This is how Mercedes accumulated test data back in the day.
The Mercedes-Benz Museum is a must-see for die-hard fans of the brand. The German automaker has filled all nine levels of the building with extraordinary displays, made up of rare models, race cars, concepts, and pristine classics. But while visitors may go to catch a glimpse of Stirling Moss's 300 SLR or see Princess Diana's 500 SL, there are always a few unlikely treats museum-goers aren't prepared for.
With its rich history of safety and innovation, Mercedes-Benz needed support vehicles in order to conduct extensive vehicle evaluations. There was just one problem: development engineers in the testing department needed something fast, so the brand's trucks and vans wouldn't do. But it also needed to be large enough to carry all the measuring equipment. So, what to do? Well, Mercedes elected to construct a one-off model based on the famous 300 "Adenauer" luxury car, a stately limousine that the Mercedes-Benz S-Class can trace its roots back to.
From the front, the "Messwagen" - translated to measuring car in English - looks like your typical classic Mercedes. But from the B-pillar onwards, the styling changes dramatically. Resembling a station wagon, the elongated rear end stretches out rather elegantly, meeting the rear end in a fashionable-for-the-50s fintail. The expansive rear glass flows into the roof, almost providing a panoramic view. A rather neat design touch is the rear exhaust tips, which are integrated into the rear bumper.
Inside, the plush innards of the original car have been replaced by a sparse yet practical work area. Despite the large interior dimensions, it looks rather cramped back there. Two wicker-backed chairs were all engineers received in the way of comfort. Testing and measuring equipment takes up the bulk of the room. Despite the hefty additions, the 160-horsepower straight-six rolling laboratory could reach speeds of up to 75 mph.
Cables attached to the test subject sent information to the Mercedes 300. This allowed engineers to evaluate prototypes in handling tests, with the measuring car following at a distance and receiving data from the test car's shock absorbers, for example. Data was recorded in the Adenauer Mercedes, on magnetic tape, and evaluated later.
To power the devices onboard, a generator was fitted to supply them with electricity, adding considerable weight to an already hefty car. Of course, a radio link between the 300 and prototypes allowed for communication between drivers. Incredibly, Mercedes-Benz continued to use the car well into the 1970s, before it was retired.
Thankfully, someone had the common sense to preserve it, allowing it to be displayed in the museum for all to see. With modern technology, vehicle testing and development have become far more streamlined, with new cars having to battle extremely cold climates and pass stringent safety tests before receiving the stamp of approval. It's great to see how carmakers did it in the old days, though.