The radiator grille, once a functional object, later part of brand faces and future sensor carriers: Mercedes shows the evolution of the "grille" over the course of time.
Almost every car manufacturer uses the front end of their models to give their cars a "face". The grill between the headlights has the greatest importance, technically and stylistically.
But initially the focus was on the technical task of the grill. In 1900, Wilhelm Maybach installed his "honeycomb cooler" in the Mercedes 35 hp, thereby solving the cooling problem of the combustion engine. The automotive pioneer and designer from Heilbronn could hardly have imagined that this shape with a central grille and the flanking headlights in the broadest sense would still exist 120 years later.
From 1911 with a kink in the grille
Three years before the grille was emblazoned on the 35 hp, Maybach was experimenting with a cooler that consisted of a flat water tank with open tubes running through it. Wind flowed through them, and when idling, a fan flanged onto the motor shaft provided cooling. This made the further development of the honeycomb cooler possible, which then consisted of more than 8,000 square tubes with a side length of six millimeters. They were soldered together to form a rectangular radiator with an integrated reservoir. A fan behind the radiator improved temperature regulation at low speeds. The 35 hp engine of the first Mercedes only needed nine liters of water; previously it was 18 liters. A year and numerous improvements later, it was only seven liters.
In 1911, the grille with the distinctive kink in the middle was created, which increased the cooling surface and dominated the Mercedes fronts until 2010. But as early as 1931, the cooler was no longer directly in the airflow, but was protected behind a grille. That was when the grill was born as a design object with a chrome frame, Mercedes badge and radiator mascot. As a result, the chrome grille became a central identifier of the brand. Up until the 1960s, the designers at Mercedes-Benz only cautiously adapted them to the general change in shape. Then the Mercedes-Benz radiator grilles grew in width and at the same time became lower.
Sports car face and F1 nose
The 50s also produced the so-called sports car face. A second, independent form, which the 300 SL Gullwing and the 190 SL carried. Here the central Mercedes star appeared in a wide and flat grille with chrome brackets on the right and left. This shape as a distinctive feature of Mercedes sports cars and roadsters established itself over the coming decades.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the grill had to adapt to the new Mercedes models - the A and B classes were added in a new segment, as were the SUVs and other convertibles, coupés and roadsters. The face of the sports car changed with and without slats, and there was even one design exception: the Formula 1 nose on the second-generation SLK and the SLR McLaren.
Grill design as an equipment index
The introduction of the grills in 2007, which symbolized the different equipment, proved to be groundbreaking. It all started with the C-Class (204 series) and the subsequent E-Class – the equipment lines “Classic”, “Elegance” and “Avantgarde” can still be recognized today by the shape of the radiator.
As in the model portfolio, the G-Class has an exceptional position with its grill. Round headlights flank a grill with a central star and horizontal slats, while the AMG version from Mercedes presents the Panamericana grill. And the Maybach models are also allowed to step out a little from the history of the grill and are reminiscent of a pinstripe suit with vertical three-dimensional decorative strips.
With the start of electromobility, the radiator grille in the classic sense has had its day. Instead, it merges into a front object that combines technology and design. The EQ models from Mercedes come in different forms with the black panel grille with a central star. At the same time, ultrasonic, camera, radar and lidar sensors are implemented in the front, which feed the assistance systems with data and enable automated driving.
The evolution of the Mercedes radiator grille impressively shows the technical and stylistic development of the brand - from the cooling element to the sensor carrier, from the status chrome grille to the technocratic style object.