1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing. Click image to enlarge
Article and photos by Peter Bleakney
Stuttgart, Germany – In 2006, Mercedes-Benz opened the doors to its spectacular museum in Stuttgart, an ultra-modern nine-story structure that traces the history of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and corresponding points in world history, as visitors descend from the top floor in a double-helix spiral of ramps that mimics human DNA.
There are about 160 vehicles on view, some in the seven Legends Rooms where the cars are staged and dramatically lit, and others in the Collection Rooms with natural lighting from panoramic windows.
Mercedes-Benz has warehouses chock-o-block full of historical vehicles, so many displays are rotated on a regular basis.
1955 High-Speed race car transporter with 1955 300 SLR (top); 1936 M-B 500K Special Roadster (middle); 1960 Mercedes-Benz 300 Messwagen. Click image to enlarge
Naturally, you start with the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen, a single-cylinder three-wheeled buggy created by Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz that is recognized as the world’s first gasoline-powered automobile. As this is a reproduction (the original is long gone), the 1902 Mercedes-Simplex 40PS on display is actually the oldest Mercedes extant. It was the direct successor to the 35-hp Mercedes designed by Wilhelm Maybach, which was the world’s first automobile of the modern age.
The scope of the collection is sweeping – everything from the iconic 1955 300SL Gullwing to trucks, busses, celebrity cars, concept vehicles, pioneering safety vehicles – even Pope John Paul II’s ‘Popemobile.’
The 1955 Mercedes-Benz high speed racing transporter is an interesting rig. It was built by the Mercedes testing department to chauffeur its racing cars in 1955 – up to 106 mph.
Of particular beauty is a red 1936 500 K Special Roadster which was the brand’s showpiece during the 1930s, bragging a top speed of 100 mph in 160-hp supercharged form. At 28,000 Reichmark (roughly $200,000) it was Mercedes’ most expensive offering.
In 1955, Daimler-Benz produced two coupe versions of the iconic 300 SLR race car for the 1956 season, one of which is on display here. It was never used as the company ceased its motorsport activities at the end of the 1955 season. It has a 302-hp 3.0-litre straight-six and a top speed of 290 km/h.
A rather bizarre specimen is the 1960 300 Messwagen – a one-of-a-kind “measuring car” built for the test department. Loaded up with large and heavy measuring equipment, it recorded the data delivered by the test vehicles via a long umbilical cable.
Your tour concludes with a jaw-dropping display of Mercedes’ motor racing history: the 1909 Blitzen-Benz, pre- and post-war Silver Arrows Grand Prix cars; the 300 SLR (#722) that Stirling Moss drove to victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia with an average speed of 157.6 km/h, a modern F1 car… well, the list goes on.
If ever you find yourself in Stuttgart, the Mercedes-Benz Museum is a must see.