1961 Mercedes-Benz Type W120 180b sedan

Ramzi Saba / ramzi_saba@hotmail.com / Beirut, Lebanon

Former Lebanese Taxi Finds a New Life as a Pampered Summer Car!

Ponton taxis in Beirut, circa 1958; the building on the left is the main police station

Photo uploaded: October 18, 2013

Beirut street scene (circa 1975 – note "JAWS" on the movie marquee) with a Mercedes-Benz 4-cylinder Ponton, and a Mercedes-Benz W108 series sedan.

Video uploaded: November 10, 2013

Skillful Driving in Beirut

Photos Courtesy: Ramzi Saba / November 9, 2011

Vintage Mercedes-Benz taxis in Beirut — 45+ years after leaving the factory!
Type W111 series "Heckflosse" sedans

Photo Courtesy: Ramzi Saba / January 29, 2002

This is Riad El Solh Square in downtown Beirut, circa 1969. Riad El Solh was a prime minister during the 1940s when Lebanon gained its independence.

Photo Courtesy: Ramzi Saba / October 10, 2004

The building behind the Ponton in this photo is the Arab Bank. It was constructed in the late 1960s. When my father graduated from the AUB (American University - Beirut) as a civil engineer, he was employed by the contractor who was executing this building, so he became the site engineer. Before it was constructed, the main fire station was at the same location. I guess the photo was taken sometime between 1968 and 1973.

I was erasing some old photos from my laptop, and I found this one. It's in the Hamra Street in Beirut. The photo is from the late 1960s or early 1970s. The street is still almost the same, but some shops have closed and new ones have opened. There are two Pontons, and a Type W111 220SE Fintail, and a beautiful Porsche!

Photo Courtesy: Ramzi Saba / December 6, 2010

Notice the "Lebanese addition" to the Ponton in the center lane. Taxi drivers used to add a chrome shell to avoid damages to the grill in case they hit another car! They would attach it to the front bumper supports. It was used mainly on Pontons, and less on Fintails. The "Lebanese shell" disappeared completely once the W114/115 and W123 series appeared on the scene.

Beirut street scene with 4-cylinder Ponton

Street scene with Mercedes-Benz vehicles
Damascus, Syria — circa 1970s 

Data Card for the 1961 Type 180b

Data card for Ramzi's 1961 Type 180b. Note the number 0853 which refers to the fact that the car was delivered to T Gargours & Fils (the Mercedes agent in Lebanon).

Ramzi's 1961 180b Before Restoration

Ramzi writes: In 1995, I discovered by chance a white 190b for sale. The car was renovated in a poor manner. However I couldn't afford to buy it because of its high price. (Its owner asked for $12,000). A few months later, I discovered my car, a 180b of 1961. The car was in very bad condition. Its owner painted it with a brush to cover the rusted areas.

These photos were taken on April 23, 1995. It was 4 days after I bought my Ponton. As you can see, everything needed to be redone. However, the car was somehow complete and original. So I bought the car for $2,000 and started renovating it. The headlights were not working, and the left lens was broken.The bumpers were in very bad condition. They were full of dings, and the chrome was removed in some places. In Lebanon, there are special places or shops for re-chroming, so I detached every chrome piece and took it to the shop. There, the guy worked on letting the dings disappear, and after that, he re-chromed the pieces by electrolysis with water and some chemical substances, so the chrome layer becomes attached to the iron pieces so they look like new again. The whole chroming process cost me around $700 in 1995.

The wheels were not 640-13. The right front wheel was from a W123 series Mercedes-Benz!

After Restoration

The body work was done by a professional, as well as most of the mechanical work, which was not much, because the engine was in good shape.

I only had to change the gear box and repair the steering wheel. The interior of the car was also renovated by a professional. He respected the original design, and the quality of the work was excellent.

The whole renovation process ended in August 1995. So the car was working well and all I had to do was to start fixing the small details, such as finding the original radio, repairing the stop lights, etc. I've done most of the electric work myself. This took me a long time, but slowly, I repaired everything and respected the original appearance and function of the electric system. Now the car is in very good condition and everything is working in a good manner.

The radio in my Ponton is a Becker Mexico. It's an original Ponton radio, but I don't know if it was originally offered as an "extra cost option" on the Type 180b. The original radio was a Becker LeMans which looks exactly the same as this one but has no FM. I couldn't repair the original radio. No one knew how to repair it because a part was missing and a replacement could not be found. The Becker Mexico was not working either, but a guy knew how to repair it. So, it is working now. Both the Becker Mexico and LeMans are composed of 2 pieces. The one you see and another one which is installed under it. They're connected by cables. I bought this radio from an old guy who said he took it out of a 180 which was brought to Lebanon in the late 1960s as a parts car.

Concerning the history of the car, the data card proves that it was originally purchased from the Mercedes agent in Lebanon, T Gargours & Fils.The papers of the car indicate that it was first used in Lebanon one year after its production in 1962.

Also, when I bought the car, I found a sticker on the rear glass showing that its owner was a doctor! So all I can conclude is that the car was bought in Lebanon in 1962 by a doctor. Then it was sold (I don't know when) to a taxi driver who used it until 1980. Then it was no longer used as a taxi cab and I guess it was stopped most of the time.

I use my car now most of the time in the summer. I like driving it and appreciate this model a lot.

Ramzi Saba
Beirut, Lebanon
August 5, 2001

Winter Storage

Ramzi's 180b is stored in a protective covering called a "Carcoon."

Ramzi writes: The Carcoon has two small fans which work on a 12 volt source. So, it does not cost anything to run it. I just branch the fans to my Ponton's battery, which is branched to a charger. When the battery becomes weak, the charger automatically turns on and recharges it. A friend of my father brought me the Carcoon as a gift from London.

Ramzi Saba
Beirut, Lebanon
October 17, 2001

Update: October 22, 2002

In September of 2002, Ramzi bought a 1998 Mercedes-Benz Type W210 E240 for daily transportation. It has 41,000 km since new. Here it is parked next to his 1961 180b sedan.

Update: January 23, 2005

The first four of these new photographs were taken on an afternoon during the summer of 2004. I always wash my car in the afternoon when the temperature is lower. It is necessary to wash the car when it is cooler in order to prevent a big temperature change on the paint which will cause cracks to appear in the future and also to prevent the water from evaporating from the painted surface, leaving stains that are not easy to take out. I washed my car that day and took these photos right away.

I have done a lot of work to my car since 2001 (when the previous photos were taken). I changed the differential which gave up in the summer of 2002. I also preferred to change the gear box simply because I found an excellent one, barely used. This was done in the summer of 2004.

If you look at the interior picture, the horn ring is original. Previously, I was using a Type W110 190c Fintail horn ring. I was able to find the correct one for the Ponton and replaced it. During the summer of 2004, I had the timing chain adjusted because it was making some noise. The car is running perfectly now. The gear box shifts in a beautiful manner, and the engine is very smooth.

I hope at some point during the summer of 2005 to repair the heater boxes and test the efficiency of the Ponton heating system.

This photo was taken in August 2004. We were about seven friends at the beach in the city of Byblos, Lebanon. I took my Ponton that day and the valet parking at the Edde Sands beach took care of it and parked it under a shelter. I remember doing around 120km/h on the highway. It was a great day.

Update: July 2, 2008

I took this photo while I was driving my Ponton last Saturday afternoon (June 28, 2008). It shows the International Ponton Owners Group (IPOG) grille badge.

Update: June 19, 2010

New Bosch fog lights, and note the IPOG grille badge!

Update: February 2, 2013

Photo submitted November 22, 2011 / posted February 2, 2013

Update: January 27, 2014

I had the engine overhauled because it was burning oil. It needed new rings, bearings, valves, and valve guides. The whole process cost around $800, and took only two days to complete. I then drove it slowly — avoiding hills, and high RPMs until it covered around 1,000 km. The guy was a retired mechanic who had absolutely no other clients! I helped him in the process. The engine didn't need machining, just polishing, and parts changing (rings, bearings, oil pump rebuilding, valves, valves guides and seals). I used a NOS front crankshaft seal, and it leaked oil. Probably should have bought one from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center. The mechanic was amazing! He worked for 50 years on Pontons, Fintails, and newer models up to the W126 series. He has no idea how newer cars work and was unable to use the scanner and understand the newer technology. He started his career on Pontons. Apparently, back in the 1950s and 1960s, they overhauled engines and clutches on a daily basis for Pontons working as taxis! There was always a friendly competition between mechanics to see who could remove a gearbox in the least possible time. He claims to have always won!

Update: April 23, 2016

Ramzi's birthday / Traveling in northern Lebanon

Update: July 12, 2017

July 12, 2017 / A careless driver was texting, and unable to stop in time.

Ramzi sourced new and used parts, and decided to have the entire car painted again.

Update: August 1, 2017

Ramzi's 1972 Type R107 350SL / restored condition / color: DB576

In 2015, Ramzi purchased this 1972 R107 350SL from Pennsylvania USA, and had it shipped to Beirut for a complete restoration, which was completed in time for the 2017 driving season. These photos were taken Saturday, July 29, 2017 with the Mediterranean sea in the background.

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