Safety milestones of Mercedes-Benz

|     Izah Azahari     |

THE origins of Mercedes-Benz safety development are as old as the car itself. Safe operation of their revolutionary inventions was important even to automotive pioneers Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. For the first third of the 20th century, however, systematic research on this topic was missing – even at the then Daimler-Benz AG.

This changed 80 years ago as the company from Stuttgart employed engineer Béla Barényi. He presented his seven visions of a safe car of the future in a convincing job interview. On August 1, 1939 he took over the newly formed department for safety development.

In 1966 Barényi, together with the newly appointed Mercedes-Benz development executive Hans Scherenberg, designed the allocation of active and passive vehicle safety, which still applies today: passive safety stands for design-specific solutions that protect people from the effects of an accident. Active safety is different. This uses systems that intervene in driving style in a supportive manner in order to limit the severity of an accident or to avoid it altogether.

Over the course of his career at Mercedes-Benz, Béla Barényi registered around 2,500 patents between 1939 and 1972, most of which relate to innovations for vehicle safety. In recognition of his groundbreaking work, he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame (AHOF) in Dearborn, Michigan (USA) in 1994. And so, 25 years ago, a chapter in the history of Mercedes-Benz passive safety was closed.

Since the beginning of the 2000s, both types of safety development have been blended into the Mercedes-Benz concept of integral safety. The brand is continuously driving vehicle safety for the future. In particular, this includes the intuitive and intelligent technologies of the Intelligent Drive concept.

In 1959, the safety-enhanced body of the ‘fintail’ saloon of the W 111 model series celebrated its world premiere. Photo shows a Mercedes-Benz 220 SE. – MERCEDES-BENZ DAIMLER

The many innovations for Mercedes-Benz passive safety would not be possible without the research of the brand on this topic. For example, 60 years ago, on 10 September 1959, systematic accident tests with complete vehicles (‘crash tests’) began at the Sindelfingen plant, which were refined further and further.

As far back as 1956, Mercedes-Benz tested individual vehicle components for their behaviour in an accident with acceleration carriages. And, for 50 years, findings from real traffic accidents have also been incorporated into the comprehensive safety development of Mercedes-Benz products: since 1969, the accident research department has been analysing and reconstructing such collisions.

The Stuttgart company also takes part in global research projects for vehicle safety. For example, this includes the Experimental Safety Vehicles (ESV) programme from the 1970s. Various research vehicles are created at Mercedes-Benz under the name Experimental-Sicherheitsfahrzeug (ESF).

For example, in the ESF 24 from 1974 based on the S-Class of the 116 model series, among other things, trailblazing innovations in passive safety were tested – such as belt force limiters and airbags (premiering in 1981 in the S-Class of the 126 model series) as well as seats with integral seat belt anchorage (premiering in 1989 in the SL of the 129 model series).

The first Barényi project at Mercedes-Benz was a test vehicle with a new kind of floor assembly. This platform frame not only offered extra comfort thanks to a significant reduction in so-called shaking vibrations, but also significantly better protection against side impact than the earlier X oval tubular frame.

As the head of the body test department, single vehicle construction and numerous assembly departments, Karl Wilfert was responsible for the solutions for vehicle safety developed in Sindelfingen. On April 23, 1949 he registered a patent for the conical-pin safety door lock.

This was an important step towards the wedge-pin door lock with two safety catches, which keeps doors closed even in an accident and therefore ensures the full stability of the passenger compartment. It was registered for a patent in 1958. In the same year, Mercedes-Benz offered seat belts for all vehicles with individual front seats – but a legal requirement for seat belts was only introduced in Germany in 1976.

A milestone in passive safety stems from an idea of Béla Barényi’s at the start of the 1950s: A passenger car body that absorbs the kinetic energy generated in a collision by deforming at the front or rear ends in a targetted, predefined manner and therefore, in combination with a rigid centre cell, protects the passengers as much as possible.

The concept was registered for a patent in 1951 and was realised for the first time as a safety-enhanced body from September 1959 in the series production of the Mercedes-Benz ‘fintail’ luxury saloon of the W 111 model series. The colloquial term ‘crumple zone’ is established for the defined deformable areas on the front and rear.