The 1959 “Fintail” Mercedes is an icon of the 1960s. 

Whenever film and TV advertisement producers want to evoke an aura 1960s chic they invariably use the W111 four door saloon as a prop.

The car celebrates its 60th anniversary this year and Mercedes has already started promote the model’s heritage and cool design.

But it could have looked very different. 

Work began at Mercedes on the replacement for their 1953 “ponton” 180 model (W120) and its variants in 1955.

Early ideas for the W111 were very much anchored in the ’50s and their styling was a long way from the elegant car that made it into the showrooms.

The design team developed a number of alternative proposals to present to senior Mercedes executives. 

These previously secret images were taken on June 18, 1956 as part of that presentation. 

It is evident from these images that the design team was struggling to find a modern design theme.

Overall, the proposed cars are slab-sided, heavy looking, tall and rounded. 

Mercedes executives did not like what they saw and decided to make some fast changes. 

They hired French car designer Paul Bracq to suggest some changes and it was due to his efforts that the classic fintail design (W111) emerged. 

He visually lifted the rear end with fins, added sweeping full length body creases, squared off the grille, lowered the bonnet line, added a wraparound windscreen and lengthened the front and rear mudguards.

An icon was born.

The fintails, which were heavily influenced by American design trends of the late 1950s, came to define the car.

Even the poverty pack version of the W111 looked good.

The new model set the standard for passive safety with a crumple zones at the front and rear.

Bracq went on to style the 230SL Pagoda coupe, moved to BMW in the 1970s and then to Peugeot.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au

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Burrell

David Burrell is founder and editor of Retroautos.com.au, a free online classic cars magazine. Dave has a passion for cars and car design. He's also into speedway, which he's been writing about since 1981. His first car was a rusted-out 1961 Vauxhall Velox. His daily driver is a Pontiac Firebird. Prior to starting Retroautos, David was an executive in a Fortune 500 company, working and living in Australia, NZ, Asia, Latin America and the UK.