“Mercedes”: the brand name that shines for over 120 years

Stuttgart. A good brand name has international appeal. “Mercedes” is one of the most famous and most traditional: from 1900 onwards, it was used to brand the innovative passenger cars made by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, and, together with its outstanding vehicle and engine technology, it gave the company worldwide recognition and thus shaped personal mobility as a whole. In 1926, the brand was extended to produce Mercedes-Benz – while its significance on all continents remained unchanged. For the oldest luxury car brand in the world, its name is both the basis and incentive to carry this outstanding tradition into the future.

Businessman and motorcar enthusiast Emil Jellinek was well aware of the importance of a brand name that was easy to remember. At the beginning of April 1900, he concluded an agreement with Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) in Nice on the distribution of Daimler cars and engines. The decision to develop a new engine, which was to bear the name Daimler-Mercedes, was a further ground-breaking step: it meant that the name that Jellinek had been using as a pseudonym for several years became the product name. On 22 December 1900, DMG delivered the first car equipped with the new engine to Nice, a 35 PS racing car.

The vehicle was not only the newest and most powerful model produced by DMG – it has since come to be recognised as the very first modern motorcar. The Mercedes 35 PS was systematically designed for performance, weight savings and safety, its key features including a lightweight high-performance engine, a long wheelbase and a low centre of gravity. With these attributes and the honeycomb radiator organically integrated into the front, it gave the motorcar its own distinct form: the first Mercedes was no longer reminiscent of a carriage pulled along by a combustion engine instead of horses. Rather, it was a new construction which had been systematically designed from scratch for the innovative new type of drive. Experts were immediately aware that this vehicle marked a profound change in the field of automotive engineering. Paul Meyan, the founding member and secretary-general of the motorcar Club de France (A.C.F.), is on record as having commented: “We have entered the Mercédès era.”

Mercedes is unbeatable

During Nice Week (“Semaine de Nice”) in March 1901, at that time arguably the most important international motorsport event, the Mercedes cars entered were unbeatable in practically every discipline. This helped Jellinek and Mercedes to achieve exceptional publicity. “Clearly, French designers have nothing comparable to offer at present,” wrote the “La Presse” newspaper on 30 March 1901. In March and August 1901, the sister models, the 12/16 PS and 8/11 PS, were launched. Jellinek’s business was booming: in society’s most exclusive circles, it was the done thing to drive a Mercedes or, even better, to be driven in one. The Daimler plant in Cannstatt was hardly able to keep up with the production demand.

The brand name and the young girl

The brand name goes back to Jellinek’s daughter, Mercédès, who grew up in a family that was obsessed with motorcar technology: Emil Jellinek, who lived in Baden near Vienna and in Nice, insisted on greater performance and more innovative technology from Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in the closing years of the 19th century, which resulted in the development of the modern motorcar. From 1899 on, he competed in car races on the Côte d’Azur in high-performance Daimler cars under the pseudonym “Monsieur Mercedes”, the first name of his daughter, who was born in 1889.

Following the ground-breaking motorsport and market successes of Mercedes cars, the name “Mercédès” was applied for as a trademark on 23 June, 1902 and legally registered on 26 September. Emil Jellinek took this a step further one year later, and in June 1903 he received permission to change his name to Jellinek-Mercedes from then on. He commented on the decision thus: “This must in all probability be the first time that a father has borne the name of his daughter.”

Easy operability: the Simplex model family

Even in France, where the motorcar enjoyed particularly early success, cars remained conspicuous by their absence in everyday life at the turn of the 20th century. The registration statistics for France nevertheless show 4,427 luxury passenger cars in 1901, plus 959 motorcars for commercial use. However, the product was continuously being developed and was becoming more widespread.

The first Mercedes and its less powerful sister models designed according to the same principles gave rise in 1902 to the Mercedes-Simplex model family, which initially comprised three models. The “Simplex” designation alluded to the vehicles’ ease of operation by the standards of the day. The most powerful variant in 1902 was the Mercedes-Simplex 40 PS, the direct successor to the Mercedes 35 PS. The Mercedes-Simplex vehicles were equally successful as innovative racing cars and as sporty everyday luxury motorcars.

