A Mercedes 180D called Bakkie

by Bernd

in Mercedes E-Class

Mercedes 180D Bakkie

One of the major tasks of Daimler-Benz after the war was the rebuilding of their factories and the increase of export business. Traditionally one of the biggest export markets was South America, where a sizeable part of the Mercedes 170 export sales went. In order to avoid costly import taxes, those cars were usually shipped as CKD (completely-knocked-down) models and assembled locally.

But it was not only the sedan that was produced in these markets. More and more cars were converted to more utilitarian usage and sold as station wagons and pick-ups.

Another interesting market, which was just on the brink to open up, was South Africa. In the early 1950s, Daimler-Benz had six importers, who sold next to Mercedes also other German cars such as Borgward or DKW. The three largest were Stanley Porter in Cape Town, Haaks Garage in Pretoria and Cargo Motors in Johannesburg.

Mercedes 180D Bakkie A 1963 photo of the Stanley Porter dealership in Cape Town, Buitengracht Street

But in the mid 1950s it became increasingly difficult to import foreign made sedans, as the South African government had applied strict import quota. This way the country wanted to convince international car manufacturers to establish local assembly and production facilities. The sales of newly imported Mercedes sedans had slowed to a mere 100 units annually and the six importers used the help of the Daimler-Benz representative office in Johannisburg to have an arrangement with Suttgart to switch to the importation of so-called “chassis-cabs” or “half-cars”. At that time Daimler-Benz was not ready yet to ship CKD models, as they still lacked proper facilities in South Africa for the assembly of cars.

Those half-cars were models with the body section going only up to the B-pillars. And they were not going to be finished as sedans, but as pick-ups instead. Pick-ups were classified as commercial vehicles, which were not part of the strict import quota system.

Mercedes 180D Bakkie

This is the 180 that Daimler-Benz usually shipped to its coachbuilders for conversion to ambulance cars or hearses. The rear doors and fenders were left intact. It is assumed that Binz used this car as basis for its pick-up conversion

 

Mercedes 180D BakkieThe cars shipped to South Africa and other dealer networks looked different

Due to its utilitarian character, there was only one model chosen for this deal: the W120 Mercedes 180D with the 1.767cc (107.7 cu in) OM636 VII engine. That engine was still the old oil-burner that had found its way into the 170D in 1949. It was the first Diesel engine, Daimler-Benz introduced after the war. In Sept. 1955 it had been upgraded from 40 hp at 3,200 rpm to 43 hp at 4,500 rpm, delivering a torque of 10.3 mkg (75 ft/lbs) at 2,000 rpm. Considering a kerb weight of 1,220 kg (2,684 lbs), that engine might have been acceptable in the 1950s, but today it is quite a getting used to.

Mercedes 180D Bakkie engine The engine was almost indestructible, but would be quickly stretched to its limits  under full load

Getting the approval from Stuttgart for a Mercedes 180D half-car was one thing, a much more difficult undertaking proved to be finding an adequate coach-builder in South Africa, who could build a load box that was at par with the quality of the rest of the car. After all that box was not only to be used to carry goods, in most cases it would be used for people transportation. A company called “Morewear Industries” located in Germiston was found to be able to fabricate the load box as desired and the end result was convincing not only quality- but also design-wise.

Mercedes 180D Bakkie  The load bin of a perfectly restored Bakkie

The first Mercedes 180D ponton pick-up models went on sale in 1955. While the German word for pick-up is “Pritsche”, the Africaans word is “Bakkie”. A quick search on Wikipedia reveals that the word Bakkie is a generic South African/Namibian term used for any light duty pick-up vehicle. Later such vehicles from Datsun, Nissan and Toyota all carried the “bakkie” name. So it was not a word unique to the Mercedes 180D pick-up. It has its origin in the Africaans word “bak”, which stands for a covered bowl. Pick-ups were and are not too popular in Europe, as vans and station wagons are used for similar purposes. The situation is different in other parts of the world and South Africa is a good example for this.

Mercedes 180D Bakkie

Another popular word for the Mercedes 180D pick-up in the 1950s was “Stanley Porter” after the Cape Town Mercedes importer. Bakkies were produced between 1955 and 1958 and around 400 are reported to have been sold. The exact number is not known, as Daimler-Benz did not list those half-cars separately. Some 2,439 chassis/half-cars of the 180D with the OM636 engine were sold by Stuttgart between Feb. 1954 and July 1959.

The production of the Bakkie ceased in 1958. Recognizing the potential of the South African market, Daimler-Benz had started local assembly of the 180 sedan in East London in January 1958.These cars were not anymore restricted by the import quota.

The success of the Bakkie did not go by unnoticed in Germany. Binz, an established German coachbuilder with close ties to Daimler-Benz quickly started production of its own version of a Bakkie.

Mercedes 180D Binz pick-up A 1956 Binz pick-up. Note the shorter cabin, no gap between cabin and load area and the spare wheel door under the load bin

When looking closely at both cars, one can find distinct differences. The Binz car had the load-box between the unaltered rear fenders, while the original Bakkie had the fenders integrated into the box, which gave the car a different look. Also the taillights are positioned higher. The Bakkie’s cabin is slightly longer and its rear part more curved, so that it can accommodate the spare tire behind the left seat. The Binz car’s cabin is shorter, it has the spare wheel in a separate compartment beneath the load area, accessible through a small hatch. Another prominent difference is the gap between cabin and box of the Bakkie. The Binz car lacks it. It is estimated that Binz produced around 450 pick-ups. How many of them have been exported to South Africa is not known.

