Monday, March 05, 2007

The Mercedes-Benz Museum, a post that's long overdue

So, I figure it's finally time for me to post something regarding architecture here, because, well, I am an architect, and it was one of the reasons I originally started this blog, as a way of documenting some of the places and buildings I've seen and experienced. So here goes.

As it happens, the Kraut and I had a little impromptu vacation around Christmas time. (yeah, it's been a while, sue me, I've been busy) Actually, a death in the family lead us to take a long plane ride to das Vaterland, and neither of us were wanting to make that return flight so soon after a funeral, so we stayed for two weeks with her folks and took in some sights along the way.
My father-in-law piped up one day and suggested a trip to the newly commissioned Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart. IF YOU ARE EVER THERE, DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND GO. Neat diversion.

All I can say is, "Wow!" The approach to the building is nice.

The edifice looks a bit like a deformed piston, the skewed, banded windows reminiscent of the ring grooves. In plan, it somewhat resembles a rotor in a Wankel engine, though this is far less evident once inside. The brochure that you get with a rather nifty electronic device that talks to you while one walks through the levels, in your choice of languages, makes a reference to the three-pointed-star trademark of Mercedes, symbolizing the motorization of land, air and water. The Reuleaux triangle that is the basis for the plan pays homage to this icon of motoring.

The lobby is straight out of Star Trek. Lots of concrete, steel and glass, in a huge atrium with well placed spotlights. Very imposing, but in a good way. The elevator cab and the ride are both way cool.

It takes you to the top floor, and I must admit that it was the smoothest ride I've ever had on an elevator. At the top, you step out on the opposite side of the car, into a lobby, where you can get oriented, and read a few instructions for use of your electronic narrator, complete with headphones. You then walk into the first exhibit area. The museum is setup in chronological order from top to bottom, so the first exhibit after your orientation session on level 8 is the Legends Room 01, the Pioneers , with exhibits on the antecedents to the automobile and the technological progression of important items, such as the internal combustion engine. On prominent display is the first automobile ever made, the Benz Patent Wagen. Below is the first internal combustion engine with an enclosed crankcase, called the Standuhr, or "Grandfather clock", claimed at the time as an important innovation for proofing the engine against debris.

1) 1886 Motorkutsche 2) the Grandfather Clock "Standuhr" single cylinder engine 3) Pic of single cylinder, horizontally opposed
two cylinder and four cylinder engines.
After the first exhibit area, you descend a gently sloping ramp, (or a neat staircase), similar to the Guggenheim, in New York, by Frank Lloyd Wright. I took the ramp exclusively, as the whole experience is more leisurely, and I must say that this is, from a user's point of view, a very nice way of not only dramatically staging the displays, but a very comfortable viewing experience. The ramp is easy on the legs, and it's a long way down to the bottom, especially when you're a gearhead who wants to take his time (and I did). The levels are typically broken up into two offset sections, with one area devoted to the history, legends and the innovations of the particular period and another with a display of the same period vehicles.

Winding down to Legend Room 2, Birth of the Brand, we see this display of early phaetons.

A random shot looking outside
As was the case with Ford automobiles of the same vintage, the coachwork was not supplied with the car, only a powered chassis, with the cab and passenger compartment being built by a third party, typically fitted to the carriage by cabinet makers (per Mercedes' info anyway). This group is roughly 1908-1910 vintage. All of these cars look hand built, as most of it was.

Here's that fancy stair that connects each floor. It really looks to me as if these stairs are there for the employees to move about easier from floor to floor, without getting in the way of the patrons, as the stairs tend to take the viewer through the rooms in the wrong order. They're all basically the same, but they do look cool.

Next, on level 3, Times of Change, is the 1939 320 Stromlinien-Limousine, a ridiculously lavish and powerful car for the time. It definitely took some styling cues from some of the planes and expertise in aviation in the company. Note the Art Deco detailing in the fender skirts, trunk and fenders.

I liked this poster in one of the ramp alcoves.

Lots of other stuff in this area, including a big section on aviation wares, and it definitely overlaps with a lot of the, er...unpleasantness of the time (1914-1945 including WWII), and they do it here with not a lot of PC, which was refreshing, to me at least, and stick to the factual stuff and accomplishments made by the engineers, who were forced to work on projects that were for the war machine (most knew what the eventualities were), and they carried these out with rigor, if nothing else, though not all of them wanted to.

I was particularly captivated by the aviation engines. The third one is an inverted, 2,070 cubic inch V-12 making 1,100HP.

Here's a shot some of the 30's era roadsters, with some closeups of the red job in the middle. Simply gorgeous.

I loved the white interior and rimmed gauges in black-on-white.

A neat cut-away of a supercharged straight six. Hard to believe the supercharger could do much other than raise the intake temperature with that weeny-looking intake manifold and 90-degree turn.

They have a great section on transporters and work vehicles as well. I prefer the vintage stuff myself. I like this Pritschenwagen, with real fenders and two-tone paint.

The overhung front end on these trucks looks funny, but it's a design that facilitates the tighter turns required by Europe's narrower roads, by reducing the off-tracking effect of the rear axle by way of it's shorter wheelbase.
Here is one of the first Unimogs. Me wants.

On level 5, Post War Miracle, we encounter the classic SL coupe and convertible, its original space frame chassis as well as a prepped racer (third pic).

