Speedometer: Mercedes-Benz Museum Inside No. 24/2021

Speedometer: Mercedes-Benz Museum Inside No. 24/2021
12.
February 2021
Stuttgart
  • Speed indication as monitoring instrument
  • Formerly an analogue dial, now part of the digital cockpit
  • “33 Extras”: Exhibits of motoring culture at the Mercedes-Benz Museum

Stuttgart. 160 vehicles and a total of 1,500 exhibits are presented in the varied permanent exhibition of the Mercedes-Benz Museum. The “33 Extras” are a particular highlight: they can bring the history of personal mobility and motoring culture to life using details that are often surprising. The Mercedes-Benz Museum Inside newsletter series draws attention to the “33 Extras” and focuses on their background stories. Today’s edition is all about the speedometer.

24/33: Speedometer

Moderate start: 16 km/h – that was the top speed of the world’s first car. Not exactly fast as lightning, even in 1886 – considering steam locomotives had already smashed the 100 km/h barrier decades before. However, Carl Benz’s Patent Motor Car still reached twice the speed of pedestrians, but the innovative vehicle nevertheless lacked a speedometer. There wasn’t much of a point. There were no statutory speed limits.

Sought-after extra: However, with the increasing popularity of the car, speedometers became available as optional equipment as fast cars were considered good cars. And it goes without saying that you’d want to know how good your own vehicle was. The speedometer on display as part of the Mercedes-Benz Museum’s “33 Extras” in Legend Room 3 “Times of Change – Diesel and Turbocharger” represents such optional equipment. Its gauge went up to 100 km/h.

Limit: Speed limits were not introduced until vehicles became increasingly faster. Initially these limits were adapted to the traffic situation before the age of the car. As of 1909, 15 km/h was the top speed in built-up areas throughout the German Reich, which corresponds to the speed of a trotting horse. From that point onwards, cars without speedometers were a thing of the past. Not only did vehicle drivers have to keep an eye on the road and traffic situation, they also had to check their speed.

Indication: Speedometers measure speed and indicate it as a numerical value. The German term for speedometer, “Tachometer”, is derived from the ancient Greek terms “tachýs”, denoting “fast”, and “métron”, meaning “dimension”. For decades, an analogue dial with a needle pointed to the corresponding dot or line on the scale. Digital speedometers have been around since the 1990s. They are more flexible and are capable of changing the way they show data. Regardless of the technology: speedometers always indicate a slightly higher speed than the actual speed the vehicle is travelling at – giving us all a bit of leeway on everyday journeys. This was prescribed by law to compensate for inaccuracies in speed measurements.

Integration: The speedometer had initially not been positioned in the driver’s field of vision. It had only been placed there since the 1950s. The scale highlights important values, such as the top speed in built-up areas, 50 km/h in Germany. The dial is the dominant design, but there were also other variants: for instance, the horizontal indicator in Mercedes-Benz W 180/W 128 model series “Ponton” Saloons (1954 to 1959) or the vertical indicator, lovingly called “thermometer” by aficionados, in W 111/W 112 model series “Tailfin” Saloons (1959 to 1965).

Monitoring: If you don’t keep an eye on the speedometer and exceed the speed limit, you may become familiar with an unpopular device which has been in use in Germany since 1959: colloquially known as the “speed trap”, it is a stationary or mobile type of speed monitoring device used to enforce the highway code. On display in Collection 3 – The Gallery of Helpers and also one of the “33 Extras” at the Mercedes-Benz Museum.

Preventive strategy: Cruise control or – even better – limiters can help avoid speeding infractions. Mercedes-Benz assumed a pioneering role with these assistance systems. Simply set the desired speed and cruise control will maintain it. The limiter will prevent acceleration beyond the defined limit.

Rotational movement: By the way, technically speaking the speedometer is a rev counter. It indicates how fast the wheels are spinning on the road. On a side note: most racing drivers do without a speedometer. They focus more on the engine speed and, for this reason, the corresponding display gauge has been positioned in their field of vision. However, they know exactly how fast they are going in fourth gear at 6,800 rpm, for example. Consequently, the dial in racing cars fulfils a dual purpose. Series-production vehicles feature a separate dial to indicate the engine speed.

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Speedometer: It measures the speed and indicates it as a numerical value. The photograph from the Mercedes-Benz Museum shows dials from several eras. They are on show in the large display case in Collection 2. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: D587995)
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Speedometer: It measures the speed and indicates it as a numerical value. The speedometer on display as part of the Mercedes-Benz Museum’s “33 Extras” in Legend Room 3 “Times of Change – Diesel and Turbocharger” is optional equipment and goes up to 100 km/h. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: D432981
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Mercedes-Benz W 180/W 128 model series “Ponton” Saloon (1954 to 1959), display concept. Photo of a 220 S Saloon produced in 1957, taken in 2005. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: 05C2263_239)
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Mercedes-Benz W 111/W 112 model series “Tailfin” Saloon (1959 to 1965), display concept. Photo of a long-wheelbase 300 SE, produced in 1964, taken in 2005. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: 05C2263_139)
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Mercedes-Benz model series 406 Unimog (1963 to 1989). Cockpit with steering wheel and instrument cluster. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: 2007M6351)
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Mercedes-Benz W 108/W 109 model series luxury saloons (1965 to 1972), display concept. Photo of a 300 SEL 6.3, produced in 1970, taken in 2005. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: 05C2263_122)
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Mercedes-Benz T1 “Bremer Transporter” (1977 to 1995). Cockpit with steering wheel and instrument cluster. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: 89F217)
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126 model series S-Class Saloon (1979 to 1992), display concept. Photo of a 560 SEL produced in 1991, taken in 2005. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: 05C2263_185)
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Mercedes-Benz F 100 research vehicle dating back to 1991. One of its innovations: centrally arranged gauge with colour screen. Not only are speed and rpm displayed. For instance, the screen also alerts drivers in case of insufficient tyre pressure, lack of oil or empty washer fluid reservoir. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: A90F1878)
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Mercedes-Benz model series 168 A-Class (1997 to 2004). Instrument cluster. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: A97F1470)
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220 model series S-Class Saloon (1998 to 2005), display concept. Photo from 2005. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: 05C2263_260)
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Mercedes-Benz model series 203 C-Class Sports Coupé (2000 to 2008). Thanks to the standard multifunction steering wheel, various types of information and data can be output on the speedometer’s centrally arranged display. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: A2000F4156)
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Mercedes-Benz model series 169 A-Class (2004 to 2012). Instrument panel and cockpit of the AVANTGARDE equipment line. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: A2004F2176)
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221 model series S-Class Saloon (2005 to 2013), display concept with customisable display. Photo from 2005. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archive: 05C2000_110)
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