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55 years ago: Daimler-Benz introduced the post-war bestseller L 3250 and the O 3250 bus
- Pragmatic concept
- Sophisticated technology
- Car-like driving characteristics
In 1949, the same year as the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany, it arrived on the scene as one of those pragmatists with which the country set a course for the economic miracle. As the company’s first post-war commercial vehicle development, the light-duty L 3250 truck celebrated its premiere in May 1949, at the Export Fair in Hanover which was later to develop into today’s Hanover Industrial Fair.
In line with the austerity of the times, the new post-war arrivals – the L 3250 and the O 3250 bus derived from it – were designed on a simple but solid basis. For example, the chassis was a variation of the Opel Blitz which the plant was still assembling immediately after the war. And the rounded, wood-framed all-metal cab of the truck had already appeared in very similar form at the end of the 1930s.
Powered by a new six-cylinder diesel
Nonetheless this duo had potential as it featured modern technology: at the same time as the two new vehicles, the likewise newly developed OM 312 six-cylinder diesel engine with 90 hp and a displacement of 4.6 liters began its highly successful worldwide career. This engine had a very good power-to-weight ratio, almost achieving the specific output of gasoline units of the time, and was also extremely smooth-running. In 1954 Daimler-Benz introduced a turbocharged version, though only for fire-fighting vehicles.
At any rate, it was due to the new OM 312 that the unladen weight of the new truck was so very favorable for a diesel-powered vehicle. The new light-duty truck was only produced as the L 3250 for a few months, and was then rechristened the L 3500. Until 1955 the figure in the model designation for these trucks indicated the payload of the complete truck with a platform body. From 1955 design codes replaced these approximate indications of the payload. Accordingly the light-duty truck which began life as the L 3250 was no longer called the L 3500, but the L 311.
In the form of the L 4500 – afterwards known as the L 312 – the 3.5-tonner was soon joined by a likewise highly successful, almost identical vehicle which had a higher payload to offer thanks to larger tires. After the start of L 3250 series production in the second half of 1949, these new models immediately became the market leaders in their segment and were easily able to sustain this peak position until they were replaced.
Almost car-like ride comfort
And no wonder, for an L 3250 had a great deal to offer right from the start, for example a cab with three-seat bench as well as a heating system which was by no means yet the norm even in passenger cars. Front-opening quarterlights with interior glass air deflectors ensured draught-free ventilation in the summer. Both the visual appearance with a one-piece windshield and the technology with the smooth six-cylinder diesel were ahead of their time.
Where performance was concerned, the company had nothing to fear from a comparison with the cars of the time: "The new Mercedes-Benz truck is easily capable of keeping up with fast, modern traffic flows," is how a brochure praised the talents of the L 3250 which was designed for a maximum speed of 80 km/h. It also claimed to have the "spirit, maneuverability and speed of a passenger car," while at the same time offering "the outstanding economy of its smooth-running diesel engine and the robust reliability of a design intelligently conceived down to the last detail."
Elegant cab-behind-engine buses
The O 3250 bus built on the same platform was likewise presented in May 1949. In summer 1950 it was joined by the heavier O 6600. With this duo of elegant and impressive CBE models Daimler-Benz now seriously embarked upon its entry into the post-war bus business. However bus operators were much quicker to demand COE designs than the truck customers, and the company was only able to supply these from 1953 in the form of the OP 3500 chassis. This is why the O 3250 and O 3500 buses did not remain in the limelight quite so long as their cargo-carrying cousins. In fact the end for the CBE buses came as early as 1955, but the Mannheim plant continued to produce the COE chassis OP 3500/OP 311/OP 312 based on them, as well as the L 311 light-duty trucks, until 1961.
The first cab-over-engine chassis appear
A few COE variants of the truck were already produced in the early 50s, however the bodybuilding work and the forward relocation of the seats this involved were initially left to external specialists such as Kässbohrer, Wackenhut and Binz. In view of rising demand the plant soon decided to offer an additional series of complete COE chassis as well. This was introduced in 1954, but did not include the cab or body.
Second career overseas
In the mid-50s the light-duty trucks from Mannheim also embarked on an international career. India and Brazil (and for a time also Argentina) were the locations where the L 3250 and its successors were produced for far longer than in their country of origin. In Mannheim, the last units of the truck left the production lines in May 1961. Production of the COE bus chassis had already come to an end in January 1961.
At least in Europe, this brought the successful career of this first post-war development by Daimler-Benz to an end. Total production of the CBE trucks amounted to 145,739 units, plus 37,366 COE trucks derived from them. Almost one quarter of these vehicles were destined for assembly overseas, embarking on their journey from the plant in the form of CKD sets.