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About Mercedes-BenzGerman engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz formed Mercedes-Benz when they merged their companies in 1926. Forty years previously, in a remarkable coincidence, each man independently filed patents for what might be claimed as the first automobile. Benz designed a three-wheeled vehicle powered by a one-cylinder engine--and invented the spark plug--in 1886. In the same year, Daimler outfitted a four-wheel carriage with a single-cylinder engine of his own design.
The Mercedes name would become tied to Daimler indirectly, as part of a 1900 business deal. Emil Jellinek, a Daimler agent, contracted to sell the first 36 cars of a new Daimler sports car, contingent on, among other things, the car being named after his daughter.
M-B production facilities were decimated by the Allied bombing of Germany during World War II, but the company showed the world that it was still in business by producing a hand-built prototype 170V sedan by February, 1946--and had it in production by that June. The Le Mans-dominating 300SL race cars produced for 1952 would... View more gather international attention, spawning a production version by 1955 that would be the fastest road-going car in the world. With its unmistakable gull wing doors, the 300SL became an immediate automotive icon and infused the Mercedes brand with a newfound sportiness that would be eagerly embraced by the American market. Today, market price for a Gullwing is around three-quarters of a million dollars, with some selling for even more.
A 300SL roadster would soon follow, along with a toned-down but similarly styled 190SL, which was produced until 1963. The SL "super light" line would develop over the coming decades into a very successful luxury tourer. Of the "Pagoda"-series cars, the final-year 1971 280SL cars are considered the most desirable, for their 2.8-liter power plant. The "Panzerwagen" R107-chassis SLs would remain in production for an astounding eighteen years, from late 1971 to 1989.
All Mercedes-Benz cars older than about 1972 were hand-built, and the company's reputation for quality and durability remained unchallenged into the 1980s. Through the 1990s, however, M-B faced stiff competition from Japanese automakers entering the luxury market with Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti brands. To compete with Japanese quality, M-B ramped up the luxury, adding features like power-assist trunks and headlight wipers.
In 1999, custom M-B tuning house AMG was acquired by Mercedes. AMG engines are hand-nutted and individually built, making AMG model cars the most expensive and highest-performers in the Mercedes-Benz line.
Mercedes debuted the small "M-Class" SUV in 1997, and since 2006 has offered a full-sized crossover "GL-Class" SUV. The G-Class "G-wagon" is a luxury SUV styled after the boxy vintage Mercedes-Benz military vehicle.
Among the smaller cars in the M-B lineup are the mid-size CLK-Class convertible and coupe, compact C-Class executive car, and the compact CLC-Class hatchback.
In 2007, Mercedes-Benz's J.D. Power ranking for initial quality jumped from 25th to 5th place--ahead of Toyota. In 2008, they managed to improve their ranking even further, to 4th place. View less
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