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The history of Mercedes-Benz
In 1885 Paul Daimler, son of Gottlieb, trundled down the strasse in a makeshift vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. It was widely considered to be the world’s first car and it was the start of an amazing journey for the Daimler family and the brand that would eventually become Mercedes-Benz.
While Daimler worked, just down the road in Mannheim, Carl Benz was working on his own three-wheeler. The two became competitors, even sharing the podium in the 1908 German Grand Prix. The First World War meant that both companies were strained financially, however, and they finally came together in 1926 in a deal that saved them both.
The story was complicated further when an Austrian businessman, Emil Jellinek, ordered a number of cars from Daimler. There were conditions, including naming them after his daughter – Mercedes – and sales rights in certain European countries.
Eventually the brand name Mercedes-Benz emerged from the haze and the company went on to blaze a trail. After the 1928 SSK, Mercedes-Benz produced the world’s first diesel powered car – the 260D – and the record-breaking W125 that broke the 268mph barrier all the way back in 1938. After a short break when the factory was taken over by the war effort, Mercedes-Benz began to focus its efforts on brilliant passenger cars.
The 1950s saw the arrival of the 190 SL and all-conquering 300 SL – the legendary Gullwing, which went on to win the Mille Miglia in the hands of Sir Stirling Moss in SLR form. It was one of motorsport’s most famous performances and made a legend out of car and driver. Future models have consistently referred to that model and event, including the modern-day SLS and the McLaren Mercedes SLR that even spawned 722 (Moss´s racing number) and Sir Stirling Moss editions.
The 1960s started off well, too, with the introduction of the 230 SL Pagoda. But it was 1965 that brought the introduction of the firm’s flagship – the S Class. This luxury limousine went on to define Mercedes-Benz over the decades and it still does today. Airbags, traction control, seatbelt pre-tensioners and even night vision and crash avoidance systems have made their début on the S-Class.
There are so many other memorable models it is difficult to pay lip-service to them all. There was the comical 300 SEL that took the 6.3-litre V8 from the 600 limousine and shoehorned it into the S-Class in 1966 – a skunkworks project that arguably laid the foundations for sporting luxury cars. Not to mention the 600 Pullman, a luxury limousine that transported several Popes, Hugh Hefner and countless World leaders.
Mercedes-Benz’s 190 Evo Cosworth, a stunning riposte to BMW’s E30, was the start of a searingly hot series of sporting Mercs. A tie-up with Cosworth produced an almighty 2.3-litre engine that took the fight to BMW in the DTM championship. It was a homologation special, and out of character for Mercedes that now has a whole range of sporting AMG models, but it remains one of the Three-Pointed Star’s finest driver’s cars ever.