Historic Car Brands
Mercedes-Benz has introduced many technological and safety innovations that later became common in other vehicles. Mercedes-Benz is one of the best-known and established automotive brands in the world.
Mercedes-Benz traces its origins to Karl Benz’s (left) creation of the first internal combustion engine in a three-wheeled car, the Benz Patent Motorwagen – financed by Bertha Benz’s dowry and patented in January 1886 – and Gottlieb Daimler (below) and engineer Wilhelm Maybach’s conversion of a stagecoach by the addition of a petrol engine later that year.
Karl Benz had mounted the flywheel of his first car horizontally, to avoid unwanted gyroscopic effect when steering around bends.
However, for the 1892 release of the four-wheeled Viktoria – so named because it was the manifestation of a ‘happy idea’ – Karl Benz incorporated Ackermann steering that negated gyroscopic effects and the flywheel could be mounted vertically. That design greatly simplified the final drive geometry.
The Viktoria also had poppet valves on its single-cylinder, 2.9-litre, 3hp engine, rather than sleeve valves.
1894 Benz Viktoria 4hp
Various derivatives of the Viktoria were produced in the late 1890s, but engineer Barbarou’s ‘Parsifal’ front-engined designs eventually replaced Benz’s originals and Karl walked away from his company. The Barbarou lineup included 10hp, 12hp and 14hp two-cylinder models and 20hp and 30hp four-cylinder models, but sales were disappointing.
When Barbarou was replaced by Fritz Erle, Karl Benz returned in 1904.
For more detail on the Benz brand, check out our alphabetic brand list entry.
Emile and Mercedes Jellinek
Meanwhile, during the 1890s, Emile Jellinek was the Austro-Hungarian consul in Nice and all the agent for Daimler-brand cars. Because of his extensive high-profile contacts he was able to convince Daimler engineer, Wilhelm Maybach, to produce for him some more powerful Daimler variants.
When the ground-breaking, six-litre, four-cylinder, 35hp model arrived in 1901, he named it after his daughter, Mercedes Jellinek. Soon the ‘Mercedes’ brand name was adopted by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG).
1901 Mercedes-Benz 35hp
Emil Jellinek’s adopted home in the south of France was a meeting place for the ‘Haute Volée’ (high flyers) of France and Europe, especially in winter. His customers included the Rothschild family and other well-known personalities. He was selling Mercedes cars in the New World as well, including US billionaires Rockefeller, Astor, Morgan, and Taylor.
1907 Triple Phaeton
Developments of the Mercedes 35hp followed: the 6.8-litre 40/45hp and the 9.3-litre, overhead valve 60hp model that could achieve 130km/h. A stripped-body 60hp Mercedes won the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup Race in Ireland, driven by ‘Red Devil’ Camille Jenatzy.
Maybach had a falling-out with Daimler management and left the company in 1907. Paul Daimler, Gottleib’s son, succeeded him as chief engineer.
Mercedes cars dominated European motor sport before Word War I and became the chosen marque for Kaiser Wilhelm. Sleeve-valve models were added to the lineup and the four-litre version continued in production until 1923.
At DMG the dominant top-range car from 1910 to 1914 was the 37/95 hp. With its prestigious presence, its owner, who was often a member of the aristocracy, was able to cut a grand figure. In 1913 the chassis came with a price tag of 23,000 Deutschmarks.
However, with its large-piston, four-cylinder, 9.5-litre engine and chain rear wheel drive, it represented a dying form of automotive technology.
In 1914 it was replaced by the Mercedes 28/95hp, with a six-cylinder engine, created by Paul Daimler. It had V-angled overhead valves, operated via an overhead camshaft and rocker arms. The camshaft was driven from the front end of the crankshaft by a vertical shaft.
Due to World War I, only 25 28/95hp cars were manufactured before1915, but production resumed after the War, when Paul Daimler revised its design. The individual steel cylinders were replaced by cylinder blocks cast in pairs and the valve gear was sealed by light-alloy valve covers for each cylinder pair.
By 1924, there were 590 vehicles produced and the term ‘Super Mercedes’ was later coined to describe it.
In 1921 Paul Daimler’s supercharging experiments resulted in the release of two ‘blown’ four-cylinder cars: the 1.6-litre 6/25/40 and the 2.6-litre 10/40/65.
