Béla Barényi was a visionary engineer. He worked for Daimler from 1939 to 1974. During his time there, he initiated over 2,500 registered patents, a large number of which were related to automobile safety. In fact, he was the one to invent crumple zones, a principle of automotive safety which has now been incorporated into car designs all across the world.
Automotive safety seems to be one of the most pressing issues at hand today. News feeds, social media streams and newspaper articles are abuzz with chatter about how some of our favourite cars have been deemed useless in the event of a crash, or with suggestions about making our roads and cars safer. The important answers come in the form of the latest, albeit sometimes basic safety technology and equipment being added to cars rolling out from manufacturers' assembly lines.
However, an important chapter in the history of vehicle safety began 75 years ago, with the arrival of Barényi at the then Daimler-Benz AG. Ever since then, Mercedes-Benz has had an enduring influence on safety development. Many of the company's innovations, particularly in the field of protection for vehicle occupants and other road users, have saved countless human lives over the years.
To mark this anniversary, Mercedes-Benz invited past and present members of the safety development team, representing different eras of vehicle safety, to the 'Legendenhalle' (Hall of Legends) in Böblingen. This enthralling look back over the first 75 years of providing protection for vehicle occupants and other road users brought together a lot of Barényi's colleagues, some of them who had known Barényi personally.
"Every innovation needs creative engineers who, like Barényi, are bold enough to question the status quo and to break new ground," emphasised Professor Dr Thomas Weber, the Daimler AG Board of Management member responsible for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. "Our declared aim at Mercedes-Benz is to retain and extend our role as trendsetters in the field of vehicle safety and, by doing so, to continue to improve road safety", said Professor Rodolfo Schöneburg, Head of Vehicle Safety at Mercedes-Benz Cars. "And we are a long way off running out of ideas in this respect. We are currently, for example, concentrating on reducing the strain on the upper torso in a side-on collision."
Here is a brief history of how Mercedes-Benz has made their cars safer over the years:
Mercedes-Benz safety timeline
1900 Wilhelm Maybach develops the Mercedes 35 HP as a vehicle with exemplary road safety. Contributing factors are the long wheelbase, low centre of gravity, the engine bolted to the frame and the wide track.
1921 The Mercedes 28/95 HP is equipped with front-wheel brakes. The other passenger car models from DMG (Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft) and Benz & Cie. follow suit in 1923/24.
1931 The Mercedes-Benz 170 (W 15) is the first series production automobile with a hydraulic braking system and independent front and rear suspension with swing axles.
1941 Patent No. 742 977 of February 23, 1941 for the platform frame developed by Béla Barényi.
1945 Béla Barényi develops the vehicle studies "Concadoro" and "Terracruiser" in 1945 and the following years. Both studies are among the most important works leading up to the safety body with cell construction.
1949 Patent No. 827 905 of April 23, 1949 for the conical-pin safety door lock.
1952 Patent No. 854 157 of February 28, 1952 for the safety body with rigid passenger cell and crumple zones. Implemented in series production in the Mercedes-Benz W 111 model series in 1959.
1954 Single-joint pendulum axle with low pivot point in the Mercedes-Benz 220 on the W 180 model series.
1958 Patent No. 1 089 664 of July 2, 1958 for the wedge-pin door lock. Market launch as standard equipment in the "Fintail" models in 1959.
1959 Start of systematic crash testing and the use of dummies.
1959 Debut of the Mercedes-Benz W 111 model series ("Fintail") with safety body, softened interior and wedge-pin door lock.
1961 Gradual introduction of disc brakes and dual-circuit braking system in the passenger car range.
1966 Hans Scherenberg and Béla Barényi draft the classification into active and passive safety that will remain valid until the introduction of PRE-SAFE®.
1967 Safety steering system with telescopic steering column and impact absorber across the entire Mercedes-Benz passenger car range
1971 An entire package of active and passive safety measures premiere in the Mercedes-Benz SL of the 107 model series: collision-safe fuel tank above the rear axle, thickly padded instrument panel, deformable or recessed switches and levers, four-spoke safety steering wheel with impact absorber and wide padded boss, newly developed wind deflector profiles on the A-pillars, large tail lamps with ribbed surface profile for extensive resistance to soiling.
