The 'Fintail' range of Mercedes-Benz was manufactured from 1959 to 1967, with various engines and specifications, from 190 four cylinder diesels to the top-of-the-range six cylinder 300SE. The latter was the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz range between 1961 and 1963, bridging the gap between the 300D 'Dora' and the 600 and was even given its own model number W112, as opposed to the 'lesser' Fintails W111 and W110. The 300SE featured an aluminum 3-Liter 6 cylinder engine, which was a derivative of the engine first seen in the 300 'Adenauer' sedans and eventually the legendry 300SL 'Gullwing'. The 300SE was a techno wonder for its time and featuring fuel injection, power steering, disc brakes all round and air suspension, which was pioneered in this car and was eventually carried over in slightly modified form into other flagship ranges, like the 600 W100 of 1963 and eventually the legendary W109 300SEL 6.3.
The Fintails achieved a fair amount of rally and motor racing success, mostly notably in the hands of the German ace Eugene Boehringer. He drove a 220SE to second place overall in the 1960 Monte Carlo Rally, as well as class win for cars over 2000cc in each respective Monte Carlo Rally from 1961 - 1963. He also achieved victory in the 220SE in the 1961 and 1962 Dutch Tulip Rally, as well as the 1961 Akropolis Rally. With the 300SE, Boehringer won the 1963 Akropolis Rally, as well as the Argentinian "Grand Prix". In saloon car racing, Boehringer came second overall in the 1963 Nurburgring 6 Hour event.
300SE's amongst Jaguar 3.8 Mk11's during the 1963 Nurburgring 6 Hour on the Nordschleife
Eugene Boehringer in his race prepared 300SE
The 220SE achieved further success in the hands of legendry Australian hero, Bob Jane, who won the Armstrong 500 with co-driver Harry Firth in 1961
The Bob Jane/ Harry Firth 220SE
The only person to have raced a Mercedes-Benz Fintail in South Africa was Errol Kobus, who achieved a win on his first outing at the St.Alban's Track in Port Elizabeth in November 1964.
At the beginning of the 60's, Errol owned an automotive repair and service business in East London, which he had bought out from his partner by selling his 220S Ponton. In 1962, he bought a second hand black with red leather W111 220SE, which had been a demo car from Ronnie's Motors, the local Mercedes-Benz agents. The 220SE, which had been used by the MD, Ronnie Levy, had only clocked up about 30 000 miles and cost Errol £1300. Errol used the car extensively as his daily transport, and logged up a further 8000 miles doing a trip to, what was then, Rhodesia.
In November 1964, Errol, who was a keen motorsports enthusiast and spectator, was persuaded by a friend to enter his 220SE at a racing event being held at the St Albans Track Port Elizabeth. Initially Errol was denied a late entry, but when the organizers heard that he wanted to enter a Mercedes-Benz, he was welcomed immediately. The race was a handicap, and notwithstanding the fact that Errol spun out twice, he still won the event.
Errol spins the 220SE at St. Albans
The racing modifications were kept to a minimum: the bumpers and hubcaps were removed and a shorter exhaust was fitted, which exited just before the right-rear wheel. Because it was his daily car, Errol wanted to prevent stone chips, so the grill was removed, cardboard covers were stuck over the headlights and the front of the car was wrapped in a blanket, as seen in the photo below which appeared in the January 1965 edition of CAR magazine:
Trophies from the first race
The 220SE, which by this time had been christened 'Big Herman', was then raced in East London at the East London Grand Prix circuit. A further modification was made when the fuel injection pump was removed and modified by a friend of Errol's who was a diesel pump specialist. The pump was modified to allow the car to rev to 6500 rpm.
A dapper young man
On the starting grid at east London
Being overtaken by Basil van Rooyen in the Lotus Cortina
Through the Esses
Body roll through Beacon Bend
The 220SE ran with standard finned drum brakes at the front, and Errol was concerned about the brake fade. 'Big Herman' was also his everyday driver and was also used for business purposes, so Errol decided to build a Fintail racer to be used purely for racing. He bought a W111 220 from a customer which was part of an insurance settlement and set about modifying the car. The interior remained intact, but the car was re-sprayed in silver with an offset black strip along the top of the car. The suspension was lowered and vents were cut into the fenders below the headlights to cool the drum brakes. Aluminium plates inside the fenders directed the airflow from the vents to towards the brakes. Further vents were cut into the fenders behind the front wheel arches to extract the hot air from the brakes, which were finished in the chrome embellishers used on the vents of the 'C' pillars.
Mechanically, the cylinder head was ported and a new inlet exhaust manifold setup was fabricated to accommodate three 40mm Weber carburetors along with a banana branch exhaust manifold. Errol also did a floor shift gear change modification, instead of the standard column shift.
However, the car didn't perform as well as the 220SE, and after only two or three outings, Errol sold the car to a panel beater, who converted the car back to road use and sold it on. Errol then hung up his racing gloves.
W111 220 Racer
Errol's retirement from racing didn't last very long, and within six months, with encouragement from his father-in-law, Errol bought a GSM Dart to turn into a racer. This was followed over time by a Lotus 11 and eventually an Elfin. He also had one race in a 190SL which had a 6 cylinder 220 motor conversion.
The 190SL was a handful
Errol, now 73, lives in Hilton with his wife Ann.
When the W108 range superseded the Fintail range in 1965, the Fintail range was still built alongside the W108, but became Mercedes-Benz' entry level range. The Fintail range was then only available as a 200D (Diesel), 200, 230 and 230S and was finally discontinued in 1967.