I’m sure we have all played this game a few times in our lives. The dream car garage game where you’d be asked (or you would ask yourself), money notwithstanding, what 3 cars would you have in your forever garage. Whilst the third car on my list has constantly evolved as I got older, I’ve always had 2 constants ever since I could remember. The Ferrari F40 and the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing.
If I could have only 1 automobile in my forever garage, it’d be an extremely tough fight but on most occasions, the glorious SL would be my pick, a car I instantly fell in love with as I held a 1:24th scale Bburago model in the toy store and after 30 years of constant admiration, I was finally able to see the real thing.
While the term “never meet your childhood heroes” might ring true in many situations, this wasn’t the case here because seeing the Gullwing in the metal, with my own eyes was a glorious sight. Such a magnificent vehicle, so beautifully penned and wonderfully crafted.
In my eyes, the 300SL Gullwing isn’t just perfection, it’s a masterpiece of elegance.
The 300SL wasn’t the only masterpiece on display, with the 300SL Roadster and the ultra-rare and ultra-valuable 300SLR Uhlenhaut Coupé sitting alongside. One of only two ever made, this one being the personal car of its designer, at the time Daimler-Benz’s motorsport chief, Rudolf Uhlenhaut.
Essentially a street-legal version of the 300SLR race car, the Uhlenhaut Coupé project initially intended for both cars to race in the Carrera Panamericana but after Mercedes’ withdrawal from competition following their 1955 LeMans tragic accident, both Uhlenhaut Coupés instead became the fastest road cars of their era with a maximum velocity of 290 km/h.
There’s even a story going around that a certain Mercedes-Benz executive was running late for a meeting in Stuttgart but with the keys to a Coupé with his namesake in hand, roared up the autobahn from Munich to Stuttgart in just over an hour, a 220 km journey that today takes two-and-a-half.
This or the original streetcar? I wouldn’t say no to either.
Since we’re on the topic of Sport-Leicht‘s, the museum had a little showcase dedicated to their lovely Gran Touring Sports Cars. Made sense since the latest SL, the R232, was unveiled a few days prior to my visit. Sadly, it wasn’t on display yet.
What this sub-gallery did have though was a lovely lineup of SL’s from various eras including, yes, another 300SL Gullwing. This time in a beautiful shade of dark grey.
I think I’ll take this over the silver. What about you?
Here we have the W195. 10 made, all raced, and the predecessor to the stunning Gullwing road cars.
The W194 ran off an impressive string of victories that include the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Bern-Bremgarten, the Eifelrennen at Nürburgring, Rally Stella Alpina, and Mexico’s Carrera Panamericana. It also managed second and fourth places at its first outing in the 1952 Mille Miglia. Quite the overachiever.
While the roadsters are constantly overshadowed by their more illustrious and more valuable (and better looking) Coupe stablemates, they are today almost equally as rare and introduced the droptop roof now synonymous with the SL badge.
While the W113 Pagoda SL might have taken the edge off the SL’s original racing intent, it did give birth to one of the world’s prettiest roadsters.
I do feel a little sad that even though the R232 continues on the SL lineage, the fact that it is an AMG-only model is rather disappointing.
Back in the main hall, we have a lovely W110, better known as the Fintail. No prizes for guessing why.
Another W113, this time with its optional hardtop roof in place. Such an elegant period of modern car design. Clean lines, thin pillars. Lovely.
Within the hall of “Visionaries” is this strange oddity which at first could be mistaken for a rather vintage estate, what it is in fact, is the Mercedes-Benz “measurement car”, a one-off station wagon built on their at the time, top of the range 300d sedan.
The “measurement car” was aptly fitted with a slew of measuring equipment to record data on the fly as it chased development vehicles down the track with a cartoonishly long data cable hanging on for dear life. No wifi or Bluetooth back in those days. Quite the dedication.