They also triumphed at Nice Week: in 1902 the Mercedes-Simplex 40 PS won the Nice-La Turbie race, followed in 1903 by the 60 PS model which set a new record time. A particularly memorable feat was the victory by Camille Jenatzy in a Mercedes-Simplex 60 PS in the 1903 Gordon Bennett race, which was the leading international motorsport event of the day. The original plan was to field the markedly more powerful 90 hp racing cars, but these were destroyed in a fire at the DMG factory in Cannstatt three weeks before the race. DMG thus raced the privately owned near-series Mercedes-Simplex 60 PS. The vehicle belonging to American millionaire Clarence Gray Dinsmore won the race with Jenatzy behind the wheel.

The final models bearing the Mercedes-Simplex designation appeared in 1904. These included the 28/32 PS model, a more advanced variant of the 28 PS model from 1902. The “Simplex” designation disappeared from the model names of the Mercedes motorcars in 1905. but the unique, global success story of the series production vehicles and racing cars which began with the Mercedes 35 PS in 1901 continues to this day.

A new star on the horizon

The Mercedes star? The star was registered as a trademark by DMG in June 1909 both as a three-pointed and a four-pointed star. Both versions were protected by law, but only the three-pointed star was actually used and, from 1910 on, it was seen embellishing the radiators of Mercedes vehicles in a three-dimensional form. The three tips of the star were also regarded as a symbol of Gottlieb Daimler’s efforts to achieve universal motorisation “on land, at sea and in the air” – a vision he consistently pursued from the very beginning.

When Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie. merged in 1926, a new brand name was created, which incorporated the key elements of the emblems used up to that time: the three-pointed star of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft surrounded by the word mark “Mercedes” and the equally prestigious brand name “Benz”, whose laurel wreath connected the two words. This trademark still adorns the vehicles of the Mercedes-Benz brand today and is regarded throughout the world as the epitome of tradition and innovation, and of the future of the motorcar.

The Vision Mercedes Simplex, 2019

One example of this is the “Vision Mercedes Simplex”, which Mercedes-Benz Design presented in September 2019. It is a sculpture that symbolises both the origin and the future of the Mercedes-Benz luxury brand. It symbolises the transition to a new era of design and technology. At the same time it is a homage to the historical legacy and the birth of the brand.

The “Vision Mercedes Simplex” carries the pioneering spirit and design characteristics of that time far into the 21st century. Its message? The passion for luxury and innovation is part of the Mercedes-Benz brand DNA. This brand DNA gives Mercedes-Benz the strength to set new standards in mobility over again, yesterday, today and tomorrow. At the same time the sculpture shows that Mercedes-Benz is continuing to drive forward the transformation of the car and of mobility as a pioneer.

“Only a brand that is as strong as Mercedes-Benz is capable of the physical symbiosis of history and future. The ‘Vision Mercedes Simplex’ symbolises the transformation of the brand-specific luxury of Mercedes-Benz”, says Chief Design Officer Gorden Wagener.

In detail: the history of the creation of the Mercedes 35 PS

In 1901 there were no differences between racing cars and sports passenger cars. The Mercedes 35 PS was also an innovative and flexible platform which could be transformed from a two-seater racing car into a four-seater luxury motorcar with a pronounced sporty character. The beginning of the 20th century witnessed the birth of the Mercedes brand on the Côte d’Azur as the world’s first luxury car brand, and even then, sportiness was an integral part of the brand’s DNA. Emil Jellinek was spot-on in assessing the significance of the Mercedes 35 PS model’s successes to the future development of the motorcar – albeit with a degree of swagger: “What you are seeing here is nothing compared to what you are going to see next year,” he said in praise of the new vehicle from DMG after the spectacular victories at Nice Week.

The Mercedes 35 PS, the other Mercedes models from 1901 and the Mercedes-Simplex cars based on these models marked an important leap forward in the history of the motorcar as the apogee of a process of development extending over several years. Emil Jellinek, who received his first Daimler car in October 1897 – a Viktoria with a 4.4 kW (6 hp) two-cylinder engine and belt drive – played an important role from the outset. Urging DMG to produce more powerful and faster models, in September 1898 he took delivery of a Daimler “Phoenix” car with a front-mounted four-cylinder engine. Before the year was out, he started selling Daimler motorcars to the high society in Nice. Successes by the powerful Daimler cars in motorsport were an important selling point here. In the prestigious Nice–La Turbie hillclimb on 24 March 1899, Arthur de Rothschild took second place in the category of four-seater cars at the wheel of a Daimler 12 PS “Phoenix”. He completed that year’s 16.3-kilometre route at an average speed of 41.1 km/h. Jellinek insisted on even more powerful vehicles from DMG for the 1900 season. This insistence was attributable to a fascination for the modern sport, a visionary understanding of technology and above all a good intuitive sense of his customers’ needs.

