The three-pointed star. Whether it appears as a hood ornament or a fisted-sized logo bulging out of an SUV’s grille, the Mercedes-Benz emblem is instantly recognizable — and rightfully so. Mercedes can trace its origins back to the first modern automobile, and it’s made just about every type of vehicle imaginable. From luxury sedans to humble taxis, and from trucks to Formula One race cars, Mercedes has done it all. Out of the myriad of models to wear the three-pointed star, here are the best Mercedes-Benz cars of all time.
Although it technically predates the creation of the Mercedes-Benz brand, the Benz Patent Motorwagen is the genesis of Mercedes, and the modern car in general. In 1888, Bertha Benz, wife of the car’s creator, Carl Benz, drove it from Mannheim to Pforzheim, Germany. The trip proved that internal-combustion automobiles could be practical. The rest, as they say, is history.
The SSK took to the track in the late 1920s and 1930s, helping to establish Mercedes’ reputation as a builder of performance cars. The car was an evolution of the Mercedes-Benz S (for “Sport”) with a short wheelbase intended to make it more competitive in hill climbs. The SSK won plenty of those, as well as the famous Italian Mille Miglia. Today, original cars are rare collectibles, prompting numerous companies to make SSK replicas. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?
The initials “SLR” stand for “Sport Leicht Rennen” or “Sport Light Racing” in English, and that encapsulates this world-beating race car. The SLR was unleashed in 1955 as Mercedes was still rebuilding from World War II. British driving legend Stirling Moss famously drove it to victory at the famous Italian Mille Miglia race, but the SLR’s career was short. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year, Pierre Levegh’s SLR plowed into the grandstand, killing Levegh and dozens of spectators in the deadliest catastrophe in motor-sport history.
The 300 SL is the road car that jumpstarted Mercedes after World War II, and today it’s arguably the brand’s most iconic vehicle. A powerful inline-six engine and racing pedigree helped, but what cemented that iconic status are the roof-hinged “Gullwing” doors. They were actually necessary because the SL’s spaceframe chassis didn’t leave enough room for conventional doors, and they became the car’s signature element.
Launched in 1963, the 600 was Mercedes’ attempt to take on the likes of Rolls-Royce and Cadillac with a money-no-object car. Much like today’s S-Class, the 600 emphasized luxury and gadgetry over cost and reliability. For example, where other automakers used electronics to operate things like power windows, the 600 used hydraulics. Today, the 600 is probably best known as the preferred car of dictators, giving it a somewhat controversial legacy.
To create this cult-classic sports sedan, Mercedes applied the American muscle-car formula, using the biggest engine available to increase performance. After being teased for developing boring cars by a journalist, engineer Erich Waxenberger put the 6.3-liter V8 from the 600 into the smaller SEL body. The result was the fastest sedan of its time, and the prototype for Mercedes’ current line of AMG performance models.
Also known as the Gelandewagen (or G-Wagen, for short), the G-Class is a true automotive oddity. Originally developed as a military vehicle, it became the SUV of choice for adventurous rich people, as well as the Pope. The original design stayed in production for 38 years, and was well liked for its old-school feel and off-road capability. Mercedes embellished the G-Wagen with everything from AMG performance versions, to a “Landaulet” convertible, to a version with six wheels. The redesigned G-Class, which hits showrooms for the 2019 model year, has a lot to live up to.
This performance version of Mercedes’ 190E compact sedan certainly wins the prize for most unwieldy name. Those numbers refer to the 2.3-liter (later upgraded to 2.5-liter), 16-valve four-cylinder engine developed with help from racing firm Cosworth that was at the heart of this car. Developed to take on the BMW M3, the 190E 2.3-16 earned an impressive tally of victories in German touring car racing.
The SLS sports car was the first vehicle built from the ground up by Mercedes’ AMG performance division. The coupe featured Gullwing doors as an homage to the 1950s 300SL, but Mercedes also offered a convertible for buyers seeking something less ostentatious. A brawny 6.2-liter V8 gave the SLS a muscular, old school character. Mercedes made an electric version as well — with 751 horsepower!
The AMG GT was the successor to the SLS AMG, and in many ways it’s a more grown-up car. Mercedes nixed the Gullwing doors, made the car smaller, and swapped in a more fuel-efficient 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8. The result is one of the most well rounded sports cars currently on sale, offering thrilling performance and impressive road manners.
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