Another strange looking vehicle which at first glance looks like a W116, is actually another off-off. The ESF22, or would you rather the full name, “Experimental-Sicherheits-Fahrzeuge” (Experimental Safety Vehicles) ESF22.
As early as the 1970s, Mercedes-Benz built more than 30 test vehicles as part of the ESF programme to research future safety systems, and in typical Germanic naming convention, this is the programme’s 22nd vehicle.
Based on the 116-series S-Class, the ESF22 was presented in March 1973 during the 4th ESV Conference in Kyoto and pioneered the use of airbags and belt tensioners. No points for styling though.
No, while its name (and design) might suggest otherwise, this isn’t a reject from Robocop. The Auto 2000 is a concept described back in the day as being a “Mercedes-Benz for the new millennium” and was developed with efficiency in mind in the aftermath of the 1970s oil crisis.
The main idea was to come up with an economical car that had a fuel consumption of up to 11 litres / 100 kilometres with a maximum weight of 2,150 kilograms. Other requirements it had to meet included a payload capacity in excess of 400 kg and enough room inside the cabin to accommodate four adults. Remember, this was back in 1981.
While their solution to aerodynamics wouldn’t win any awards for aesthetics, this vintage CLS-Esque design did allow for a low drag coefficient of just 0.28.
To power this machine, Mercedes-Benz came up with 3 different drivetrains. The first one was a 3.8-litre V8 gasoline engine fitted with cylinder deactivation technology, which as you can imagine was pretty revolutionary back in 1981.
The next proposal for an economical engine was a six-cylinder 3.3-litre diesel with two turbochargers.
And the final engine proposal was quite simply, the maddest of them all, a gas turbine engine. It did not necessitate water cooling, had a compact size and a low weight while generating “favourable torque characteristics.”
While the Auto 2000 never made it to production in any form, it did form the basis for many of the features found on future production models years later.
Concept car of 40 years ago, meet the concepts of today. Other than the 3-pointed star, I reckon there doesn’t really seem to be any other semblance. What do you think?
The first-ever baby Benz in all its Bruno Sacco glory. One of the marques most famous designers, Bruno Sacco was responsible for many of the focal cars from the modern era when Mercedes-Benz was in the class of its own when it came to quality and status with even the entry-level model, the 190E, recognized by the designer himself as one of his greatest achievements.
Sadly, even though these 190E’s were at one time everywhere, a clean one (with the preferred fabric seats) is now as rare as hen’s teeth.
From the hall of “Visionaries”, let’s make a quick detour into the “Gallery of Helpers”, a showcase of vehicles used by various public and private services to take a look at two wagons with two very different purposes.
Our last stop for this post is the “Gallery of celebrities” where famous vehicles and vehicles made famous by their owners reside. The R129 on the left was acquired by Princess Diana, wife of the Prince of Wales, in 1991. She was the first member of the royal house to drive a foreign car privately, but after criticism from the government, the trade unions and industry, she was forced to return it in September 1992.
I don’t think the tallboy on the right needs any introduction.
Spot the Jurassic Park ML?
1 owner 190SL Roadster.
This 770 Grand Mercedes cabriolet F was driven by the former German Emperor Wilhelm II during his exile in the Netherlands, and the (armoured) 770 Grand Mercedes Pullman limousine right next to it was owned by the then Japanese Emperor Hirohito.
A fully armoured state limousine with a raised roof and produced in 1965, this 600 Pullman was a unique one-off for the company’s own car fleet. For more than 30 years, this particular vehicle carried kings, chancellors and presidents on state visits in extremely well-protected comfort.
The 300 sitting alongside was the last official vehicle of the first Federal German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer. It was the sixth 300 model since 1951 in which Adenauer had himself chauffeured – which is why people identified it with the Chancellor and called it the “Adenauer Mercedes”.
With that, I shall leave you with a teaser to Part 3 as I conclude my tour of the Mercedes-Benz Museum. Thanks for reading!