Ferdinand Porsche joined DMG in 1923 as chief engineer, who soon developed six-cylinder, supercharged, overhead-camshaft, four-litre and 6.2-litre engines – the latter powering the 24/100/140 model. This model morphed into the later ‘K’ model Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
The Versailles Treaty conditions had caused great hardship in Germany and exports were greatly diminished. The first Mercedes-Benz brand name vehicles were produced in 1926, following the merger of Karl Benz’s and Gottlieb Daimler’s companies into the Daimler-Benz company.
After the merger, Mercedes-Benz produced higher-volume pedestrian side-valve cars in addition to Porsche’s 6.8-litre and seven-litre OHC models.
The outstanding SSK sports racer was Porsche’s last design for Mercedes-Benz. Derived from the 630 model it was powered by the seven-litre engine that produced up to 300hp in racing tune, with its accelerator-pedal operated supercharger at full boost.
The SSK was driven to victory in numerous races, including in 1929 the 500 Miles of Argentina, the 1929 and 1930 Cordoba Grands Prix, the 1931 Argentine Grand Prix, and, in the hands of legendary Grand Prix racing driver Rudolf Caracciola, the 1929 Ulster Tourist Trophy race (Ards road circuit), the 1930 Irish Grand Prix, the 1931 German Grand Prix, and the 1931 Mille Miglia.
Only 40 SSKs were reduced and many were crashed, making the survivors among the most sought after cars in the world today.
Ferdinand Porsche left the company in 1928 and Hans Nibel took over as chief engineer.
1932 Mercedes-Benz 770 Cabriolet – Nemor2
Initial performance releases were the Porsche-derived 4.9-litre, eight-cylinder Nurberg, the 3.7-litre six-cylinder Mannheim Six and the gargantuan Grossser 770 model, powered by a 7.7-litre, overhead-camshaft, straight-eight. In unblown form the engine was good for 150hp and 200hp when fitted with the optional Roots supercharger.
The 770 was never given an official retail price and was bought mainly by governments, for state car purposes. Hitler and his mates loved the 770. The model was substantially revised in 1938, with a new oval-tube chassis, independent front suspension and a de Dion rear axle.
The engine was tweaked to produce 155hp and 230hp when blown, and there was a 190km/h twin supercharger, 400hp version as well. Only five of the latter were made.
1934 Mercedes-Benz 500 K – Thesupermat
The 3.8-litre, 380 model of 1932 was the first supercharged Mercedes-Benz sports car with independent front suspension and it led to the release of the five-litre 500K a year later. The 500K introduced swing-axle independent rear suspension and had the five-litre, in-line eight, developing 160hp and capable of propelling the car to 160km/h. In 1937 the 540K was introduced, with 5.4 litres displacement and 180hp.
In parallel with these high-performance models, Mercedes-Benz produced higher-volume sedans, beginning with the 1.7-litre, six-cylinder 170 model in 1931 that was succeeded by the two-litre 200 in 1933. These cars had independent front suspension.
Mercedes-Benz W23 130 – Martin HansV
Mercedes-Benz flirted with the rear-engined Heckmotor 130H, 150H and 170H models in the mid-1930s, but buyers stayed away in their thousands.
Initial attempts to install a six-cylinder diesel engine in a Mercedes-Benz Mannheim chassis failed, because of vibration issues. In 1935, the smaller OM 138, 2.5-litre, overhead-valve, four-cylinder engine was successfully fitted into a Mercedes-Benz 230 chassis.
This world-first, series-production, diesel-powered car employed a Bosch diesel fuel injection system and produced 45hp at 3000 rpm. The car weighed approximately 1530 kg and could attain a top speed of 95 km/h.
Branded as the 260 D, the car was introduced to the public at the 1936 Berlin Motor Show and proved to be a good seller.
The W18 model was a smaller version of the Mannheim Six, powered by a side-valve, six-cylinder, 2.9-litre engine. It was joined in 1937 by a 3.4-litre cabriolet version.
1935 Mercedes-benz W18 290A Cabriolet – Lebubu9
In the early 1930s the Grand Prix governing body announced a new formula to apply from 1934. The maximum weight of the car was 750kg and that effectively eliminated the heavy SSK. The replacement was the W25 single-seater, powered by a revised 3.4-litre straight-eight, with 300hp.
Hermann Lang in a W125 – Lothar Spurzem
Newly appointed German chancellor, Adolf Hitler, decided to support the motorsport efforts of Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz and the money flowed in. By the end of 1936 the German cars were unbeatable.
The W25 proved very successful in 1934 and 1935, but even with the engine enlarged to more than four litres by 1936 it was losing ground to the Auto Unions, so a new car was released for the 1937 season. The W125 had a much stiffer frame and a new engine that displaced 5.6 litres and developed up to 600hp. It attained more than 300km/h in Grand Prix races, when fitted with streamlined, enveloping bodywork.
