Now for the hard part, if you have read what I had to say about the Porsche museum you might know what I’m talking about. Part two of my trip to Stuttgart was a trip to the Mercedes Benz Museum, all nine floors of it. It proved to be quite an illuminating afternoon, one that changed my view of Mercedes forever.
Yes I’ll admit from the outset that I was never a great fan of Mercedes Benz, don’t get me wrong I have ridden in and driven a fair few and all the facts, rave reviews and smiling owners suggest that they are indeed wonderful vehicles. It’s just I never really understood what was so special about them. It might have been that personally the styling of the Mercedes cars from the era I grew up in (the 90’s) never really excited me. While more recently, despite me being an avid fan of the Fast and Furious franchise, the big wings and aero paraphernalia on the AMG black series cars never made me tingle in the trouser department. Quite frankly the big aero seemed to be at odds with what I felt the Mercedes brand stood for, understated luxury and a sense that they were superior to every other car manufacturer. A brand image that I never quite understood, how were Mercedes any more special than BMW, Ford or Ferrari for that matter?
Although now, after visiting what I think is the most visually stunning museum of all time, I view Mercedes Benz in a whole new way: exceptional. Exceptional at everything they turn their clinically clean and precise hand too. Be it road cars, race cars, commercial vehicles, innovation, safety, record breaking reliability and a whole heap more, now I know where the magic lies. Yes, there have been slight hick ups along the way, the R-class is questionable for instance, but if ever there was a place to change my mind this was it.
Let me begin with the hugely impressive building itself. Once you are inside the museum and you’ve taken in the sheer vastness of the place (8 euro entry by the way) you are directed to a lift. Not just any lift though, it looks like a 1950’s interpretation of a time capsule, all sheet aluminium with a leather clad interior. Its whisks visitors up the hollow inside of the building, it is like a giant donut inside. Visitors work their way down the building, with each floor covering a certain decade/decades with vehicles from that era on display. Visitors walk down gently sloped curves to access each floor with a time line of Mercedes and world related events on the outer left hand wall. The place would be fascinating for those wanting a history lesson let alone those who love all things vehicular.
Anyway back to that feeling of superiority thing I mentioned earlier. The first thing that greets visitors as the lift door opens is a taxidermy horse… Odd I know but it became clear why, there is insurmountable evidence just around the corner from this sugar cube fiend, an exhibition that makes you think; actually Mercedes are allowed to be smug. Horsey worsy illustrates quite bluntly what personal transport was before Benz. In 1886 Karl Benz patented his Motorwagen; the idea of putting the internal combustion engine in a purpose built chassis was born and in essence so was the car as we know it today.
A replica Motorwagen sits beyond the horse. And for me, it is not until the moment you stand there next it do you start to realise that Mercedes in its earliest form pretty much invented the car. That little combustion engine also made its way into a number of other things which are on display. Things like a boat, train, fire service water pump and a truck, which coincidentally meant Benz helped create the first motorised commercial vehicle too.
Things didn’t slow in the early 20th century with Mercedes establishing itself as the car company of choice for unrivalled luxury, craftsmanship and the go to brand for the celebrities of the day. The 1920’s and 30’s brought style and performance, the museum displays numerous cars from this period including the achingly beautiful SSK and 500k. Running boards, wire wheels, chrome and massive superchargers are all in abundance. Mercedes also began to push boundaries in the 30’s with the 260D, clues in the name; it was the first Mercedes production car to get a diesel engine.
During the war Mercedes was forced to focus its attention on military vehicles but by the 50’s they got back to the business of road and racing cars. Records were broken and championships won with Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss in the mid-fifties. Fangio drove to F1 victory in 54 and 55 at the wheel of a W196 while Moss won the Mille Miglia in 55 at the wheel of a 300SLR. In the process he set an unbroken average speed record of 97mph over the 1000 mile track. Examples of both these legendary cars are on display in the motorsport section of the museum. 1955’s SLR also spawned one of the most coveted road cars of all time the 300SL Gullwing, again it is not until you stand next to this car and its convertible counterpart that you realise just how wonderfully proportioned and utterly gorgeous they are. Mercedes even have a security guard next to these cars to stop people getting their grubby fingerprints on them.
The 60’s, 70’s and 80’s brought about and solidified Mercedes reputation as builder of excellent saloon cars. There are almost too many cars to list from this period; the most notable probably being the first and subsequent S-Class cars from 1972. Each car of this period was an evolution of the last one with most modern day Mercedes able to trace their roots to this time. As proof of these cars unrelenting reliability thousands are used as taxi’s the world over, the museum has a couple that were donated back to them after clocking up 3 million miles between them! It was also during this period that Mercedes introduced its 3 box design philosophy and safety features such as crumple zones, anti-lock brakes and airbags were introduced, all were world firsts for mass produced cars.
1990, probably the year my tiny wheel obsessed 1 year old brain started noticing Mercedes Benz. Ok maybe not quite 1990 but it marks the start of the decade that influenced my view of the brand, albeit now a view that I believe to be wrong. Seeing the history, the icons and the legacy on display I could not help but fall in love with the brand I once didn’t care much for. If you are an avid Mercedes aficionado or a doubter like I was, I would strongly advise you take a trip to the big Benz museum in Stuttgart, it is a great place to spend a day even for those not as obsessed by cars as me. Anyway enough of the history lesson; enjoy the pictures.