Mercedes-Benz 260 D. The first passenger car with diesel engine

Erster Diesel Pkw

In February 1936, Mercedes-Benz introduced the 260 D (W138), the world's first passenger car with a diesel engine. The 260 D on display for the first time at the Internationale Motorrad- und Automobil ausstellung in Berlin, just over fifty years after Carl Benz's very first petrol-powered car. The diesel was the trendsetter of its time. It was not only powerful, but also thirty percent more efficient than a petrol version. The Mercedes-Benz 260 D forms the basis for the name that the brand still has in the field of innovative diesel technology to this day.

Mercedes-Benz and the diesel engine are inextricably linked. The first Benz truck with a self-igniter was launched on the market in 1923. After experimenting with different diesel engines, Mercedes-Benz decided in 1934 to convert the proven six-cylinder diesel truck engine for use in passenger cars.

The OM 138 was the first diesel engine that was used in a passenger car. Image: Daimler AG
The OM 138 was the first diesel engine that was used in a passenger car. Image: Daimler AG

The result was a 2,6 liter four-cylinder diesel engine with overhead valves and a crankshaft bearing five bearings. The engine used the Bosch diesel injection system and produced 45 hp at 3000 rpm. The 260 D weighed 1530 kilos and could reach a speed of 95 km / h. With an average consumption of 9,5 liters of diesel, the 260 D with the so-called OM 138 engine reached a distance of more than four hundred kilometers, which was extremely convenient given the small number of European filling stations.


Even for post-war standards, this diesel passenger car was economical. Compared to the Mercedes-Benz 200 petrol version, the 260 D consumed four liters of fuel per hundred kilometers less. And although a liter of diesel in 1936 cost only 17 Pfennig - half of a liter of petrol - it was an additional reason for calculating taxi drivers to choose the diesel version from Mercedes-Benz.

Historical advertisement about the Mercedes Benz W138, the first passenger car with a diesel engine in the front. Image: Daimler AG
Historical advertisement about the Mercedes Benz W138, the first passenger car with a diesel engine in the front. Image: Daimler AG

Set of different models

Mercedes-Benz built a range of different models including a sedan, a landaulet and a convertible. From 1936 to 1940, 1967 copies of the 260 D were produced. Except for the installation of glow plugs for an easier cold start, Mercedes-Benz made hardly any changes to the engine during the construction period.

That was not necessary at all, because the 260 D proved to be a reliable mileage eater. Taxi drivers in particular loved the model; Until well into the 260s, 1100 D models could therefore be found at the taxi ranks. Mercedes-Benz also used the diesel engine for other purposes, for example to drive the L 1500 / L XNUMX vans.


Since the world premiere of the 260 D, Mercedes-Benz has continued to refine its diesel technology year after year and the history of the diesel engine has peaked one after the other. There was the first diesel passenger car with a five-cylinder engine (240 D 3.0 W115 from 1974), the first luxury sedan from Mercedes-Benz with a turbo diesel engine (300 SD W116 from 1977) and the introduction of CDI technology with common rail injection in the C 220 CDI in 1997, but also the arrival of BlueTEC in the E 320 BlueTEC as well as the development of Diesel Hybrid variants were milestones in the Mercedes Benz diesel history.


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  1. for information I have an original restoration citroen rosalie ud 11 with french registration of the year 1937 was actually a gasoline block with a ricardo diesel cylinder head and a boch injection pump and equipped with pre-glow candles a second restored one is now located in england at the firm ricardo you can see it driving via you tube hugo heynen belgium 0032496105820

  2. The whole Diesel story is an exciting adventure that Hercule Poirot would love:
    Who was Rudolf Diesel and what really happened to Rudolf?
    Who is the last to make the engine usable for the passenger car?
    Who claimed a Grand Turismo D with it (but it wasn't).
    Why and by whom were doctors' advice about unhealthy exhaust fumes in the city center completely ignored?
    And finally: who was the real cheater and turned it into an E fairy tale?
    The answer,… .. Damen und Herren ……… .is… ..

  3. This title is of course factually incorrect! Sure the French invented the first real car but didn't get the honors. To get them the first production diesel car through the nose by the same taxi delivery company… That's too much fake news☺

    1933 Citroën Rosalie 11UD Magnificent!

  4. The first common rail car was not a Mercedes, but the Alfa Romeo 156. Common rail was developed by the FIAT group, and later adopted by all manufacturers.

    • Dear Wim.

      Thanks for the reply.

      The article also does not state that the CDI was the first common rail diesel. By mentioning the CDI, we only reflect a development in the diesel history of Mercedes-Benz.

  5. The Mercedes and citroën TA models built around WW2 are most easily distinguished by their windshield wipers. The pre-war ones have hanging wipers, the post-war ones have upright wipers.

  6. Not MB, but Hanomag was the first diesel passenger car.
    I thought in 1932 ... while the MB only came four years later ...
    In 1935 the first Peugeot passenger car with a diesel engine was a fact, but this car was not intended for commercial use… more of a test balloon.

    • Even fact check in the German Wikipedia:
      From 1936, the Hanomag Rekord Diesel Type D 19 A with a four-cylinder diesel engine (1.910 cm³ Hubraum, 26 kW Leistung) and Vorkammereinspritzung reintroduced the man. Der Wagen was ready in February 1936, in the period with the Mercedes-Benz 260 D, auf der Berliner Automobilausstellung vorgestellt. Damit gehörte er zu den ersten Serien-PKW with Diesel engine, war aber im Unterschied zum Mercedes-Benz nicht sofort Lieferbar.
      Sorry, another Pascal….

      • @Henk; we have known for a long time that internet sources are not reliable.
        From this source:
        “First passenger car with diesel engine
        In the 1933s, Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot introduced diesel variants of their commercial vehicles. Peugeot also worked on a diesel passenger car, but the Second World War threw a spanner in the works. The first passenger car with a diesel engine was the Hanomag Rekord in 1936. Mercedes-Benz followed in 260 with the XNUMXD ”.

        … My story is really correct.

        Sources contradict each other, just as that both Germans and French claim to have made the first car with a petrol engine.
        We know the Daimler-Benz Reitwagen ... but are you familiar with Levaissier ..?

        • Dear Other Pascal.

          Thanks for the reply.

          About the sources (so no Wikipedia): Incidentally, the Hanomag Museum uses 1937 as the production start year for the Rekord Diesel. According to our information, this Hanomag diesel was only ready for production in 37/38. The Benz and Hanomag diesel were presented at the same time in 36.

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