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The ups and downs of Mercedes Benz cars

Jun 8, 2008
Mercedes Benz is a marque that has throughout the years been associated with luxury and high build quality. When one sees a new Mercedes Benz with it's beautiful lines driving down the road, its easy to forget that like most manufacturers Mercedes Benz have had their ups and downs, some of them quite recently; Mercedes build quality started to suffer in recent years, it came to the point where contract hire and leasing companies became nervous about recommending them. The model that came in for the most criticism was the M Class.

Various surveys at the time criticised Mercedes build quality; in 2003 The Consumer Association carried out a survey that criticised all the major German manufacturers, saying that they had all deteriorated, but Mercedes which they had previously considered best for reliability, was changed to average.

The Mercedes M class was placed last out of 142 cars surveyed by the BBC's Top Gear programme in 2004. These were not good times for Mercedes but to their credit they have since made considerable changes, and gradually the Mercedes marque has once again become associated with dependability

In 1886 the world's first automobile was invented by Karl Benz. He patented the vehicle and called it the Benz Patent Motorwagen. Benz was based in the German town of Mannheim.The car's three wheels were little wider that today's bicycle wheels. The ride was rather harsh and the occupants had no protection from the elements. Lights to enable the vehicle to negotiate the poor road conditions at night had not been thought of.

Although Karl Benz and Gottleib Daimler, who was also carrying out similar work to Benz, were only about 100 Kilomteres apart, neither was aware of the other's work. And at about the same time Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach also invented a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. It was called the Daimler Riding Car and was used for testing their internal combustion engine, that became known as the Grandfather Clock, so called because of it's upright cylinder. Although the vehicle was called a car it was in fact a motorcycle, the world's first motorcycle. It had just one cylinder and a top speed of about 13 Kilometres per hour.

The Grandfather Clock engine was installed in Daimler and Maybach's motorised carraige which was launched in 1886. It had a top speed of 18 Kilometres per hour which was considered fast. This time the vehicle had four wheels, the worlds first car with four wheels. The car that Karl Benz patented had three wheels. At an exhibition in Paris in 1889 Daimler exhibited their "wire wheel" car. There was considerable interest in the vehicle, some say that it was seeing this vehicle on display that caused the birth of the French car indusry.

During the 1890's Benz was producing four wheel vehicles, with two, three and four seats. By now Benz had worked out how to make the front wheels turn independently of each other, this made the car a lot safer when negotiating bends.

Benz developed the two seater Velocipide in 1894, it had two seats and was capable of 20 KPH. He sold a large number; some 1200, which in those days was a considerable number. He had less success with his motorized bus; roads were still in poor condition, this combined with the vehicle's narrow wheels made it quite impractical. It had probably not occurred to anyone at the time, that wider wheels would have made a big difference.

A two cylinder belt driven car was brought out by Daimler in 1896. The two cylinders didn't help much with it's top speed, which was 18 mph. The world's first truck was produced byDaimler, it was a flat bed truck. The fact that it was only capable of 11 Kilometres per hour, didn't stop it being very popular, they were used mainly for deliveries, even Britain imported some of these vehicles. Daimler launced a new goods vehicle, it could transport loads of 500 Kilograms. It was similar in appearance to one of the covered, dome shaped, horse drawn wagons from the days of the wild west.

Benz's new vehicle in 1899 was called the Dos a Dos, it could achieve speeds of up to 35 KPH, which was fast. It was a 4 seater, two of the passengers would sit facing the rear of the car.

In 1990 Daimler died, leaving control of his company to Wilhem Maybach. Emil Jellinek a highly successful businessman and motor racing driver had been pressing Maybach to produce cars that were more modern and faster. Jellinek asked Maybach to name the cars after his daughter Mercedes and this was the start of the Mercedes car.

A number of more modern and faster car were produced by Daimler, in the early 1900's. There was the 40 horsepower Mercedes Simplex that suceeded the 35 horsepower model. It was a single seater car with a top speed of 80 Kilometres per hour by now the car had 4 cylinders. One of these models is believed to be the oldest Mercedes still in existence.

The 18 horsepower Double Phaeton was launched by Benz in 1905,then in 1907 the six cylinder 75 hp Double Phaeton. Its top speed exceeded 94 kilometres per hour, very fast for its day. By now Benz was enjoying success in motor racing, as were Mercedes.

