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The men, the motors, the legend

March 15, 2018
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“I do believe in the horse. The automobile is no more than a transitory phenomenon”, is the quote (attributed to Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany) that greets visitors at the start of the exhibition of the Mercedes-Benz Museum. Could any person at the time have had a more misguided opinion, asks GAVIN MYERS after visiting the mind-blowing Stuttgart exhibition.

If there’s one undeniable truth that identifies modern society, it is that its development was vastly accelerated by transportation and, since 1886, by the automobile specifically.

This was when Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz, two engineers – pioneers, really – from Stuttgart, in Swabian Germany, set the wheels of their two respective motorised carriages turning: Daimler in his Daimler motorised carriage and Benz in the Benz patent motor car.

However, it was only in 1926 that the two powerhouses of German automotive manufacturing – Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) and Benz & Cie. – joined forces to form Daimler-Benz AG. The rest, as the say, is history … but what a history has been created, in the 40 years prior, and the 92 years since…

As an aside, there are two other names central to the Mercedes-Benz story … those of Wilhelm Maybach and, yes, Mercedes. Maybach was an engineer, who first met Daimler in 1865 and joined DMG as technical director at its foundation in 1890.

Mercedes was the name given to DMG cars raced (very successfully) by wealthy DMG customer and reseller Emil Jellinek. Mercedes – the name of Jellinek’s daughter – became synonymous with the DMG cars, and in 1900 the two parties agreed on the development (by Maybach) of a new, powerful engine to be known as Daimler-Mercedes.

But I digress… From the start you are immersed in antiquity and providence as you begin your descent through the Museum – you begin at the top floor and wind your way through seven chronologically ordered exhibits (the Legend rooms) with adjoining special galleries (the Collection rooms, each presenting a different topic intertwined with the company’s history). With 16 500 m2 of exhibition space, there is certainly a heck of a lot to see, read, interact with and learn.

The exhibition begins with a late 19th-century history of Stuttgart, and, as you move from one exhibition space to the next, you’re given a holistic sense of each period. The whole exhibition is underscored by significant historical events in terms of global, regional, automotive and Daimler-Benz contexts. Popular music from each epoch immerses you in the historical events, and, of course, the exhibits.

Each piece in the museum – there are 1 450 in all, of which 163 are actual vehicles – is in utterly immaculate condition, whether it is the genuine example or a faithfully accurate recreation. You won’t see only “horseless carriages”, cars, trucks and buses… Did you know that DMG made a motorised firefighting pump in 1892? It’s on display in the museum, as are aircraft and marine engines made by Daimler-Benz during the Second World War.

Of course, Mercedes-Benz is a company that boasts a proud history of racing, record breaking and innovation. It’s all there, too: from the legendary Silver Arrows Formula One cars, to racing trucks, the W125 record car from 1938 (which still holds the record for the fastest speed ever reached on a public highway, at 432,7 km/h), and the mystifying concept vehicles that have through time hinted at the brand’s future.

There are even a few “Easter eggs”, known as Extras, for you to find as you move through the halls; 33 pieces of memorabilia – such as Karl Benz’s driving licence (he is thought to be the first German recipient of one).

I imagine he thought about the sentiments of Emperor Wilhelm II that day. And I wonder what the good Emperor might say if he were able to see the all the treasures of the Mercedes-Benz Museum today…

Me? I was utterly speechless, and (three-pointed) star struck.

 

My life has always revolved around anything with wheels and an engine. It doesn’t matter if its an old banger, the latest hot-hatch or a fancy 4×4 – any excuse is a good excuse to take it for a cruise, spank it at the track or go bundu-bashing (the mud-and-rocks-side-of-a-mountain type, not the exploring-Joburg’s-pavements type). Otherwise, chances are you’ll find me lying underneath one of my beloved toys or with my head buried in its engine bay, tinkering away.

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