The governing body restricted engine size to three litres from 1938, so yet another car was developed. Into the W125’s frame went a supercharged V12 that developed up to 470hp. In both years, the W154 won three of the four Grand Prix Championship races held.
Mercedes-Benz W154 – Matti Blume
The Silver Arrow name was revived after the War, when the W196 was released for the 1954 and 1955 F1 seasons. Successor to the W194, in the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, it won nine of 12 races entered and captured the two world championships in which it competed.
Mercedes-Benz abandoned car racing after the disastrous 1955 Le Mans incident in which driver Pierre Levegh was killed and large pieces of debris flew into the crowd, killing 83 spectators and injuring nearly 180 more. It was the most catastrophic crash in motorsport history and it prompted Mercedes-Benz to retire from motor racing until 1987.
The War years
From 1937 onwards, Mercedes-Benz focussed increasingly on military products, such as the LG3000 truck and aero engines. To build the latter, in 1936, it built a factory hidden in the forest at Genshagen, 10km south of Berlin.
By 1942 Mercedes-Benz had virtually stopped making cars and was entirely devoted to the war effort. According to its own statement, in 1944 almost half of its 63,610 employees were forced labourers, prisoners of war or concentration camp detainees. The company later paid $12 million in reparations to the labourers’ families.
War damage by 1945 was disastrous and under the Potsdam Agreement all German assets abroad were confiscated and used for the payment of reparations. Daimler-Benz lost all foreign subsidiaries, affiliates and branches as well as all assets in Soviet-occupied East Germany.
The company was reduced to its four original southern German plants – Untertürkheim, Sindelfingen, Mannheim and Gaggenau – as well as Berlin-Marienfelde and the company-owned West German outlets.
Despite difficult conditions, production had resumed at all plants in 1947 and by 1948 Mercedes-Benz was making a small profit.
Mercedes-Benz 300 Limousine – Rudolph Stricker
In 1951 the W186 Model 300 made a statement. It was a four-door luxury sedan that remained in production until 1957. It was the company’s flagship model, succeeding the World War II era W150.
1959 Mercedes-Benz 220S – Alf van Beem
The bulk of production between 1953 and 1959 was the ‘Ponton’ 170, 180, 190 four-cylinder petrol and diesel range and six-cylinder 220 petrol models. Sedans, limousines coupe and convertible bodies were available.
Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster – Rudolf Stricker
The 1955-1962 190SL four-cylinder sports car was built on a shortened Ponton platform, but with styling that resembled the 300SL’s.
The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was produced as a gull-wing coupe (1954–1957) and roadster (1957–1963).
300SL Roadster and Coupe – Fox Collection – Bahnfrend
Originally not designed for mass production, the 300SL had a multi-tube frame and all-independent suspension. The frame design necessitated gull-wing doors in the coupe and high sills in the convertible.
It was based on the company’s 1952 racer, the W194, with mechanical direct fuel-injection which boosted power almost 50-percent from its three-litre overhead-camshaft, straight-six engine.
300 SL Coupe frame – Thesupermat
Capable of reaching a top speed over 263km/h, it was the fastest production car of its time and the SLR version was a sports car racing champion.
Everyone who was anyone had a 300SL.
In 1958, the company began a partnership to sell cars in the United States with Studebaker and some American dealerships converted to Mercedes-Benz dealerships when Studebaker ended business in 1966.
Mercedes-Benz W111 220SB – Maly Olek
In 1959, the ‘Fintail’ range replaced the Ponton models, but the later-release two-door versions had much more subtle tail mouldings.
Mercedes-Benz 280 SE – Lechita
The aged 300 ‘Adenauer’ was replaced by the 600 ‘Grosser’ in 1963 and continued in various body iterations until 1981. It was powered by a 6.3-litre V8 engine and was available in short and long wheelbase sizes. It had self-levelling air rear suspension.
1965 MB 600 Grosser – Martin Hans V
The Mercedes-Benz W113 was a two-seat roadster/coupé, introduced at the 1963 Geneva Motor Show and produced from 1963 until 1971. It replaced both the 300 SL (W198) and the 190 SL (W121 BII). Of the 48,912 W113 SLs produced, 19,440 were sold in the USA.
Mercedes-Benz 230SL Pagoda – Nakhon 100
The hardtop models featured a distinctive ‘dished roof’ that earned this model the title of ‘Pagoda’.
