Frank Dalmat - Rodolphe Ragu - 2011-04-25
Stuttgart’s history is intimately linked with that of the automobile. The capital of south Germany’s Baden-Württemberg state is the historic seat of two of the world’s premier car manufacturers: Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
The Mercedes adventure leads us to two legendary names in the trade, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, and to a significant year in history, 1886. This was the year that Benz invented the first ‘automobile’: the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, a gas-run tricycle powered by a four-stroke engine. The same year, Daimler, one of the inventors of the internal combustion engine, perfected the world’s first motorized four-wheel vehicle.
The early relationship between the companies founded by the engineers - Stuttgart’s Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie. - was one of competition and emulation. Both worked on constructing the first racing motorcycles and cars, but also on designing lorries and coaches.
Daimler’s car is christened
Why ‘Mercedes’? At the turn of the 20th century, Daimler’s most successful salesman was Emil Jellinek, who was also a race car driver. He won several races on the Riviera competing under the pseudonym Mercédès, his young daughter’s name. When he asked Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach to invent a new 35 horsepower model that he would market, finding a name for the car was easy; in 1900 the first Mercedes was born! Equipped with a lowered pressed-steel frame at a time when other vehicles were basically motorized carriages, the 35 HP was a mini-revolution. A city car as well as a racing car, it won its first prize on a race course one year later.
Benz - that other German manufacturer - responded with the Blitzen-Benz, by far the fastest car of its era. And with its Benz Velo, the Benz Comfortable with rubber tyres and the Benz Kontra-Motor with two horizontally opposed cylinders, the company seemed to be everywhere at once.
Two manufacturers, one common cause
During the First World War, both Benz & Cie. and Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft were mainly involved in weapons manufacturing. In the years that followed, they had to face the economic difficulties of the 1920s, including rampant inflation. In 1926 the groups merged, and the first Mercedes-Benz and its famous emblem - the three-pointed star which still crowns Stuttgart’s main railway station today - were created. From that point on, the firm’s activities were divided between two cities, Mannheim and Stuttgart. And it is in the ateliers of Stuttgart-Untertürkheim that the very first ‘Grand Mercedes’, the celebrated 770, was produced. It would create quite a sensation at the 1930 Paris Automobile Show.
During the era of Carl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, German engineering reigned supreme. Ferdinand Porsche, a Daimler-Benz engineer and designer, was preparing to leave the company and create his own consulting firm in Stuttgart. As early as 1933, Adolf Hitler asked Porsche to begin designing the ‘people’s car’: the Volkswagen. First imported to the UK in 1953, the car that would be baptised ‘The Beetle’ was, in fact, the Porsche team’s first commercial success and a cause for enduring pride in its home town.
After 1945, Ferdinand Porsche’s ties to the Nazi regime made it difficult for him to put the past behind him. Weary and ill, he gave the reins of the family enterprise over to his son, Ferry. In 1948 Ferry began producing the Porsche 356, the marque’s first production model. It was soon remarked during racing and rallying competitions. Since then, the Porsche spirit, aesthetics and performance have been the stuff of dreams of many generations of amateur sports car enthusiasts.
High octane museums
Naturally, Mercedes and Porsche have chosen to build their respective museums close to production sites in Stuttgart.
The Mercedes-Benz Museum
, with its impressive 16,500 sq m (175,000 sq ft) double helix interior, attracts enthusiasts from all over the world. Open since 2006, already in 2007 there were 860,000 visitors.
On the other side of the city, the Porsche Museum
welcomes visitors to a monolithic edifice of 5,600 sq m, (60,000 sq ft) supported by three V-shaped pillars. The history of the Porsche adventure is revealed in a more classic manner here than at the Mercedes Museum. A temple where the iconic sports car is revered, it showcases eighty historic vehicles, racing cars and prototypes.
In 2009, a new venue opened its doors on the site of the Land’s first airport: the Meilenwerk. Entirely dedicated to collectors’ motor cars, this atypical complex is a museum, exhibit and sales hall, restaurant and V-8 hotel all rolled into one. If you are mad about all things mechanical, you can choose to sleep in a Cadillac-shaped bed before driving off in the morning behind the wheel of the car of your dreams.
Stuttgart honours the automobile’s 125th birthday this year with these three emblematic sites and the famous Retro Classics vintage car show. All summer long, a variety of events will celebrate the paragons of an industry that has widely contributed to the economic development of the region and country.