The space frame was groundbreaking, as it was built almost entirely of small diameter steel tubing and triangulated to increase strength, while keeping its weight incredibly low. This did have the effect of raising the rocker height at the door sill which made ingress and egress rather difficult, hence the use of the gullwing doors on the coupe.

Level 4, 1960-1982 Visionaries, concentrates on things like safety and the environment, touting the company's innovations such as anti-lock brakes and crash protection as its major achievements. The technical stuff is pretty neat, but the vehicles of the period lack anything really notable. What this era does cover nicely is the post-war prosperity that Germany enjoyed, and the rapid expansion of industry and the affordability of transportation of the time. Most families could afford a car at this time, and automotive based vacations became the norm for many. The Autobahn grew rapidly due to obvious demand from motorists, and some folks took to watching the cars just go by on the highways from their perches on adjacent property. The collections area here has an array of vehicles that were previously owned by celebrities and famous people, notably Pope John Paul II's Gelendewagen with bullet-proof enclosure, and Princess Diana's wine-colored SL coupe. Nothing too notable here, but to each his own.

Level 3, From 1982 - Moving the world, has their collection of buses, wagons and cars, exactly like that you'd see on the road even today. Blah! The only thing I was particularly interested in was this Gelendewagen that Mercedes had driven around the world, presumably to show that they could do it, and on covered every continent, I think.

Level 2, Silver Arrows, covers the company's long history of racing and its vehicles.

I almost fell down when looking at these suspension attachments, to the gas tank, of this early F-style open wheel car. I forget it's vintage exactly, but early sixties seems about the right time frame. Whoever thought about using the gas tank as a stressed component was obviously attempting to cut down on redundant systems and save space and weight here, which given the context of this particular vehicle is tantamount to a death sentence for the driver, I think. The second pic is of a Sauber LeMans racer from about '90, with speed potential in excess of 220mph.

The V-10, F-1 race engine in a ramp alcove in this same area looked neat with what is presumably a molded kevlar intake.

Here are the early racers on sloped track-like display, with the next pic showing more of the modern fare with touring cars and Pikes Peak hill-climbers.

Working our way down, passed Level 1 at the ticket counter and lobby, to what is effectively the basement, Level 0, Fascination of Technology, they have a restaurant and bar that surrounds the experimental and prototype area adjacent to the Silver Arrows, and it seems that in my gawking, I missed taking pics of this area. Mea culpa. It also includes two halls, a club(these are Germans we're talking about here) a technology area and gift shops. I did grab a few shots of the tech and engineering stuff that caught my eye.

I was intrigued by the forging process used for these connecting rods and this assembly pan filled with these forgings with angle mounted caps. See the bolt heads and bosses at about 3 and 6 o'clock? I'm curious as to this configuration, but unfortunately, there weren't any powertrain engineers handy to do any 'splaining. My only guess here is that there is probably a method of tightening these with a torque-to-yield machine that measures how much the bolt stretches and by using this geometry on the rod, the ease of guiding the machinery for this action was substantially reduced, or something like that.

Here is a green sand mold for casting a cylinder head. I am extraordinarily interested in the process for producing this, as the design of a head is extremely difficult and has many compromises built into it. The powerband of the engine is tuned with combustion chamber size and shape, valve location and angle as well as port length, shape and volume. Chamber design needs to be tuned with the pumping characteristics of the rotating assembly and also accommodate fasteners, cooling passages, the valvetrain type and oiling. It also has a lot to do with the efficiency of the engine, as it has effects on the burning characteristics of the fuel/air mixture. Lots of stuff going on in the head, and there are passages that get cast into this thing that are labyrinthian to say the least. Neat to see this kind of esoterica, if only for us gearhead types. Below is their new seven-speed automatic, with its guts hanging out.

I was really quite fascinated with the whole thing, and really could have stayed for some more sights, but we had spent over 4 hours wandering through by this point, and we needed to get back home, so we decided to call it a day. On the way out of the museum, you encounter an array of their finest fair in the hardscape outside the door. The latest CL-Class coupe. That's 121,000 Euros, by the way. That's about 160,000 US dollars.
There you have it. I'm hoping to make it back some time in the next couple of years so I can camp out inside for the whole day, and read every history placard and maybe do some sketching. If you ever make it to Stuttgart, and automobiles make your blood pressure rise, I highly recommend taking a few hours and walking through it.

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Blogger NotClauswitz said...

Neat-O! I thought the BMW building in Muinch (we missed it) was supposed to be the kewlest, but I'm sure there's plenty of one-upsmanship between those two. Love the retro-rocketman elevator!
Here's a source for your future ranch equipment needs that goes well with a Swiss K-31, though I've always thought a deuce-and-a-half would be cool too.

11:06 AM  
Blogger theirritablearchitect said...

Gee, I'm going to have to excuse myself, I've a sudden urge to rub one...

Sorry 'bout that.

Neat. And the price doesn't seem too terribly high to me, either. I just need to be able to afford the property first, and the truck should be no problem. At least purchasing it shouldn't.

I'm kinda wondering if it's possible to get one of these things licensed for street duty on the US. Probably less of a concern in Wyoming, I'm thinking, but I'm not there yet.

1:50 PM  
Blogger NotClauswitz said...

A friend says that a buddy of his in Colorado has one, and I saw a "Wine Country" TV show wherein one winery takes people on tours with a couple of 'em. If they can register them in CA it's gotta work elsewhere.
Anyhow it's worth storing away for future use.

11:49 AM  

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