Ideas for the vehicles
Fashion designers think in terms of seasons and collections. Automotive design is somewhat different. Part of this is down to the fact that the sculptors in metal have to design both the outfit and the model. Current trends are irrelevant; what counts is the art of knowing what will be considered modern in several years' time. Mercedes-Benz continues to shape the future – and can look back on 125 years of automotive design as it does so.
1886: Carl Benz designed the world's first car, with just one front wheel. This solution was technically far superior to the fifth-wheel steering system commonly used on carriages. Visually, in particular, the Patent Motor Car was thus very different from the ubiquitous horse-drawn vehicles of the era.
1901: The Mercedes 35 hp influenced the way cars looked and came to be seen as a benchmark, all over the world: organic forms, sweeping lines and a honeycomb radiator integrated into the front section are the distinctive features of a vehicle that is justifiably described as the first automobile of the modern era.
1909: Only a few years previously the car was still virtually a carriage, now suddenly it's a torpedo-shaped rocket: the famous Lightning Benz, the first car ever to hit a speed of 200 km/h, exhibits a shape influenced by aerodynamic considerations. Along with its disc wheels and smooth bodywork, the pointed rear end is a particularly characteristic feature.
1936: The 540 K, and the 500 K launched two years previously, are considered among the finest cars ever built. They feature what are arguably the longest wings in the world, which sweep towards the rear of the car in a sensuous wave. They are an important part of the fascination exuded by this five-metre-long roadster. There can hardly be a more elegant way for two people to travel, even today.
1954: 'Legendary' is probably one of the most common words heard used in connection with the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Its – for that era - unusual proportions, flat radiator grille and of course its impressive gullwing doors made the 300 SL, the letters standing for "Sport/Light", a design icon of its age. Pablo Picasso was held to be a glowing admirer of this vehicle.
1957: These hub caps, in perfect original condition, are highly desirable collector's items. They belong to the 300 SL Roadster, introduced in 1957. The car's vertical headlamps, with integrated indicators, were an even more characteristic feature. They went on to be used as a representative stylistic device, becoming typical of the front-end design of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars right up to the early 1970s.
1963: Connoisseurs will immediately recognise to which model these inwardly overlapping windscreen wipers should be attributed: the 230 SL, whose separate hardtop led to it becoming known as the Pagoda model. This popular classic – the first sports car in the world, incidentally, to feature a safety bodyshell - was also available, at additional cost, as what was known as a California model.
This had no soft top, but space instead for two passengers on the second row of seats. The Roadster was designed by Paul Bracq, who had already found his way into design history with the Fintail models.
1971: The long, stretched bonnet of the 350 SL sports car model harboured, for the very first time, an eight-cylinder engine. The characteristic features of the open sports car were, however, its large, horizontal headlamps, along with indicators that extended right round into the side of the wings. What enthusiasts particularly love about this vehicle are its distinctive grab bar-style door handles and grooved tail lights.
1982: The rear view of the 190 and 190 E models polarised opinion in much the same way as Jennifer Lopez's rear does today: distinctive, sexy and generous! The tail end of the new compact model series attracted attention above all for being rather higher than the beltline. The resulting wedge-shape was much discussed. These days, the 190 and 190 E are seen as timeless models that have had a lasting stylistic influence.
1995: The E-Class (W 210) brought with it more than 30 technical innovations. Probably the most emotive new feature was its four oval headlamps, inclined slightly backwards.
The distinctive twin-headlamp face made the E-Class quite unmistakable and was subsequently adopted for other Mercedes-Benz model series, going on to become a characteristic feature of automotive design in general.
2003: Mercedes-Benz made a bold move in 2003 with its Vision CLS, laying the foundation for a whole new category of vehicle. A four-door coupé offering exceptional ride comfort for four people – that won the "Autonis" design prize and the title of "Most beautiful concept car of 2003".
The biggest prize, though, came just one year later when the CLS went almost unaltered into series production. The downward slope of its rear section, a pronounced feature line and headlamps that gave the car a truly beguiling look ensured that the car caused quite a stir all over the world.
2008: A successful new interpretation of a classic or, if you prefer, cubist, bold and distinctive: the basic boxy shape of the GLK pays homage to the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. The high body so typical of an SUV, short overhangs, the pronounced upright angle of the front end and the tight arc of the roof make this relationship clear. The roof rails are not only practical, but also serve as a stylistic element.
2009: The avantgarde nature of its design has brought the current E-Class (W 212) numerous awards. One particularly eye-catching feature is the coquettish swing of the hips that brings an element of sex appeal to the car's tail end. Its extrovert lines are reminiscent of the design spirit that was already evident in the dynamism and yet laid-back nonchalance of the Ponton Mercedes of the 1950s.
2011: What will the cars of tomorrow look like? The F 800 Style research vehicle provides an initial answer to this question. A long wheelbase, short body overhangs and an elegant, flowing roof line will give the saloons of the future the air of coupés. Stylish, with hint of sportiness,
is the evolutionary status of the Mercedes-Benz design idiom represented here, giving an almost sculptural presence to the front end. The new Concept A-Class represents a successful continuation of the free interplay of surfaces that was so eloquently demonstrated in the F 800 Style of 2010.