The history of Mercedes Benz
Amongst the elite group of manufacturers whose products have shaped our modern world is Mercedes Benz. 125 years ago, Karl Benz is widely credited as having pioneered the earliest automobile. The 1886 ‘Benz Patent Motor Car’ marked a departure from the tradition of converted carriages to an independent integral design and was to herald the end of the age of the horse and the beginnings in a revolution in transport which has reverberated through to the Vitos and Sprinters we drive today.
The iconic three pointed star of the German manufacturer was originally intended to convey a principle of ‘universal motorisation’ where the internal combustion engine would triumph ‘on land, on water and in the air’. In other words the motor car was conceived as a machine that would pervade every aspect of our lives, an ambition which would logically lead to the development of the first commercial vehicles.
At the very beginnings of motor vehicle design, it is difficult to determine what could be called the first van – but the credit for the invention that would most easily fall into the category today is again largely given to Benz, with his ‘combination delivery vehicle’.
In 1896 Benz fitted a box body on the frame of his ‘Velo’ car to effectively create the world’s first panel van. The payload of the four-wheeled vehicle, including the driver, amounted to 300kg, compared to the present payload of the largest contemporary Mercedes Vito coming in at 1,180kg, and its single-cylinder engine developed 1.8hp – rather less than you’d expect from the top of the line Vito today, whilst it could achieve speeds of around 20 to 30km/h.
After some tinkering with the design, a larger, 5-cylinder version was introduced a year later which was capable of carrying 300kg plus two people, and 400kg from 1898, offering a much greater cargo area than its predecessor with an engine that went up to 4.4kW by 1898.
In with the new
A full 115 years from its first effort Mercedes Benz is still looking to improve upon van design with the revamped Vito. Last year saw the introduction of a new vehicle in the range with a redesigned chassis, a front end makeover which brings together the style of the company’s passenger cars with the sturdier look you’d expect from a commercial vehicle, and Euro5 engines across the range. In practice, what is provided is an engine which claims to be 15% more fuel efficient whilst also achieving the tricky balancing act of boasting more torque and power. Further reductions are also possible with the Blue Efficiency package.
One innovation that Karl Benz could not have envisaged in his wildest dreams is the advent of EPS, or electronic stability programme. The system is designed to control sideways movement in the event of swerving and Mercedes has decided to do the decent thing and fit what is one of the most significant advances in safety in recent years onto all of its models.
We recently had the privilege of a demonstration of the system at the manufacturer’s impressive Mercedes Benz World facility at the legendary Brooklands race track. Hurtling high speed towards traffic cones with a professional driver at the wheel, all for him to violently swerve at the last minute, is a dramatic if somewhat stomach churning demonstration of its value. The ESP simply takes over and controls the sideways movement.