Coachbuilt Rarity: My 1966 Mercedes-Benz 200D Universal
Story and photography provided by Pedro Miguel
Hello, my name is Pedro Miguel, I live in Santarém, Portugal, and this is my 1966 Mercedes-Benz Universal that I would like to share with my fellow vintage enthusiasts!
To be more specific, it is a coachbuilt 200D that was converted from the shell of a stripped-down Heckflosse (Fintail) sedan. It was modified by the Belgian firm IMA more than half a century ago—in 1966, before they went bankrupt a few short years later—to become this elegant station wagon, kombi, estate, touring, whatever word you want to use for it (officially, it is called a “Universal.”) Unlike some shoddy conversions though, IMA was working with support from Mercedes-Benz, presumably to help the German car manufacturer test the market for an official factory-built estate car to come later on. The sixties were somewhat of a resurgence period for the body style, and Mercedes certainly noticed the increase in interest.
Mercedes supplied other coachbuilders with Fintails to be converted into larger-cargo carriers, ambulances, and other utilitarian configurations, and like my car, they equipped many of the shells they supplied to these companies with larger-diameter wheels (15” instead of 13”) to cope with the increased loads the converted versions would have to handle. In some cases, Mercedes would also fit them with early versions of self-leveling suspension in the rear, though thankfully not as complex and costly a system as used on the likes of the stately 6.3s and 600s.
Sorry, back on topic. There were other coachbuilders like Binz for instance, that were predominantly tasked with building the Fintail ambulances from the factory-supplied shells, but IMA was creating something more refined and much sleeker than that. This was a car to be driven by families across Europe on holiday, a car to be loaded up with picnic baskets and German Shepherds and taken for a day out wandering. Some of the Universals had split folding rear seats like mine does, and a few were also fitted with a rear-facing third row of seating that could be stored flat à la the Volvos that would come later and make that trunk-seat a staple of many millennial childhoods.
Being a 200D, it has a four-cylinder diesel under the hood so it’s no rocket ship, but it is an incredibly reliable car, and though it doesn’t have neck-snapping—or even neck-bending—acceleration, it is more than happy to chug along all day at highway speeds once you’ve reached them. I enjoy driving it regardless of where I am though, and I frequently take my Universal exploring in town and country alike, simply enjoying the experience of owning and piloting this rare piece of German automotive history.