Visiting Germany – Part 3: Automotive History at the Mercedes-Benz Museum
Personally, I find Mercedes-Benz to be a rather interesting company. How can a company that makes buses and lorries also be associated with prestige and luxury? Most boomers in Malaysia love Mercedes-Benz cars regardless of their income status. Some would even gladly fork out RM30,000 for an old C-Class from 2005. I have no idea why but after driving the Vito Tourer for 2 weeks, I guess Mercedes-Benz cars are starting to grow on me too (I can’t believe I enjoyed driving a van).
So, we visited the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. Unfortunately, the engine production power plant tour that we booked was cancelled. On the plus side, we had more time to kill at the exhibition. Another unfortunate event would be my camera running out of juice 20% through the exhibit. So, most pictures here were photographed using a mobile phone. Thanks to my father-in-law, we also have a lot more pictures that we could use in this series to give a better description of our experience.
The Mercedes-Benz museum offered a wide range of exhibits from the development of the engine, the first modern automobiles, lorries and buses, classic cars, racing cars, and Mercedes-Benz’s take on the future of transportation.
Let’s dive in.
Compared to all the other automaker museums we went to; Mercedes-Benz had the most history on display. Even the development of the fundamental engine itself is displayed since Karl Benz was a key figure in the development of the two-stroke engine (Karl Benz was not the first in the world. He did receive a patent for it in Germany in 1880). Gottlieb Daimler’s ‘Grandfather Clock’ engine is also on display with several applications on a small motorcycle, a motorcar, and even a rather peculiar flying contraption. The fundamental of the automobile is also displayed in this museum.
A replica of the Reitwagen which utilised Gottlieb Daimler’s Grandfather Clock engine.
As you walk through the exhibition, you will slowly see the evolution of the automobile. You will see hard rubber tyres evolve into pneumatic tyres. You will also see the evolution of the drivetrain as it goes from belts to chains to shafts. The evolution of the damping system can also be observed with the gradual change from leaf springs to coil springs to hydraulics and pneumatics. What remains constant is the use of the four-stroke cycle that converts chemical energy to rotational motion. How you want to use that rotational motion is up to you – you could turn a wheel, turn a propeller, pump water, or cut through magnetic flux.
Visiting the Mercedes-Benz museum, one would of course expect to see the Benz Patent-Motorwagen (which you can sort of drive in Gran Turismo 4). If you’re wondering why the Patent-Motorwagen only has three wheels, Karl Benz decided on that since he wasn’t satisfied with the technology of the steering system for two-wheels at that time.
Karl Benz also created the first ‘boxer’ engine in 1899 if I may say so. There were only two-cylinders in the “ContraMotor” and it only managed 5hp. Well, looks like Subaru, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz are distant relatives.
Four-cylinder engines were first found in boats and only made it into road vehicles after 1898. Seeing these things at the museum make you realise just how long we’ve been using petroleum as an energy source and just how long the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) has been around. Year after year the 4-stroke ICE became more complex and refined with “variable this and that” and improved efficiency, improved power outputs, and new materials. Could it be that after all these years we have finally reached the full potential of the reciprocal ICE? I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that the reciprocal ICE has been a fundamental tool in the development of the modern world as we know it today.
The Modern Automobile
After seeing all the horse-carriage-like vehicles and various early engine iterations, you are led to the modern automobile. Although pre-historic by millennial standards, the first Mercedes laid out the foundation of the modern car – the longitudinal engine driving the rear wheels, the pneumatic tyres, the H-pattern shifter, and the honeycomb radiator.
The first modern automobiles utilised body-on-frame type construction which allowed for various body types to be built on one frame.
Space Frame Construction
Further down the exhibit was an area for the space-frame chassis which became the base for some light-weight cars from Mercedes.
Mercedes proudly displays their coaches and trucks of old and new. While not glamorous, these machines are crucial for our economic activities. If you’re a Malaysian, I’m pretty sure you have seen really old Mercedes lorries with wooden doors hauling logs in rural areas. Some of us may have even been chauffeured to school with 30 other kids in a Mercedes-Benz. Big vehicles in the Mercedes-Benz museum include oil tankers, long-haulers, buses, and even a mobile post office.
Ideas of the Future
Unlike BMW, Mercedes-Benz still displays its old Hydrogen fuel cell car from 2010. We’ll talk about the BMW museum later. In this area of exhibit, we first saw the Mercedes Concept IAA (which I first mistook for the Vision GT). The Mercedes Concept IAA features some extreme active aero that changes the car's profile at varying speeds.
The Mercedes Concept IAA with active aero
Besides hydrogen fuel cells and battery electric cars, one thing I do notice is that Mercedes-Benz preferred to build one prototype with various engine types and configurations. The Auto 2000 for example, was tested with a V6 turbo-diesel engine, a V8 gasoline engine, and even a gas-turbine drive. A similar workflow was applied in the Mercedes C111 which is shown further down in this article. The C111 was initially tested with a Wankel/Rotary engine but ended up being a 5-cylinder turbo-diesel record-holder machine.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell; Mercedes-Benz Auto 2000 0.28 drag coefficient
Before entering the Motorsports exhibition area, I was already expecting to see the DTM 190E, the CLK GTR, and the Sauber C9. My only disappointment was not having my camera working at this moment. It would have also been great if Mercedes-Benz displayed their racing cars the way Porsche does it (you get a better view of each car and can actually see them up-close. At the Mercedes-Benz museum, the racing cars are displayed on this big-swooping-inclined platform which gives you limited access to the cars. Interesting exhibit nonetheless. Seeing race cars is always interesting since you can see how extreme things could go when a car’s only purpose is to go fast on a circuit.
Clockwise from top left: A DTM 190E; Mika Hakkinen’s F1 car;
the W196 R (1954); CLK GTR; racing truck; and Sauber C9
Concepts from the past
At the end of the exhibition is an array of concept cars from the past. One particular example that was sure to catch most visitors’ attention was the F400-Carving from 2001. I remember seeing this in the pages of Autocar Asean while I was still in school.
What’s special about the Carver?
The open wheels which are able tilt at 20° when cornering.
It certainly looks outrageous and I have a feeling this concept was conceived in the era that inspired a lot of young kids to become car
designers or engineers. The weird and good-looking concept cars in this era sure made me pick up a pencil and start drawing away on any white space I could find in my History textbook.
The Mercedes C111-III (Diesel) was also on display (hanging on a wall). The C111-III is one of the many trials of the Mercedes C111 (I – IV) which also included a rotary engine in one of the versions. I couldn’t get a good picture with my phone so I’ll just insert an image from the internet to show you what the car looks like. The C111-III is powered by an in-line 5, turbocharged diesel engine and could slowly climb up to 322km/h.
5-Cylinder turbocharged Diesel by Mercedes-Benz [Image source: Classic Driver]
There is a lot to see at the museum so you might want to allocate an entire day for it. Interesting exhibit with a lot of history.
Parking is reasonably priced at the Mercedes-Bens Museum. Back packs are not allowed in the museum. There are no charges for the cloakroom.
There is a Stuttgart Islamic Centre which takes a little bit of a drive (parking is scarce at the Islamic Centre). There was also extremely heavy traffic due to a football match that day. That set us back a little bit.
Mercedes-Benz EQC400 electric car at the Mercedes Showroom:
More parts of this series: