Mercedes Benz cars, a brief history

By: Harveywilliams
Over the years Mercedes have certainly had a great deal more successes than failures. Their cars so impressively designed are a shining example of how a quality car should engineered, but has it always been this way? Well certainly it has not always been easy for Mercedes; they have had to face many challenges throughout the years, many of which were completely out of their control. And some perhaps not; for example their more recent problems with build quality, which many believe were completely of Mercedes own making. Confidence in Mercedes dropped in the late 1990's when it became evident that both mechanical and electronic faults were on the increase. Contract hire and leasing brokers became worried about recommending Mercedes Benz to clients. The M class received the most criticism from motoring journalists.

During 2003 Which Magazine carried out a survey and downgraded Mercedes Benz by two categories; they went from being classed as best for reliability, to average. Although in the report, The Consumer Association criticised all the German Manufacturers, saying that they had all declined in recent years. Perhaps what was most surprising is that it emerged that the manufacturer motorists complained most about was Volkswagen.

The BBC's Top Gear carried out a survey in 2004; in which they placed the M Class last out of 142 cars surveyed. Since then Mercedes have been making great efforts to restore their good name and reputation and to once again have the Mercedes Benz name associated with high build quality and reliabilty.

In 1886 the world's first automobile was invented by Karl Benz. He patented the vehicle and called it the Benz Patent Motorwagen. Benz was based in the German town of Mannheim.The car's three wheels were little wider that today's bicycle wheels. The ride was rather harsh and the occupants had no protection from the elements. Lights to enable the vehicle to negotiate the poor road conditions at night had not been thought of.

In the meantime a gentleman by the name of Gottleib Daimler along with William Maybach were also busy inventing a car powered by an internal combustion engine. The vehicle was called the Daimler Riding car. The engine had an upright cylinder from which it derived its name the Grandfather Clock. Daimler called his vehicle a car but it was in fact a motorcycle, the worlds first. With its one cylinder, its speed at full throttle was 13 Kilometres an hour. Neither Benz or Daimler knew of the other's work, even although they were only working about 100 Kilometres from each other.

The Grandfather Clock engine was installed in Daimler and Maybach's motorised carraige which was launched in 1886. It had a top speed of 18 Kilometres per hour which was considered fast. This time the vehicle had four wheels, the worlds first car with four wheels. The car that Karl Benz patented had three wheels. At an exhibition in Paris in 1889 Daimler exhibited their "wire wheel" car. There was considerable interest in the vehicle, some say that it was seeing this vehicle on display that caused the birth of the French car indusry.

Karl Benz was by the 1980's also manufacturing 4 wheel cars, in both 2, 3, and 4 seater versions. The stability of the cars were much improved by the system he had developed where each of the front wheels could turn on a different radius

The pace of development was fast in 1894 Benz introduced the Benz Motor Velocipide, it was a two seater vehicle with a top speed of about 20 kilometres per hour. It was the first car to be produced in any serious volumes he sold 1200. Benz then produced a motorized bus, it was a lovely looking vehicle but not terribly succesful; a combination of poor road conditions and its very narrow wheels made it farly impracticle.

Daimler launched a belt driven car in 1896, now with two cylinders but still it could only achieve 18 mph. Daimler's truck, a flat bed truck, was the world's first. It was rather odd looking but nevertheless very popular in spite of it's fairly limiting top speed of 11kph. They were used by German breweries for beer deliveries, some were exported to England. Also in 1896 Daimler brought out a vehicle capable of carrying loads of aything up to 500kgs. It had a rather strange appearance, looking a little like one of the covered wagons you would see in films portraying the Wild West.

Benz's new vehicle in 1899 was called the Dos a Dos, it could achieve speeds of up to 35 KPH, which was fast. It was a 4 seater, two of the passengers would sit facing the rear of the car.

In 1990 Daimler died, leaving control of his company to Wilhem Maybach. Emil Jellinek a highly successful businessman and motor racing driver had been pressing Maybach to produce cars that were more modern and faster. Jellinek asked Maybach to name the cars after his daughter Mercedes and this was the start of the Mercedes car.

During the 1990's Daimler was producing faster cars and of a more modern design. The 35 horsepower Simplex was relaced by by the 40 horsepower Mercedes Simplex; it ws an impressive single seater car that could reach speeds of 80 kph. A 40 horsepower Mercedes Simplex is thought to be the oldest Mercedes in existence today.

Benz launched the double Phaeton in 1905 it was 18 hp, but it was followed by the Double Phaeton two years later that was 75 horsepower. The car which had six cylinders, could achieve speeds of 94 kilometres per hour. Both Benz and Mercedes were starting to have success in motor racing.

