I made a flying visit to Stuttgart last week and, with 90min to spare before check-in at the airport, made a quick tour of the extraordinary Mercedes museum. The display of vehicles runs from some of the very first automobiles to one of Mercedes’ most recent concept sculptures.
I was lucky enough to have one of Mercedes’ own tour guides to take me through what is a basically a continuous historic display. You enter the museum and take a lift up to the top of the building, where the story of Mercedes-Benz begins. A continuous downhill ramp around the outside edge of the building allows the visitor to descend down the years up to the present day, passing through two extraordinary displays of historic race cars.
You could easily spend a day in this place and, according to the guide, there’s a total of 42 hours of recorded information on the museum’s portable headsets, so you could spend five eight-hour days here, being talked around every single exhibit. Our tour guide seemed (very politely) to insist that Daimler, Benz and Maybach had, between them, done most motorised things first.
I was surprised to see Daimler claiming to have invented the motorcycle. The 1885 Reitwagen - or Riding car - was a collaboration between Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach and was a kind of test bed for their compact internal combustion engine - which also claimed to be the first ‘gasoline-engined’ vehicle.
Apparently, the single-cylinder, 0.264-litre, engine was good for 0.5bhp at 600rpm and would propel this Riding wagon at 8mph. A slightly bigger version of the engine was used in Reich Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s Daimler motorboat ‘Marie’. Apparently Daimler did quite well out of his motorboats. The 2bhp version of the engine was even used in an 1888 airship.
At the other end of the spectrum, the museum houses a couple of celebrity-related exhibits, including the 1991 SL that the Princess of Wales used, until she was forced to hand it back to Mercedes because of protests that she should be driving a British car. (You might remember she had to swap it for the then-current Jaguar XJ Cabrio with the T-bar roof).
My favourite, because it seems so far from Mercedes' inherent seriousness, was the 600 stretch limo. The guide pointed out that the interior had been fitted with switchable red/orange lighting. Apparently, the 600’s green-tinted windows meant that when the celebrity occupants were photographed by the paps of the day, they ended up with a rather peculiar skin tone. The tinted lighting, which was switched on as the photographers appeared, provided an automatic colour correction to give the celebs a proper skin tone in the pictures.
In truth, a couple of days in Stuttgart - including a trip to the nearby James Stirling-design Staats gallery - has got to be worth considering.
And as a quick auto-cultural quiz, which old car TV advert featured the Staats gallery?