At the 1959 Frankfurt Motor Show, in time for the 1960 US model year, a slightly wider grille and slimmer taillights were introduced. The same wider grille was carried forward to the car's in other respects more flamboyantly styled successors, when the Pontons were replaced by the W110 "Fintail" models during 1961.