Mercedes 180D Binz pick-up The Binz car with fully modeled rear fenders

 Mercedes 180D Bakkie

One can clearly see in this photo the Bakkies’ gap between cabin and load bin

Another German coachbuilder with an interest in pick-ups was Haegele from Moessingen near Stuttgart. Haegele had already produced pick-ups of the 170V.

Mercedes 180D BakkieThe Haegele built 170V Pritschenwagen was one of the first Mercedes cars produced after the war

The 180 was a new project and looked with its fender-less design more like the Bakkie than the Binz car. It is doubtful that any of the Haegele cars found their way to South Africa.

Mercedes 180D Bakkie

Bakkies and Binz model combined, there might have been a total of around 500 to 550 Mercedes 180D pick-ups on the streets of South Africa at the end of the 1950s. It is estimated that today only some 10 of them have survived, most (if not all) of them the local Bakkie version.

If you found this little journey into the South African history of the ponton Mercedes of interest and would like to read more about the 180 and other Mercedes cars of the late 1950s, here is the link to my book, which can be bought like my other books from Amazon. I hope you will enjoy.

Acknowledgments: The source for this blog are the Daimler AG and my own archives plus Gary Bowes article on mbzponton.com. The white Bakkie pictures are courtesy of Gary Bowes, SA.  The Mercedes Binz pictures are courtesy of Binz Karosseriebau and the 170V Haegele car and Mercedes 180D chassis cars are courtesy of Daimler AG.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

kerry ahern November 8, 2017 at 3:07 pm

looking for good running 180 d engine 1956 vintage?

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Stander October 11, 2017 at 2:26 pm

“Bakkie” is the dimunitive for “bak”, which refers to “load bed”.

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Sitali August 19, 2017 at 11:24 am

I also have what looks like a tow truck (ponton bakkie) which has Kerk street Potchestroom address on the door and failing to get history

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Sitali August 19, 2017 at 11:20 am

Vaste bak

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Sitali August 19, 2017 at 11:20 am

I have a caste bak (ponton bakkie apparently made in Namibia) any more information about these?

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Thinus Strydom October 1, 2016 at 1:43 pm

Sorry, forgot to add the address: mjstrydom@yahoo.com

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Baron W. Kellett July 3, 2017 at 11:02 pm

May be interested in finding a Bakkie. Is yours still available?

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Francois Perold July 28, 2017 at 10:16 am

Found the ponton bakkie you are looking for?
I have a project for sale….

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jim emirian August 5, 2017 at 6:13 am

hi there
interested in the ponton ute email me
jim

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Manny November 10, 2017 at 12:41 am

I have a ute Jim

Sitali August 19, 2017 at 11:25 am

I have seen a vaste bak ponton in a London magazine which has connection to you?

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Manny November 10, 2017 at 12:40 am

I have a bakkie available, located in London. It is a beautiful fully restored example.

Manny November 10, 2017 at 12:40 am

I have one

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Thinus Strydom October 1, 2016 at 1:42 pm

Hi, a very interesting and obviously well researched article on the Mercedes Bakkie. If anyone out there would like to own one of these unique vehicles, please contact me via e-mail. It just so happens that I have one for sale 🙂

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Anita October 20, 2016 at 8:36 am

I am interested in your Ponton bakkie. is it still available and price

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Gerhard Snyman October 21, 2016 at 2:48 pm

Hi Thinus,
Is your bakkie still for sale?

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Isabel September 17, 2015 at 7:02 am

whoah this blog is great i like studying your articles.
Keep up the great work! You know, a lot of people are looking
around for this information, you can help them greatly.

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Bernd Bernd September 21, 2015 at 6:45 pm

Hi and many thanks for your kind words. It’s very much appreciated, Bernd

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Wessel July 9, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Great article, not sure if you know this but the word bakkie is directly translatable to small bowl. as funny as that sounds in English just as odd the term pick-up is over here.

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Bernd Bernd July 10, 2013 at 10:42 am

Hi there and I am happy that you like my article. There is much more about the 180/190 and other ponton Mercedes cars in my book about the Mercedes automobiles of the late 1950s, which you can find on my website.

To be honest with you, I knew the word “Bakkie”, but had no idea about its meaning and origin. This only changed, when I started my research for this article. As the old saying goes: when you want to know about something, start writing a book about it 🙂

Bernd

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Stanley Porter April 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I found this a most interesting article. Being the grandson of Stanley Porter I also have a love and passion for Mercedes-Benz and then some!

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Bernd Bernd April 4, 2013 at 9:54 am

Thank you very much for writing Stanley. I have to admit, that when researching for my article, I was fascinated by the entrepreneurship your grandfather showed, when he looked for ways to increase his car sales business in a difficult period of time

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Stanley Porter April 28, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Unfortunately I only knew my grandfather for a short while as I was about 5 years old when he died but there are so many people whom I have met that have told me so much about him.

Keep the articles going! Really enjoying them. Thank-you.

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Bernd Bernd November 3, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Hi Drew, I am happy that you liked it. I thought it to be timely,as you had just left for South Africa 🙂

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Drew Spink November 2, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Incredible piece enjoyed and promoted by myself.
Thank you so much for the share.
Drew Spink

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Drew Spink November 2, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Outstanding historical piece!!

Reply

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