As with the British motor manufacturers, during the First World War production was switched to producing military vehicles. At the end of the war the German economy was virtually destroyed; inflation was rising rapidly, there was a shortage of fuel and a luxury tax had been placed on cars, making the cost of a car out of the reach of the average person. Quite a contrast from today, where for around 300 a month on contract hire, one can be driving a new Mercedes Benz.

Benz found himself in a weak position and it is said that an approach was made by Daimler, with a view to merging with Benz, but it fell through. In 1924 with both companies suffering badly from the economic conditions, they signed an agreement and eventually merged in 1926.

When car production started again, the Mercedes two seater sports car was launched. It had a supercharged engine and a top speed of over 108 kilometres per hour. During 1927 Mercedes Benz started production of the Model S touring car, the S stood for sport. The vehicle had six cylinder and an amazing speed of over 160 kilometres per hour. 1928 saw the introduction of the SSK Sports two seater, it was designed for hill climbing races and was even faster at over 190 kilometres per hour.

In 1934 Mercedes Benz brought out the 500K. It was only for the very rich, with a price tag of 28,000 Marks. It wasn't as fast as the SSK but could still achieve a very respectable 160 kph. It was a beautifully designed car; long and elegant with a tremendous amount of style.

The 550K was followed by the 540K, a car not dissimilar in design but 10 kph faster. Mercedes were also manufacturing the Mercedes Benz 770, a very large luxury car. The vehicle was a favourite with Germany's captains of industry, in which they would be chauffeur driven. At the time manufacturers did not seem concerned about the very small numbers that they produced of a particular model, before bringing out the next model, about 420 of the 540K were produced and Mercedes manufactured less than 120 of the 770.

Mercedes were accused of using forced labour and prisoners of war, for their manufacturing, during the Second World War. They had become part of the German war effort but of course it wasn't a matter of choice; the British motor manufacturers were also part of the British War effort. The allied bombers, just as the German bombers targeted factories in Britain, heavily targeted the Mercedes manufacturing plants. At the end of the war, things looked very bleak for Mercedes; their factories lay in ruins, the machinery was damaged or destroyed and there was an extreme shortage of raw materials. Nevertheless in 1948 production was re started. 1951 saw the introduction of the 300 saloon, over 4500 were sold. The Mercedes Benz 300S convertible also went into production.

The 1950's saw the launch of the famous Gull-Wing 2 seater hardtop, which took the motoring world by storm. Its distinctive Gull-Wing doors opened up into the roof. With the doors open they did look remarkably like a gulls wings, the design was far ahead of its time. Many were sold in America although it really was very expensive, believed to have cost around $10,000 at the time. Nevertheless a very good investment; a 1955 model was sold at auction in Sydney Australia in 2006 for $777,240 Australian Dollars, $720,000 usd. The Gull-Wing was succeeded in 1957 by the 300SL an open sports car also very much in demand in America. It was very fast with a top speed of just under 250 Kilometres per hour.

As long ago as the 1960s Mercedes were carrying out quite sophisticated vehicle testing, sophisticated that is, for those times. It is hard to imagine in today's world of high technology that the system they used for transmitting data from the test vehicle to another vehicle that gathered the information was a long cable, running between the two cars. Clearly it was important for both vehicles to drive at the same speed.

The first sports car to have a crumple free zone was launched by Mercedes in 1963, the 230 SL. It was slower than some of their earlier sports cars, under 200 kph. The car's lack of speed, certainly didn't affect sale, nearly 20,000 were sold. Mercedes then started producing cars with anti-lock brakes in 1978. They were also the first manufacturer to introduce airbags, in 1981. Who knows how many lives have been saved by Mercedes dedicated commitment to road safety over the years.

When Mercedes Benz launched the 190E in 1982, who would have thought at the time, that 638,000 would be sold over the course of the next eleven years. During the 1980s and 1990s Mercedes were enjoying considerable success. In 1998 the company merged with The Chrysler Corporation of America and Daimler Chrysler was formed. As is so often the case with these mergers/takeovers, it didn't work out and Chrysler having initially invested $36 billion sold 80.1% of the company for $7.4 billion in 2007. The purchaser was Cerberus Capital Management.

This has allowed Mercedes Benz to get back on track and concentrate on their build quality. Now after their recent of ups and downs, they have restored their good name and reputation. Contract hire companies are no longer nervous about recommending the marque and the prestige that has always been associated with Mercedes Benz remains intact.

Should you have any queries or questions with regard to Licence checking, Fleet Management, Contract Hire, Personal Contract Hire, Lease Purchase or vehicle Hire Purchase, please do not hesitate to contact us. Bowater Price plc 01494 536 536. www.bowaterprice.com.
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