Despite their tradition as a manufacturer of luxury cars, after the end of the war Mercedes-Benz produced only four cylinder engined passenger cars until 1951. The Mercedes-Benz 220 and the more powerful Mercedes-Benz 300, introduced at the same time, were the first post-war Mercedes-Benz models to feature six cylinder engines.
The styling was similar to that of the Mercedes-Benz 170S except that the 170's freestanding headlights were for the 220 integrated into the fenders for a slightly more modern look. Two different cabriolet models were built, conceived as exclusive sporting cars of exclusive character, but these only sold 1,278 and 997 for the "A" (two-door, two-seat) and "B" (two-door, four-seat) versions, respectively.
In December 1953, just as the saloon and cabriolet "B" models were about to be replaced, a "Cabriolet A" derived W187 Coupé was announced for 1954. The Mercedes-Benz sales department let it be known that this development was a direct response to pressing requests from leading celebrities of the time. During 1953 the manufacturer replaced the conventionally flat windscreen on the 2/3 seater "Cabriolet A" with a slightly curved screen, which also found its way on to the new coupé: this was a way of highlighting the sporting nature of both models. Nevertheless the coupé once fitted, as many were, with a steel sunroof, was at the end of 1953 offered for 22,000 Marks which was nearly twice the price for the standard W187 "Limousine", and only 85 of the W187 coupés were actually sold.
Between August 1952 and May 1953 41 special soft top "OTP" bodied W187 220s were produced for the police.
All 220s used newly developed Type M 180 six cylinder 2195cc engine producing 80 hp DIN (86 SAE) (59 kW). In contrast with the rather old fashioned look of the car's body, the new engines attracted much attention in the motoring press, being the first new engine presented by Mercedes-Benz in more than ten years. The valves were operated by short rocker arms from an overhead camshaft. The engine was unusual in Europe at this time in having oversquare cylinder dimensions with a bore of 80.0mm and a stroke of only 72.8mm, which was unusual at the time and facilitated the design of an efficient cylinder head. The manufacturer was able to claim a top speed of 140 km/h (87 mph) for the saloons and 145 km/h (90 mph) for the cabriolets which was usefully faster than the 52 PS (38 kW) powered 170S Cabriolet which the cabriolet version of the W187 replaced and from which its bodywork was derived. The new six cylinder engine would form the basis, repeatedly enlarged and upgraded as the years went on, for a long line of six cylinder engines powering mainstream Mercedes-Benz models including the six cylinder version of the early S-Class models in the 1970s.
Because of the extra power in what was, by modern standards, a heavy car, the W187 was equipped with Duplex drum brakes.
With the sedan/saloon bodied cars about to be delisted by the manufacturer in May 1954, in April 1954 the "Cabriolet A" and its Coupé derivative were fitted with a new higher compression 85 PS (63kW) engine that had been developed for the soon to be announced Ponton bodied Mercedes-Benz W180. These faster sporting versions of the W187 continued in production for a further year.
The 220 sedan was replaced by the W105/W180 line in 1953. The coupé and cabriolet continued until August 1955.
The saloon went out of production in May, 1954; the Cabriolet models continued for another 15 months until August 1955.
The body of the W187 saloon was closely modelled on the 1938 Mercedes-Benz W153, and despite the modern engine that powered it, already looked old fashioned to many observers on the day it was introduced. Two years earlier, in 1949, the Borgward Hansa had served notice that car design had moved on since the 1930's, and the manufacturer's own 1953 W120 confirmed that "modern" European cars were following the North American trend to lower wider bodied designs. This has been seen an explanstion for the W187's own unusually short production run of slightly above three years for the saloon and less than five years for the longest lived of the Cabriolet models.
The W187 was immediately replaced with the Ponton bodied six cylinder Mercedes-Benz 220a (W180). When the cabriolet was withdrawn in 1955 there was no direct successor. However, slightly more than a year later the all-new Mercedes-Benz 220S Cabriolet and Coupé appeared, respectively in July and October 1956, using, like the saloon on which they were based, a modern ponton style body.