The Mercedes-Benz N 1300 is shrouded in myth. Most of these tales are told in Spanish. This is because the origins of the small van date back to its production in Vitoria in the mid-1970s. The production of the angular four-cylinder van at the plant in the Spanish Basque country continued until 1987. When its successor, the MB 100, was launched, it was also marketed by Mercedes-Benz in Germany. Up until then, the N 1300 was primarily produced for the southern European, Iberian and North African markets. Today, you can still see this rarity on four wheels occasionally – if you are lucky. The history of the N 1300 is both exciting and varied. It is a story of numerous takeovers and cooperations among German and Spanish vehicle manufacturers, of their advances and withdrawals.
Officially, the van’s story begins in Vitoria in 1975. Here Daimler-Benz began producing commercial vehicles autonomously outside of Germany for the first time with the N 1000. Today, Vitoria is the second largest Mercedes-Benz van plant in the world and produces vehicles such as the mid-sized Vito (a reference to the city’s name) and the V-Class. But back to the N 1300 and its “older brother”, the N 1000: The forward-controlled design of the small van with the longitudinally fitted diesel engine and front-wheel drive, an unusual feature for Mercedes-Benz vehicles at the time, along with the non-self-supporting chassis on a twin-tube frame reflect an exceptional development and design history. We will attempt to sort out the story…
Like its predecessor, the 4.5 meter long, 1.8 meter wide and around 2 meter high N 1300 light van inherited its characteristics from the DKW F 1000 L. This vehicle’s strikingly angular design was developed by Fissore in Turin. The name of the model was also oriented on its DKW predecessors built by Auto Union – the number represented the payload. Auto Union founded the subsidiary “Imosa” at the beginning of the 1950s and established the plant in Vitoria in the Basque country in 1952. From 1954 onward, the plant manufactured DKW high-speed vans including the famous DKW F 1000 L. Auto Union also exported the van from Spain to Germany from 1963 until 1965. After Volkswagen took over Auto Union in 1965, the company stopped exporting to Germany given that more powerful VW vans were available there.
However, the F 1000 was still produced for the Iberian market. After 1964, the small van was equipped with the Mercedes-Benz OM 636 diesel engine with a 1.8 liter displacement. It was manufactured by “Enmasa” in Barcelona under license from Daimler-Benz. In 1972 the plant in Vitoria, which still belonged to Daimler-Benz, was renamed Mevosa (Mercedes-Volkswagen AG) as part of a collaboration with Volkswagen. The small vans from DKW and Mercedes-Benz both continued to roll off the assembly line in the Basque country. In 1974, VW ultimately withdrew from the Spanish collaboration: This was the unofficial birth of “Mercedes-Benz España”. However, the official name change did not take place until 1981 – and in 1975 the further improved DKW F 1000 was launched. Instead of the four rings of Auto Union, it now sported a star on the front. We say “Bienvenido!” to the Mercedes-Benz N 1000 nine-seater van.
The light van was capable of a top speed of 100 km/h when unladen and proved highly popular in Spain and Portugal. Here it was used as a passenger and payload transporter, as a towing and furniture moving vehicle and even as a police van. Because the 43 hp OM 636 diesel engine was not ideal for these purposes, Mercedes-Benz upgraded the engine. The N 1300 was equipped with the OM 615 four-cylinder diesel engine with 55 hp and a 2.0 liter displacement. In addition, it also featured a better frame, new suspension, clutch, transmission and chassis. On the outside, it still largely resembled the N 1000. The facelift followed a good 10 years later when the first MB 100 and 130 were produced in Vitoria.
Daimler-Benz’s continuing trust in its Spanish plant was by no means a given. Terrorism was rampant in Spain at the end of the 1970s, the economy was collapsing, the markets were troubled and the country was facing its first elections in 40 years following the death of General Franco in 1975. That is why, in December 1977 the German weekly newspaper “Zeit” speculated that Daimler-Benz would soon withdraw from its Spanish interests. Yet the brand with the star remained loyal to the Basque country – and continues to manufacture successful vans there today.
Photos: Vans of Berlin, Josep Jorba, Francisco Cardoso