During the First World War both Benz and Daimler's production were converted into producing materials for the war effort. The German economy suffered badly at the end of the war, there was a shortage of fuel and a heavy luxury tax had been placed on car production, inflation was starting to get out of control. The cost of a car became so high it was out of most people's reach. A far cry from today where a luxury Mercedes can be found on contract hire from around 300 per month.

Benz's financial position had been seriously weakened; it is believed that Daimler made an approach to Benz, with a proposal of merging but it did not proceed. By 1924 both companies were suffering financially and an agreement was signed and the companies were finally merged in 1926.

The first car that Mercedes produced after the war was a supercharged two-seater sports car capable of 108 kph. In 1927 Mercedes Benz were producing a touring car, the Model S, S for sport. The top speed of this 6-cylinder car was quite outstanding at 160 kph. Then in 1928 they brought out an even faster vehicle which was the SSK Sports two seater, originally designed for hill climbing, it was 30 kph faster than the Model S, at 190 kph.

The model 550K was launched by Mercedes Benz in 1934. There was a version called The Special Roadster, the maximum speed was 160 kph. It was a spectacular looking vehicle that most people even today would consider to be an elegant and beautiful car. At the time the car cost 28,000 Marks, which was a considerable amount of money.

The 550K was followed by the 540K, a car not dissimilar in design but 10 kph faster. Mercedes were also manufacturing the Mercedes Benz 770, a very large luxury car. The vehicle was a favourite with Germany's captains of industry, in which they would be chauffeur driven. At the time manufacturers did not seem concerned about the very small numbers that they produced of a particular model, before bringing out the next model, about 420 of the 540K were produced and Mercedes manufactured less than 120 of the 770.

Mercedes were accused of using forced labour and prisoners of war, for their manufacturing, during the Second World War. They had become part of the German war effort but of course it wasn't a matter of choice; the British motor manufacturers were also part of the British War effort. The allied bombers, just as the German bombers targeted factories in Britain, heavily targeted the Mercedes manufacturing plants. At the end of the war, things looked very bleak for Mercedes; their factories lay in ruins, the machinery was damaged or destroyed and there was an extreme shortage of raw materials. Nevertheless in 1948 production was re started. 1951 saw the introduction of the 300 saloon, over 4500 were sold. The Mercedes Benz 300S convertible also went into production.

The motoring world didn't quite know what had hit them, when the two door hardtop Mercedes Gull Wing was launched in the 1950s. It had two doors that opened up which did indeed look very much like gull's wings. It was by any standards an amazing design. It cost $10,000 in The United States, which was a considerable amount of money; nevertheless they were highly popular and a great deal were sold. A Gull Wing Mercedes was sold at auction during 2006 for $777,240 Australian Dollars approximately $715,000 American Dollars. 1957 saw the launch of the Mercedes 300 SL; Americans bought a considerable number of the 300 SL. It was fast, reaching almost 250 kph, which is over 150 mph.

As far back as 1960 Mercedes were testing vehicles and transmitting the data to a specially adapted vehicle. It may seem strange in the current high tech world of today but the data was transmitted by way of a very long cable running from the test car to the other vehicle, which would drive behind it, hopefully keeping up.

During 1963 Mercedes Benz launched the 230SL, the first sports car to have a crumple free zone. It was not particularly fast compared with some of the previous models; it had a top speed of less than 200 Kilometres per hour. It was however hugely popular selling, nearly 20,000 models. Mercedes had come a long way from the days when they were making just a few hundred of each model. In 1978 Mercedes Benz introduced anti lock brakes (ABS). In 1981 they were the first manufacturer to introduce the airbag. One can only speculate on the number of lives and serious injuries, those safety features will have saved over the years.

The 190E came out in 1982 and in 11 years sold an incredible 638,000.Throughout the 80's and 90's Mercedes continued to sell large numbers of cars and in 1998 Daimler Benz merged with The Chrysler Corporation, effectively a takeover by Daimler Benz and formed Daimler Chrysler. It was not a success and in 2007 Daimler sold 80.1% of Chrysler to Cerberus Capital Management for $7.4 Billion, having initially invested $36 billion in 1998.

Mercedes are now concentrating on their build quality and restoring confidence in the marque and in turn contract hire and leasing companies are confident in recommending Mercedes Benz to their clients. Soon they will hopefully be once again, classed as best for reliability.

Should you have any queries or questions with regard to Licence checking, Fleet Management, Contract Hire, Personal Contract Hire, Lease Purchase or vehicle Hire Purchase, please do not hesitate to contact us. Bowater Price plc 01494 536 536. www.bowaterprice.com.
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