The 300 SEL sedan scored the 6.3-litre V8 from the 600 model and was fastest four-door car in the world when it was released in 1968.
The Mercedes-Benz W114 and W115 were five-passenger sedans and coupés introduced in 1968, succeeding the W110 Fintail models and were manufactured until 1976, when the W123 was released.
Mercedes-Benz 300SL – Granada
The Mercedes-Benz R107 and C107 sports cars were produced by Mercedes-Benz from 1971 through 1989. They were sold under the SL (R107) and SLC (C107) model names as the 280 SL, 280 SLC, 300 SL, 350SL, 350SLC, 380SL, 380SLC, 420SL, 450SL, 450SLC, 450SLC 5.0, 500SL, 500SLC and 560 SL.
S-Class is the designation for top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz models. It was officially introduced in 1972 with the W116 and has remained in use ever since.
1979 Mercedes-Benz 280 SEL W116 sedan – OSX
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class, sometimes called G-Wagen (short for Geländewagen (terrain vehicle), is a mid-size four-wheel drive luxury SUV manufactured by Magna Steyr (formerly Steyr-Daimler-Puch) in Austria and sold by Mercedes-Benz.
It was released for commercial sale in 1979, after Mercedes-Benz failed to sell it to the German Army, which bought the VW Iltis instead (after VW went cap-in-hand to the Government, pleading financial hardship at that time). The G-Class continued to attract well-heeled customers into the 2020s, although our testing showed just how awful it is!
Mercedes-Benz W201 – Rudolf Stricker
The 190 series five passenger, four-door sedans were made from 1982 to 1993 as the company’s first compact class automobile.
Mercedes-Benz SL 320 – M93
The R170 SLK was a compact roadster produced from 1996 to 2004. The production SLK-Class was introduced at the Turin Motor Show, appearing as a modern incarnation of the 1950s Mercedes-Benz 190SL, by returning to four cylinders and with an identical 2400mm wheelbase.
Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 – M93
A facelift was introduced to all models in 2000, featuring an updated design and updated engines.
The story of the M-B Star
Paul and Adolf Daimler, the sons of automobile pioneer Gottlieb Daimler, remembered how their father had added a star to a postcard showing the family home in the late 1800s.
This three-pointed star was intended to symbolise Gottlieb Daimler’s vision of motorisation: “On land, on water and in the air”.
Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) took up the idea and applied for trademark protection for a three-dimensionally drawn representation of the star symbol. The rendering was designed by Adolf Daimler.
On 24 June 1909, DMG registered the characteristic Mercedes star as a trademark with the German Imperial Patent Office. The star, without the surrounding ring, was entered in the trademark register, in 1911.
Independently of this, the competing Benz & Cie registered the ‘Benz’ lettering, framed by a laurel wreath as a trademark on 6 August 1909. In October 1910, it was entered in the symbol records.
The laurel wreath replaced the previously used cogwheel and was apparently intended to refer to the significant victories of the Mannheim company in motorsport.
On 5 November 1921, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) applied to the patent office for utility model protection for the ‘star in the ring’ and other variants of its trademark.
The star with surrounding plain ring was registered as a trademark in August 1923 and radiator screw caps immediately became pedestals for the new Mercedes brand insignia. Soon, it was also used on other parts of passenger cars and commercial vehicles.
The merger of DMG with Benz & Cie, to form Daimler-Benz AG, on 1May 1924, saw their trademarks merge, although initially they stood side by side.
On 18 February 1925, graphic artists put the two insignia together, to form a new trademark. On 18 February 1925, the new emblem and subsequently the brand word ‘Mercedes-Benz’ were registered.
From the summer of 1926, DMG’s three-pointed star was ringed by Benz’s laurel wreath.
To this day, this trademark remains almost unchanged. As a badge with the highlighted three-pointed star, it adorns all Mercedes-Benz vehicles, in concert with the larger star on the front of many vehicles.
Mercedes-AMG GmbH, commonly known as AMG, is the high-performance subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz AG. AMG independently hires engineers and contracts with manufacturers to customise Mercedes-Benz AMG vehicles.
AMG was originally an independent engineering firm specialising in performance improvements for Mercedes-Benz vehicles. DaimlerChrysler AG took a controlling interest in 1999, then became the sole owner of AMG in 2005.
AMG models typically have more aggressive looks, a higher level of performance, better handling, better stability and more extensive use of carbon fibre than their regular Mercedes-Benz counterparts. AMG models are typically the most expensive and highest-performing variants of each Mercedes-Benz class.