Fast and agile like a passenger car and at the same time as robust, reliable and powerful as a small truck – this was the kind of vehicle the Daimler-Benz AG was planning to build in the early 1950s. The reason was pretty obvious: The Swabians, who in those days were already very well positioned in the truck and passenger car segment, wanted to cover the entire range of utility vehicles as the discontinuation of the L 1100 in 1941 had caused a gap in their portfolio.To this end, they needed a utility vehicle model in the lightweight segment. At that time, no other manufacturer pursued a similar strategy even though later on, many others would emulate the pioneers from southern Germany.
First things first: As early as the 1950s, in particular competing German companies had sold small utility vehicles. However, their design still resembled that of classic passenger cars – and this is how they would usually behave in real life, too. In the meantime, a niche had opened up in the market between those light-duty utility vehicles for business use and the classic truck, which was occupied exclusively by Daimler-Benz since the mid-1950s. – Even better, a niche which the people from Stuttgart had created in the first place, namely with the development of the Mercedes-Benz L 319.
Daimler-Benz had launched the L 319 at the IAA (Internationale Motor Show) in the midst of the “German economic miracle“, in the year 1955 to be exact. – This marked the birth of a pioneer which was to become an icon of the economic recovery of that era first and a van legend later. How this series of legendary Mercedes-Benz vans has been continued up until now is explained by Chris Morrin in the corresponding episode of his show – under the subject of “Van History“.
Initially, the developers of the German car manufacturer in Swabia had not been aware of the fact that they had constructed the first “Transporter“ (delivery van) with the star which also became known under this denomination.For the “L“ in the model name stood for “Lastwagen“ (truck) and when the Mercedes-Benz L 319 made its big debut in Frankfurt, Daimler-Benz was still speaking of a “Schnell-Lastwagen“ (fast truck), while attributing to the predecessor of the Sprinter, Vito and Citan those very features which characterize a van. But it was not until the L 319 entered series production in 1956 that it was also called by its right name: a van.
With its compact dimensions and a total weight of 3.6 to 3.9 t, the L 319 became immediately popular. Production came to an end in 1968; five years previously, the L 407 as the designated successor model had seen the light of day. Until then, more than 100,000 L 319 vans had been rolling off the production line in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim and Mannheim at first and in Düsseldorf thereafter.
Where did the success of this legendary Mercedes-Benz van come from? At 1.85 t, the first van with the star allowed a significantly higher payload than comparable competitor models. It offered more storage space, but was almost as easy to manouevre as a passenger car – in other words, it was the ideal vehicle for the trade, industry and crafts sectors. Initially produced as a box-type delivery van, platform truck or low-platform truck, shortly afterwards the Daimler-Benz AG followed up with the O 319, the motor bus version, with up to 18 seats.
The L 319 was not only popular for business use, as a delivery van or people carrier – under the designation of fire brigade vehicle “LF 8“ it was also used as a fire-fighting truck. The fire brigade of Ilvesheim, a town of 9,000 inhabitants close to Mannheim in Baden-Württemberg, had relied on its red classic for many years.The Ilvesheim firefighters had acquired the L 319 in 1962, its relocation being solemnly accompanied by a marching band. For years it had been appreciated as a reliable workhorse, but finally the loyal LF 8 was to be scrapped. However, in a unique “rescue operation“ the fire fighters set about restoring and maintaining their faithful vehicle.
One thing is clear: Behind every L 319 still functional today, there is an owner with a huge passion for classic cars who puts his heart and soul into his vehicle and takes care of it with a lot of patience and superb craftsmanship. Some of these owners meet twice a year in different places in Germany in order to eat together, sit around a campfire, and – most important of all – share their experiences of the historical gems in their possesssion. The official “319 Club“ has been in existence since the end of 1997. Whether furniture transporter, beverage truck or family van – at the club meetings, the L 319 can be found in any kind of design. And each owner has a very personal story to tell about his or her smart classic van.
An ambitious project has also been tackled by the car mechanic, vintage car enthusiast and TV host Lina van de Mars and her colleague, the presenter Neil. In Luxemburg the duo went in search of an old L 319. Their mission: to breathe new life into the dusty van. Have they succeeded?
If you take a stroll through the Hagenlocher dealership in Böblingen near Stuttgart, apart from the latest Mercedes-Benz models you will get to see numerous classic cars – which are in no way inferior to the new vehicles when it comes to visual appearance. Of course this is due to the fact that the owners, Klaus and his father Kurt Hagenlocher, share a common passion – they both love classic cars from Mercedes-Benz. A very special and absolutely unique piece is their L 319 van which has become world famous as the “Blue Wonder“. In the video you will learn why.
From one car dealership to the next, from Böblingen to Münchberg – the latter town in Upper Franconia is the home of the August Hahn dealership. What makes this dealership so special is that it is one of only 25 Mercedes-Benz Classic Partners throughout Germany which have specialized in restoring classic cars.
Of course, the inventory of the Münchberg classic car enthusiasts also includes a blue L 319, built in 1959. However, the persons in charge have not placed it in the dealership for mere decoration purposes – quite the opposite: The L 319 is still in use for the transportation of spare parts and as a delivery or service van.
Dusty, unused, discarded – this is how Uwe Ziegler found his L 319 in a dark corner of a friend’s garage. For the car mechanic it was clear that with the former camper, he would make a long-held dream of his come true. Meanwhile, the L 319 has been back on the road as a mobile espresso bar for more than five years.
In modifying his L 319, Christoph Kilz has turned it into a genuine visual highlight. The founder of Food Trucks Hot Dog.de sells hot dogs (who would have guessed?) from his old van. He leaves nothing to chance. Not only when it comes to the ingredients, but also for the upgrading of his old Mercedes-Benz van, Kilz has had a clear plan: He wanted to give it a kind of sixties feel.
Anyone who pulls up in front of Nitja’s and Ralf’s wonderful small house will feel transported back to a “Pippi Longstocking“ movie. In the driveway, you find various “motorized gems“ from the last century and behind the Art Nouveau House with its crochet-covered rain gutter there is a mobile studio in the form of an antique circus waggon.
“Old things simply hold a great fascination for us“, explains Nitja. “More than anything else, Ralf and I have fallen in love with old buses time and again“, says the art therapist laughingly and opens the barn. Which beauty, do you think, is hidden in it? A mint green Mercedes-Benz L 319 from the year 1967. The couple has turned the former fire engine into a camper – and given it the nickname “Elliot“.