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A look inside the Benz museum

  1. Most people might recoil at the incessant presumption and predatory nature of The Salesman, but we all have entrepreneur Emil Jellinek to thank for the birth of ‘Mercedes’.

    Jellinek became a wealthy customer of DMG - Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft - after becoming fascinated by the automobile at the turn of the twentieth century. He visited the group’s headquarters and spoke with Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, eventually persuading them to let him sell their new vehicles.

    From 1898, he did just that, and soon wanted to prove the quality of these DMG cars in races. He harangued Maybach to build a new car with a powerful engine and continued his campaign until finally, finally, DMG did: enter the 35hp DMG racer. Of course, it needed a name, and Jellinek somehow envisioned its future gravitas and named it after his own daughter. That racer went on to annihilate the competition in the 1901 Nice race week, making his car the talk of the town.

    His daughter’s name? Mercedes.

    So while we had some time spare after hot-footing it in the new E-Class hybrid, Top Gear decided to pop down to Benz’s museum for a history lesson. And we learned much. Did you know Ringo Starr used to drive an old 190 E AMG? Yep, us neither…

    Words: Vijay Pattni
    Photography: Iain Curry

  2. Daimler motorised carriage

    The world’s first four-wheeled vehicle, installed with DMG’s ‘grandfather clock’ 1bhp engine. That engine eventually found its way into boats and aircraft too, hence the three-pointed star of the brand: to conquer the three points of land, sea and air. Top speed was a heady 11mph.

  3. 1902 Mercedes Simplex

    The successor to the all-conquering Mercedes 35bhp, this four-wheeled Mercedes rocketed on to 50mph, and was so named because of the ‘simple’ ease with which it handled. Attention Assist? Forget it. More like Pedestrian Assist.

  4. 1923 Mercedes Sport-Zweisitzer

    Now we’re talking serious powerrr: these became the world’s first passenger production cars with supercharged engines, boosting power from the Merc’s engine from 40hp to 65hp. They built 851 of these.

  5. 1936 Mercedes-Benz 500K Spezial Roadster

    Affectionately named the ‘Princess’, this was the pinnacle of Mercedes’ work, and a car fit for those humans endowed with preternatural gifts of beauty and wealth. Pretty rich folk, then. It was the company’s showpiece of the 30s, and in today’s prices would equate to around £80k. Obviously, find one actually from the 30s and you’re looking at millions. Top speed? 100mph from its supercharged 158bhp engine.

  6. 1951 Mercedes-Benz 300

    Ah yes, the first big Mercedes that represented the important types of the then young Federal Republic. Over 4,000 300s were built, and one ferried the derriere of Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor of Germany.

  7. 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300S Cabriolet

    Basically, a drop-top, two-door version of the big 300. Produced 147hp from its 3.0-litre six, and hit a top speed of 108mph. In utter class.

  8. 1955 Mercedes-Benz 180

    The original 180 was apparently a transitional marker for Mercedes design, with Benz opting for the ‘three-box’ principle. And if you want some measure as to Benz’s unstoppable growth, think about this: they built 51,907 of these 180s, each with a 1.8-litre four-pot producing just under 50hp.

  9. 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupe

    If you really need this one explained, leave, find a quiet corner and engage in some mild self-flagellation. It’s only the sexiest and most iconic Mercedes in history: the 300 SL ‘Gullwing’. It’s got a three-litre straight six. It’s got 212hp. It’s got gullwing doors. And at 155mph, it was the fastest car of its time.

  10. 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut-Coupe

    Interesting one, this. Yes, it’s biblically desirable and can turn your senses into a giddying pool of lust. But it was actually developed as a hardtop version of the SLR racer for the 1956 season. Never used - because Benz pulled out of motorsport in 1955 - it then led a stately life as the company car of Merc’s head of testing, Herr Rudolph Uhlenhaut. Beats having a C220 CDI on fleet, right?

  11. 1960 Mercedes-Benz 300 Messwagen

    Think of it as an early version of the little black box. A one-off car equipped with measuring stuff to record data from test vehicles, read via that long cable connected to the test cars’ vital instruments. More than a little Back To The Future…

  12. 1973 Mercedes-Benz ESF 22

    This odd-looking thing, the Experimental Safety Vehicle, featured airbags and belt tensioners to test against head-on collisions at 40mph, and thus helped Mercedes’ pioneering work on safety.

  13. 1958 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL

    The little brother to the dreamboat that was the 300 SL was no less a car for it, counting Grace Kelly and Zsa Zsa Gabor among its clientele. A four-pot 1.8-litre petrol engine was nestled underneath, producing just over 100bhp.

  14. 1965 Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman

    It’s a fully armoured limo that ferried around kings, chancellors and presidents. It’s got a 6.3-litre V8 producing 247hp, and a top speed of 75. Just two were built, and you must bow in its presence. This is the very definition of a Big Mercedes.

  15. 1984 Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3 AMG

    Fact fans, did you know that this little black Mercedes used to belong to Beatles drummer Ringo Starr? When he bought the 190, it was but a lowly 2.0-litre. He had it fully converted into a 2.3-litre AMG cooking model in England, and as such, made it instantly fantastic.

  16. 1980 Mercedes-Benz 230G

    It’s the Popemobile!

  17. Mercedes-Benz SL

    My my, how it’s grown. Count ‘em: R129 SL on the left, R230 safety car in the middle and the new R231 on the right. Your preference?

  18. Mercedes-Benz SL

    A room of full of Merc SLs is a good room. Racing gullwings mix with pedestrian gullwings. Check out those early racing posters on the wall, too for a hit of nostalgia.

  19. Mercedes-Benz racing cars

    From Formula One to DTM, a snapshot of Merc’s racing pedigree.

  20. Mercedes-Benz racing cars

    You need all of these cars in your life.

  21. 1939 Mercedes-Benz T80

    Believe it or not, this was actually designed by Ferdinand Porsche, and featured one of TG’s favourite type of engine. An aero engine. You’re looking at a 2960hp, 44.5-litre V12 with a theoretical top speed of 373mph. But the outbreak of WW2 meant that it was never completed and thus never tested on the road. Shame.

    But maybe if you ask Mercedes very nicely indeed…

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