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Mercedes-Benz: A History of Innovation

Mercedes-Benz: A History of Innovation

It was in 1886 that Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler invented the automobile independently of one another. Then, in 1894, Daimler’s engine equipped the winning car in what is recognised as the first ever motor race, from Paris to Rouen. Seven years later, in March 1901, the first ever ‘Mercedes’ made its race debut at the Nice Speed Weeks.

Ever since the founding days of the company that later became Mercedes-Benz, technology and innovation have been at its core. It therefore comes as no surprise that predecessors of the technologies crucial to the 2014 Power Unit have played their part in the company’s illustrious motorsport history…

Pressure Charging

Based on technology developed for aircraft engines, the first pressure-charged Daimler racing cars – using superchargers rather than today’s turbocharger – made their debut in the 1922 Targa Florio. Having acknowledged an opportunity to participate in the ‘voiturette’ class, the 1.6 litre 6/25 hp supercharged car that had recently been unveiled in Berlin was modified to fit with the 1.5 litre regulations. So effective was the result that this engine would become the standard for all Mercedes-Benz racing engines into the 1950s.

The high performance supercharged engine was fitted to two cars taking the start at the Targa Florio where, despite a less than satisfying result, the 6/40/65 hp Mercedes established a line of supercharged racing cars which would achieve remarkable success and global recognition.

Just two years later, Chief Designer Ferdinand Porsche developed a car for the 1924 Targa Florio – based on the top-10 finishing Indianapolis 500 contender from 1923 – which took victory in the 540 km race. It was even painted red – rather than traditional German white – to avoid local spectators hurling rocks at it!

The following year saw the last racing car produced by Daimler before its merger with Benz; the Model K Racing Touring Car. This powerful supercharged Mercedes was the foundation for the legendary family of supercharged cars from Mercedes-Benz; the S, SS, SSK and SSKL.

Direct Injection

In similar fashion to the supercharger, the concept of direct fuel injection had its roots in aeronautical engineering before being proven for the road through Mercedes racing programmes.

Daimler-Benz began experimenting with petrol injection in 1934, but it was not until the early 1950s that Daimler-Benz aircraft engineers Scherenberg and Göschel combined their expertise in the field to make use of direct injection for the forthcoming 300SL.

Despite the challenges of applying the concept to far smaller engines, the push to convert this aircraft technology to the road ultimately bore fruit, as the experimental engine outperformed its carburetted rivals in tests to become the motor of choice for 1953 Mercedes competition race cars.

The 3.0 litre straight-six engine proved an instant hit; the 300SL taking second and fourth place in its first outing – the 1952 Mille Miglia – followed by victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Eifelrennen. In keeping with the Mercedes tradition of using the race track as a proving ground, the 300SL went on to become the first production sports car to use direct injection.

After proving its worth in sports car racing, direct injection was naturally incorporated into the advanced design of the M 196 engine that powered both the W 196 R Formula One car to two World Championships and the 300 SLR to the 1955 world sportscar championship.

Hybrid Power

The term ‘KERS’ entered the world of Formula One in 2009, but the association between hybrid technology and motorsport stretches back over a century for Mercedes-Benz.

The early experiments of Daimler chief engineer Wilhelm Maybach focused on combining the gasoline engine with alternative drive technologies in the early 1900s, but the company’s first true hybrid came from a chief engineer with an equally famous name: Ferdinand Porsche.

Porsche had already designed an electric motor for wheel hub installation in 1897, which was fitted to the Lohner-Porsche of 1900. Relying on the Lohner-Porsche system, the Mercedes Mixte employed a serial hybrid drive incorporating a gasoline engine and a dynamo that converted the energy of the engine into electric energy; subsequently supplying power to two wheel hub motors on the rear axle.

To demonstrate its performance, Porsche developed a Mixte race car before the end of 1907, with a 30/55 hp engine powering the generator and wheel hub motors that transferred the electric energy to the road. The car was scheduled to start the 1907 Taunus Race but was too badly damaged during practice to race. 102 years later, the Mercedes-Benz KERS Hybrid system powered Lewis Hamilton to the first ever Hybrid Formula One victory at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.

The lessons learned during development of the high-power-density F1 KERS Hybrid flowed directly into the technology at the heart of the SLS AMG Coupé Electric Drive. The battery solution for the all-electric supercar was developed with Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains in Brixworth, delivered 740 hp as well as an incredible 1,000 Nm of torque and set a new benchmark for energy density; as well as a 7:56 record lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife!

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