Historic Truck Brands
Although not founded until 1926, Mercedes-Benz traces its origins back to Karl Benz’s creation of the first internal combustion engine in a car, in January 1886 and to Gottlieb Daimler and engineer Wilhelm Maybach’s conversion of a stagecoach by the addition of a petrol engine later that year.
Their first Mercedes automobiles were marketed in 1901 by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (Daimler Motors Corporation) and Emil Jellinek, a European automobile entrepreneur who worked with DMG and named the 35hp 1901 ‘Mercedes’ after his daughter Mercedes Jellinek.
In 1901, the name ‘Mercedes’ was registered by DMG worldwide as a protected trademark.
Gottlieb Daimler trained as a gunsmith and attended the Polytechnic School in Stuttgart from 1857 to 1859. After completing various technical activities in France and England, he started working as a draftsman in Geislingen in 1862. At the end of 1863, he was appointed workshop inspector in a machine tool factory in Reutlingen, where he met Wilhelm Maybach in 1865.
Daimler and Benz developed their automobiles separately.
The ‘motorised goods vehicle’ by Benz & Cie was designed to carry 600 kilograms and was derived from the Phaeton passenger car. Gottlieb Daimler’s 1896 truck carried a payload of 1.5 tons and was powered by a 4hp, 2-cylinder Phoenix engine. However, it took time before these motorised carriages succeeded in ousting their horse-drawn counterparts.
Only two years later, Daimler presented a five-ton-truck with the engine and the radiator at the position in which they are predominantly still to be found today, at the front.
The Benz C/36 truck had a host of technical advances, including the sectional steel frame, cast steel wheels, upright valves and shaft instead of belt drive, making it much more reliable.
Technological advances for trucks were brought about by the massive military build-up during the First World War. An example is the 45hp, shaft and pinion-driven 4.5-ton Daimler DM 4½b that had pneumatic tires and a diesel engine.
The first ‘Mercedes-Benz’ brand vehicles were produced in 1926, following the merger of Karl Benz’s and Gottlieb Daimler’s companies into the Daimler-Benz company on 28 June of the same year. The joint company released a complete range of commercial vehicles, with a payload capacity from one to five tons at the Deutsche Automobil-Ausstellung motor show in Berlin.
Each model was available with a standard and a low-frame chassis. Low chassis allowed easier loading and unloading of the vehicle and were ideal for buses. The models with standard chassis were L1, L2 and L5 and the models with low chassis were N1, N2 and N5 The trucks were powered by four-cylinder petrol engines, developing 45hp, 55hp and 70hp.
In 1927 Mercedes-Benz presented its first Diesel engine (OM5) that was also the world’s first truck diesel engine.
Also, from 1927, Mercedes-Benz offered more powerful six-cylinder petrol engines (M16, M26 and M36) developing 50hp, 70Hhp and 100hp. Four cylinder engines were discontinued only one year later.
The company had recovered quickly from a slump in sales during the Great Depression of 1929 and, by 1931, around 90 percent of German diesel trucks sported the Mercedes star on their radiators.
The final breakthrough for the compression-ignition engine came in 1932 with the presentation of the Mercedes-Benz L 2000 – the world’s first light-duty truck with a diesel engine.
Another stand-out truck from the 1930s was the three-axle L10000, designed to carry a payload of ten tonnes. With its long-snouted hood, this was the top-of-the-range model from 1936 until 1939. A signature feature of the Mercedes-Benz Trucks was the ‘diesel’ badge on the radiator, under the Mercedes-Benz star.
The Schell Plan that came into force in 1939, in the military lead-up to the Second World War rationalised the number of Mercedes-Benz truck models. Lighter-duty L1500 and L3000 models were joined by the heavy-duty L4500, powered by a 120hp six-cylinder diesel engine. In 1944 the company began delivering the state-ordered L701 that was originally an Opel Blitz three-tonner.
Production of the licensed L701 model resumed as early as June 1945 at the Mannheim factory, which emerged from the war comparatively unscathed. Two months later brand-new L 4500s were rolling off the production line at the sister factory in Gaggenau. They were desperately needed for the reconstruction of Germany.
The immediate post-war era was marked by rebuilding the trucking industry. In the mid-fifties, however, new laws favoured rail transport at the expense of the trucking industry.
The Unimog, universally-applicable motorised implement, was also developed at this time. During the Second World War, Albert Friedrich, who was in charge of aircraft engine development at Daimler-Benz AG for many years, came up with the idea of building a vehicle that could boost productivity in farming.
These severe weight and dimension restrictions meant that Mercedes-Benz had to develop duplicate truck line-ups: one for export and one for the restricted German market. These restrictions were eased only in 1960.
In 1949 the L3250/L3500 was the first new development in the post-war era. These bonnetted trucks quickly became domestic and globally successful export models.
Cab-over-engine versions of most of the trucks were available from 1954. For example, LP4500 (1954) and LP315 (1955). However, there was only a single model which existed only as a cab-over-engine version, the ‘Millipede’(LP 333).
Loathe to depart entirely from the bonetted-truck market, in 1959 Mercedes-Benz’ designers launched a semi-forward control series. Typified by the medium-duty L322, this design became the worldwide signature of robust and durable trucks from Mercedes-Benz, in hundreds of variants spanning all weight categories.
In Australia, the 1418 became an iconic truck model.
But for European long-distance haulage, from the mid-1960s, the age of the bonneted truck was finally over, thanks to strict overall length regulations on rigid and combination vehicles. Thus began the era of strictly functionally-designed Mercedes-Benz trucks with angular cabs, typified by the LP1620.
The ‘New Generation’ model series, featuring a complete overhaul in terms of engineering and appearance, was presented in Wörth in 1973. Its modular design covered the medium- and heavy-duty weight classes.
The enhanced successors – NG 80 from 1980 and SK and MK series from 1989 – were also based on the original 1973 version.
In 1996 the completely new Actros heavy-duty truck was presented. It came up with especially economic and environmentally friendly engines and a broad range of innovations. The Actros initiated a generation change in the truck programme and paved the way for the following decade.
This path was continued in light and medium duty trucks by the Atego that was launched in 1998, complemented by the waste-industry vocational Econic.
In 2004 Mercedes-Benz presented the eco-friendly diesel technology BlueTec, which reduced emissions of the Actros. In 2005, the light and medium duty model series Atego and Axor followed.
Today, the range of Actros, Atego, Antos, Arocs, Econic, Zetros and Unimog constitute the comprehensive model range of Mercedes-Benz trucks.
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 1 May 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.