The grill of a car was born as a technical need but evolved as an aesthetic seal. the of Mercedes Benzemblematic in the automotive world, celebrates 120 years of evolution.
Recognizable by the traditional three-pointed star (earth, water and air), the face of the German brand’s cars advanced to the current range of electric models, which do not need the same cooling as the vehicles of the beginning of the last century.
It all started in 1900, when the German engineer Wilhelm Maybach installed a radiator with a honeycomb design in the tube of the Mercedes 35 PSmodel with which the feminine name of the brand was born, to solve the problem of cooling the internal combustion engine.
In that way, it enabled the production of vehicles that were not only more powerful but also more reliable. But he involuntarily he also managed to make the cars they will begin to identify themselves by the design of their grill.
As the radiator was front and center of the vehicle, it had an immediate impact on the brand image. A new era had begun.
In the first 40 years of automobile history, the radiator had a purely practical function. Initially, automakers didn’t see it as a hallmark of a brand.
The individual design was largely in the creative hands of the coachbuilders, who also liked to experiment with the shape of the radiator, from opulent curves to streamlined, aviation-inspired designs.
Technique that became aesthetic
Cooling the engine was one of the biggest challenges in the early days of the car. existed the need for an efficient cooling system capable of operating in a closed circuit.
One of the first solutions was the tubular radiator invented by Maybach in 1897. It consisted of a water tank with pipes that ran from front to back, through which the air flowed as the car moved forward.
A crankshaft-driven fan allowed the cooling system to continue running even when the engine was throttling. It was the tubular radiator that facilitated more powerful engines.
The big breakthrough came in 1900, with the honeycomb radiator on the Mercedes 35 PS. consisted of more than 8,000 small tubes with a square cross section of about 6 millimeters per side.
The larger frontal area and increased airflow offered by the square tubes delivered significantly more cooling power. The 35 hp engine of the first Mercedes only needed nine liters of water instead of the previous 18. A year and a series of improvements later, it was reduced to just 7 litres.
From honeycomb to black panel
Until the mid-1930s, virtually all mass-production automobiles they had a similar radiator designwith slight variations between flat and pointed.
The radiator grille with the distinctive vertical crease down the middle appeared in 1911 and allowed for a slightly larger cooling surface. However, because it was more complicated to produce, it was largely reserved for vehicles with powerful engines.
The big change came in 1931, with the arrival of the Mercedes-Benz 170. For the first time, the radiator was mounted with protection behind a grille. The new component became part of the hood. Their shapes were based on those of the radiator itself. But it was also complemented by a wide chrome frame, which gave a message of quality and elegance.
What also distinguished the cars of the German brand was the unmistakable star, which in many cases appeared more than once on the nose.
Subsequently, the chrome grille became one of the most recognizable features of the brand. Mercedes-Benz designers tread carefully and only very gradual adaptations to its overall shape were made until the 1960s.
brand grill grew in width and lowered in height. That approach sought to convey more power and presence. However, it was also a function of the tendency to lower the hood to improve aerodynamics and thus efficiency.
In the 1950s, the legendary 300 SL “Gullwing” and 190 SL roadster received a modern alternative known internally as the “sports car face”.
A big star Mercedes was mounted in front of the wide, shallow grille opening and flanked by horizontal chrome fins. This design became the hallmark of the company’s sports cars and roadsters.
Models from the 1990s and 2000s had the front end of Mercedes cars changed to a sportier appearance. The entry into new market segments with models such as Class A and Class B, SUVs, more convertibles, coupes and roadsters generated new design variants.
Numerous variants of the ‘sports car face’, with or without distinctive horizontal fins, made their way into more model ranges, underlining the brand’s new, more performance-oriented direction.
In 2007 came the decision with the C-Class (W 204) of leave the choice to the customer. Depending on the equipment line, the classic (Classic and Elegance) or sporty (Avantgarde) grille adorned the front of the car. The concept was extended to the E-Class and is still applied to both model ranges today.
While battery electric driving means a radiator is no longer required at the front of the vehicle, the need for air intakes remains.
However, designers are free to place them elsewhere, opening up the opportunity to create a completely new front end design. That’s what Mercedes has done with its range of electric cars.
Instead of the grill there is a black panel that has a star in the center and that connects with the headlights through a horizontal band of light.
As well as being visually distinctive, this black panel offers the perfect surface for the integration of a variety of elements that are essential for the automated driving of the future, such as ultrasonic sensors, cameras and radars.