This year is very important for the Mercedes-Benz factory in Stuttgart – 50 years ago a new car testing facility was opened. It is a place which played a huge role in making Mercedes as famous for its reliability as it is today. The safety, endurance, comfort and reliability features of vehicles are checked here, and its testing facilities are pretty amazing.
Back in the 1950’s, it was understood that Mercedes-Benz cannot continue expanding its model range at such an impressive pace without investing into a proper testing facility. This need was first addressed, back in 1953, by Dr Fritz Nallinger, Head of Development of the then Daimler-Benz AG. It took several years of careful planning and dealing with the local government until all the permissions were received and the project could be started.
The work on a long stretch of company-owned land, directly adjacent to the Untertürkheim plant known as the “bottleneck”, started in 1956 and in the next year a small testing track was already completed. It had a skid pad featuring concentrically arranged circular tracks with different surfaces: vehicles can be tested here on blue basalt, concrete, slippery asphalt and large cobblestones. There were also some sprinklers used to simulate wet road conditions. But, almost immediately, Mercedes engineers understood that this facility was not enough.
The engineers recognized the need to test the brand’s vehicles on steep gradients, on extremely rough terrain, on endurance and high-speed tracks. And so the testing facility at Stuttgart continued expanding for a decade, until in May 9 1967 this major platform for vehicle development was opened to the media. This was actually quite an interesting event, as it is very unusual for public eyes to be allowed into this track.
Mercedes tests its new prototypes as well as new racing technology in this facility. So competitors might want to take a look, or some curious enthusiasts might interfere with Mercedes plans to produce a new model as a surprise. But on this occasion media was allowed to visit it and this day is now considered the official opening of the famous Mercedes test track.
It has continued to grow throughout the years and nowadays it features:
- 15,460 meters of test sections, including 3018 meters of high-speed test track;
- a banked curve with a radius of 100 metres, with its top side positioned almost 90 degrees to the surface. In theory, it is possible to reach 200 km/h here, but human drivers would not survive that. So instead, they attack it at 150 km/h with no hands on the steering wheel;
- a rough surface test track with a so-called washboard, boneshaker and pothole sections, used to test endurance and reliability. It is so bad, drivers can only stand it for a couple of hours;
- extreme distortion tracks for commercial vehicles and off-roaders, along with ramps used to force extreme spring compression and rebound;
- a 34-metre-long crosswind section with 16 blowers designed to produce gusting side winds of speeds up to 100 km/h;
- a special stretch of road designed to test stability of suspensions during high speed and abrupt changes of lane, and many other interesting elements.
What a fascinating piece of history. But one has to remember that a lot of analysis is done outside of this special track as well. Tests are carried out in really demanding racing tracks, extreme climate conditions, wind tunnels and so on. Mercedes-Benz likes to make sure that its vehicles are as good as they can be, and that the legend about the unbeatable Mercedes reliability will continue.