Wilhelm Maybach and DMG engine designer Joseph Brauner duly developed the “Phoenix” four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 5.5 litres and a rated output of 17 kW (23 hp). The chassis design was also totally new. It had a shorter wheelbase than its predecessor, four wheels of identical size and a larger tubular radiator with a square face which was mounted at the front under the bonnet. This gave the racing car with an effective output of a good 19 kW (26 hp) a tough-looking and powerful appearance.

Emil Jellinek fielded two of these 23 PS “Phoenix” cars in class C (over 400 kilograms) at Nice Week from 26 to 30 March 1900, driven by Hermann Braun and Wilhelm Bauer and bearing the pseudonyms “Mercédès I” and “Mercédès II”. On the long-distance Nice–Draguignan–Nice trip, Mercédès I overturned in the Esterel mountains with Hermann Braun at the wheel – fortunately without any major consequences. Experienced works driver Wilhelm Bauer then suffered an accident in Mercédès II shortly after the start of the Nice-La Turbie hillclimb. Taking evasive action to avoid spectators who were running onto the track, he collided with a rock face and died from his injuries shortly afterwards. Private entrant E. T. Stead won the tourist class in the long-distance Nice–Draguignan–Nice race and the Nice–La Turbie hillclimb in his own 23 PS “Phoenix”.

The birthplace of the modern motorcar in Cannstatt

The two accidents and Bauer’s death caused much consternation at DMG, and the company seriously considered pulling out of motorsport altogether. Jellinek, who was DMG’s most important customer at this time, now proved the man of the hour. He categorically rejected any withdrawal from motorsport, instead calling for a totally new type of design: an even more powerful car that would finally break with the carriage-based concept which still applied at the time and which effectively developed the initial ideas implemented in the 23 PS “Phoenix” car. The new Daimler model was to be defined by a longer wheelbase, a lower centre of gravity, lower weight and a higher output and speed and, in particular, closely coordinated systems, from the cooling through the ignition to the clutch. The record of the agreement reached between Jellinek and DMG management board members Gustav Vischer and Wilhelm Maybach in Nice on 2 April 1900 couched the ambitious development objectives in rather more sober terms: “A new form of engine is to be produced and the same is to bear the name Daimler-Mercedes.”

Jellinek backed up his demands with considerable economic clout: up to June 1900, the importer ordered a total of 72 cars in all performance categories – from the new entry-level model rated at 5.9 kW (8 hp) to the equally new flagship model in two output variants of 22 kW (30 hp) and 26 kW (35 hp). The overall order volume corresponded to more than 60 percent of DMG’s complete annual production in Cannstatt. The mission for the 35 PS racing car was clear: it was to triumph at Nice Week in 1901.

Maybach and engine designer Brauner set about developing this first and most powerful model of the series in Cannstatt. The process got underway with the engine, as the core of the vehicle. The new engine soon caused a stir in the automotive press: the issue of French magazine “La France motorcar” dated 9 June 1900 included a report by its editor-in-chief Paul Meyan, who was also the founding member and secretary-general of the motorcar Club de France (A.C.F.), on his visit to DMG in Cannstatt and mentions the “Mercedes engine” produced in the new lightweight metal magnalium, an alloy consisting of magnesium and aluminium. Meyan alerted his compatriots in no uncertain terms to the competition which was to be expected from the innovative new construction.

The first specimen of the large-volume lightweight engine was tested on 13 October 1900. “La France motorcar” published two photographs of the innovative high-performance unit in its issue of 24 November 1900. The first car had completed its initial trial drive with the new engine two days before. This revealed that a stronger frame was required. The revised construction, which was very eagerly awaited by its customer, successfully underwent a four-hour trial on 15 December 1900 and was dispatched to Nice by rail on 22 December 1900. Two pictures of this first Mercedes adorned the cover of the 29 December 1900 issue of “La France motorcar” – an indication of the degree of interest in this new construction among the experts.

The project was to radically change the world of mobility, as a result of the fresh approaches adopted by the developers. The frame of the Mercedes 35 PS was the first to feature longitudinal frame members consisting of U-channels which came together at the front. This eliminated the need for a sub-carrier for the engine, resulting in a lighter vehicle with a lower centre of gravity. At 2245 millimetres, the wheelbase was 510 millimetres larger than that of the 23 PS “Phoenix” racing car, and the front track width grew by 25 millimetres to 1400 millimetres. The engine was positioned aft of the front axle, while the driver’s and co-driver’s seats were located in front of the rear axle. Overall, this led to substantially better axle load distribution and markedly improved handling.