1976 The "safety steering shaft for motor vehicles" patented by Béla Barényi in 1963 debuts in the Mercedes-Benz W 123 model series designed as a collapsible steering column.
1978 The second generation of the ABS anti-lock braking system debuts in the S-Class of the W 116 model series. Mercedes-Benz presented a first version not yet ready for series production as early as 1970. Starting in 1980, ABS is now present in all model series.
1979 The Mercedes-Benz S-Class of the W 126 model series takes account of asymmetric frontal collisions with a forked-member structure of the front end.
1981 The world's first driver airbag in the S-class. Mercedes-Benz has been engaged in research of this supplementary restraint system since 1968. Starting in 1982, the driver airbag is available in all model series, the passenger airbag follows in 1987, the side airbag in 1995.
1982 Multi-link rear suspension in the Mercedes-Benz 190 (W 201).
1989 The new SL Roadster models (R 129) make their debut with a belt system integrated into the seats, plus a rollover bar that pops up automatically if the vehicle appears to be on the verge of overturning.
1995 Rain sensor and xenon lights in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class of the 210 model series.
1995 Series introduction of the Electronic Stability Program ESP® in the S‑Class Coupé of the 140 model series.
1996 Mercedes-Benz introduces the world's first BAS Brake Assist system into series production.
1997 The sandwich floor of the W 168 model series A-Class causes the engine to glide under the passenger cell in a front-end collision.
1998 The windowbag premieres as an optional extra in the Mercedes-Benz S‑Class.
1999 Premiere of DISTRONIC proximity control.
1999 The ABC (Active Body Control) active suspension debuts in the CL coupé of the C 215 model series.
1999 Bi-xenon headlamps as standard equipment in the CL coupé of the 215 model series.
2001 Head/thorax side airbags in the SL Roadsters from Mercedes-Benz.
2002 PRE-SAFE® preventive occupant protection system in the Mercedes‑Benz S-Class, subsequently gradually introduced in the other model series.
2003 Active light function with bi-xenon headlamps (E-Class 211 model series).
2005 The Integral Safety Concept of Mercedes-Benz combines the various systems of active and passive safety.
2005 Mercedes-Benz introduces various safety systems in the S-Class of the W 211 model series, for example, DISTRONIC PLUS, Brake Assist BAS PLUS and Night View Assist.
2006 The Intelligent Light System ensures perfect light distribution on the road in line with the driving situation (in the E-Class of the 211 model series).
2006 Premiere of the PRE-SAFE® brake as an optional extra in the CL coupé of the 216 model series.
2007 Premiere of Blind Spot Assist as an optional extra in the S-Class and CL‑Class.
2009 Premiere of ATTENTION ASSIST in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class of the 212 model series.
2009 Crosswind stabilisation debuts in the revised Mercedes-Benz S-Class of the 221 model series as an additional function of Active Body Control (ABC). The torque vectoring brake also premieres in series production.
2010 World premiere of Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist in the CL-Class (C 216) and S-Class (W 221).
2011 Introduction of the radar-based assistance system COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST in the B-Class (as standard).
2013 New assistance systems and systems with several new key functions (DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist and Stop&Go Pilot, BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus, Night View Assist Plus, ATTENTION ASSIST) in the S-Class. New PRE‑SAFE® functions (PRE-SAFE® Brake, PRE-SAFE®PLUS, PRE-SAFE® Impulse), improved protection in the rear compartment (seat belt buckle extender, belt bag).
2013 Mercedes-Benz puts Car-to-X communication on the road.
2014 The QR code sticker, which gives the emergency services direct access to a vehicle-specific rescue card becomes available as a retrofit option for older Mercedes-Benz models as well.
2014 The enhanced assistance system COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST PLUS system is introduced in the compact class model family. This extends the functionality of COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST by the addition of autonomous braking to reduce the risk of rear-end collisions.