A forerunner of the Sprinter: the legendary Mercedes-Benz T 1.

A man stands in a hall, there is a white Mercedes-Benz T1 in the background

At the end of the 70s the T 1, a newly developed model, quickly became a bestseller. Countless versions and motorization options permitted a degree of flexibility that continues to have an effect to this day.

The birth of a pioneer.

In January 1967, when Mercedes-Benz introduced the successor of the L 319 with the 309 series (later called T 2), the era of the post-war vans was finished. Bigger and stronger than a delivery van, more manouevrable and lighter than a lorry: The so-called Düsseldorf models filled a gap in the market and from the outset have set the pace in their segment. They were a further development of the large van, but ten years later the spirit of the age showed a tendency towards even more individuality. This was the birth of the T 1 which – with its extended range of possible uses – paved the way for the Mercedes-Benz van of the future.

Three vans standing next to each other in front of garage doors

The models Mercedes-Benz L 319, Mercedes-Benz T 1 and Mercedes-Benz T 2.

The bestseller from Bremen.

The beginning of its career was the year 1977. Due to high demand, large quantities of the T 1 – at the time still called TN (Transporter Neu) – were leaving the production line of the Bremen plant right from the start. In colloquial speech, it was often referred to as the “Bremer” or the “Bremer model”. Up to 1984, the van was manufactured in Bremen, afterwards, until 1995, it was produced in the Düsseldorf plant. In the 18 years of its production, almost one million units were delivered at both locations, which made the T 1 the most successful Mercedes-Benz van until then.

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A master of transformation.

The fact that the T 1 became a real top-seller was not least due to its being offered in countless versions. Whether minibus, crew or panel van, with or without platform: The “Bremer” met widely differing customer needs. The engine performance reflects this kind of flexibility, too. The van is available ex works either with a diesel or a petrol engine. Its capacity extends from a 207 Diesel with 65 PS to a 210 petrol-driven automobile with 105 PS. In line with the original pioneering spirit, from 1978 the T 1 could even be ordered with fully electric drive. The small series is mainly used by key customers, such as Deutsche Bundespost.

A white Mercedes-Benz T1 is parked on a street in an industrial area

The T 1 was also readily and frequently used as a factory vehicle.

A nose shapes the future as a trendsetter.

The design of the T 1 promoted a particular style. At the time, the renowned industrial designer Stefan Heiliger was responsible for the angular lines of the “Bremer”. The T 1 was the first Mercedes-Benz van that he provided with a protruding nose, thus differentiating it from its predecessors in terms of appearance. “The prominent nose came about as a result of design requirements. It was indispensable because the engine was located at the front and required space”, clarifies Stefan Heiliger. This creative revolution met with a strong and positive response which continues to resonate to this day. In 1995, the basic technical concept of the T 1, that had established itself over the years, was finally passed on to the next major flagship of Mercedes-Benz Vans: the Sprinter. And thus, one success story ends with the beginning of a new one.

The task of good design is to address user requirements and to act upon the process of social transformation. These observations must then be translated into products which match/correspond to the production methods of the time.
  • A man stands next to a white Mercedes-Benz T1 in a hall
  • A man traces the body of a white Mercedes-Benz T1 with his hand
  • A man is standing in front of a pinboard and makes drawings
  • Drawings and plans of the Mercedes-Benz T1 on a pinboard

Three questions for designer Stefan Heiliger.

Can the T 1 be described as a pioneer due to its design?

If you wanted to describe the T 1 as a pioneer, then that is correct in the sense that it stood for a new symbolic language which has been preserved until today. In those days people had already realized that this is a language that would still be spoken and understood fifty years later.

What impact did the T 1 have on the design of the Sprinter?

The basic idea of the T 1 – the arrow – is still visible in the Sprinter. At the time, the idea caught on and it still has not lost its impact. It became the characteristic feature of this van class.

Can the T 1 be described as a cornerstone/pillar of the success of Mercedes-Benz Vans?

What may be described as successful is the underlying idea of the symbol design/design of symbols. Obviously, there was an intention behind it and, as said before, it is legible and understandable to this day. And that is probably a criterion for success.

Profile T 1 310 D

Productions period

1988–1995

Predecessor model

Düsseldorfer Transporter (T2)

Successor model

Sprinter

Designs

Panel van, crew van, minibus, flatbed, tip lorry and chassis

Displacement

2,874 cm³

Power

70 kW (95 PS)

Length

5,350 mm

Width

1,980 mm

Height

2,450 mm

Payload

Up to 1.5 t

Gross vehicle weight

3.5 t

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Front and side view of the Mercedes-Benz T1

1977 became a milestone in the success history of Mercedes-Benz: The van T 1 hit the market.

The front of a Mercedes-Benz T1

In terms of appearance, the arrow shape evokes the concept of a light van.

The steering wheel and centre console of the Mercedes-Benz T1

The steering wheel also reflects the arrow shape.

Open side door of the Mercedes-Benz T1

In the stitching, a downward and an upward line come together.

Opened brochures and photos of the Mercedes-Benz T1

Brochures, photos and illustrations about the successfull T 1 series.

Photos: Fabian Freitag, Daimler

Sprinter

Regardless of what job you have to tackle – the Sprinter will make your day-to-day tasks easier. And even if those tasks are weighty ones, together, you’ll move mountains. Thanks to a host of different variants and over 600 optional features, the Sprinter can meet a wide variety of requirements.

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