The engine as the beating heart of the motorcar

The new four-cylinder in-line engine developed by Joseph Brauner had a displacement of 5,913 cubic centimetres and an output of 26 kW (35 hp) at 1,000 rpm. Despite the increase in displacement and output compared with the “Phoenix” engine from the previous year, the unit was more than 80 kilograms, or around 25 percent, lighter. Brauner designed the engine with a short stroke to achieve higher engine speeds. The cylinders were cast in pairs together with the cylinder heads, the piston material varied in thickness for reasons of weight, the crankcase was cast from the lightweight alloy magnalium. The intake valves were actuated by their own camshafts for the first time, meaning that the engine had two camshafts. This marked a substantial advance over the previously employed “sniffing valves”, which were actuated by the vacuum created by the downward-moving piston. Measures such as the two improved spray-nozzle carburettors and the low-voltage make-and-break ignition also contributed to the engine’s smooth running with good elasticity and provided for a broad effective engine speed range.

Successful solutions with which Maybach had advanced the development of automotive engineering in the years before were also further enhanced in the interests of improved performance. The cooling system, for example: the so-called honeycomb radiator was now created on the basis of the tubular radiator dating from 1897, which itself represented an important advance over the cooling coils, which were in widespread use at the time. In the honeycomb radiator, the cooling air flowed through more than 5,800 tubes whose square cross-section had a side length of 5 millimetres. In this way, the airflow and cooling effect were further improved and it was possible to cut the quantity of cooling water by half to reduce weight.

Many details together produce a convincing overall concept when they are optimally coordinated. The engineers in Cannstatt followed this philosophy in developing the Mercedes 35 PS. The first modern motorcar was thus produced as a coherent system with the internal combustion engine as its powerful beating heart. The top speed was 75 km/h, and, with a lightweight sports body, nearly achieved 90 km/h – unparalleled performance at the time. The lightweight design was also a contributing factor to this performance: in its racing variant, the Mercedes 35 PS weighed 1,000 kilograms – 400 kilograms lighter than the 23 PS “Phoenix” racing car.

On 4 January 1901, less than two weeks after the first Mercedes 35 PS had been delivered, the “L’Automobile-Revue du Littoral” magazine published an article that said: “The place to catch new developments at present is not Paris, but Nice. The first Mercedes car built at the Cannstatt workshops has arrived in Nice and its owner, Mr Jellinek, has obligingly allowed all the drivers to take a look at it. It has to be said that the Mercedes car is very, very interesting. This remarkable vehicle will be a fearsome competitor in the races in 1901.”

On a technical level, the Mercedes 35 PS is rightly regarded as the first modern motorcar: it made the leap from the era of the horse-drawn carriage into the motorcar age and gave the motorcar its own distinct form. And in 1901 it also produced the anticipated victories in diverse racing categories in Nice. In 1901, the Nice–La Turbie hillclimb, which had been shortened to 15.5 kilometres, was won by Wilhelm Werner in a new record time at an average speed of 51.4 km/h in the two-seater racing car category, ahead of Albert “Georges” Lemaître (both driving a Mercedes 35 PS). Werner’s car belonged to Henri de Rothschild and participated under the pseudonym “Dr Pascal”, as in the previous year. The category of six-seater cars was won by driver Thorn at an average speed of 42.7 km/h, also in a Mercedes 35 PS.

Among the other successes at Nice Week in 1901 was Werner’s victory in the Nice–Salon–Nice endurance race over 392 kilometres on 25 March, in which he clocked up an average speed of 58.1 km/h. This went down in history as the first ever racing victory by a Mercedes motorcar. In the mile race on the Promenade des Anglais, Werner attained a top speed of 86.1 km/h for the flying-start kilometre. And finally, in the record-breaking attempts which also formed part of the five-day event, Claude Loraine-Barrow set a new world record for one mile from a standing start, averaging 79.7 km/h in a Mercedes 35 PS.

At a stroke, these successes established Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft as the leading manufacturer of sporty and luxurious motorcars. Jellinek proved adept at translating the given potential into successful sales. During Nice Week of 1901 he had Werner parade the winning vehicle in front of the assembled spectators, now fitted out as a four-seater vehicle with an additional rear bench. This had the desired effect of numerous orders for the businessman. Additional racing triumphs, such as in the Semmering race in September 1901, further underscored the Mercedes vehicle’s potential. Thus began Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft’s success story as a business enterprise, too.

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