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Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Those Fancy Wheels

A coffee-table book that delves into the history of the pioneering automobile marque, Mercedes-Benz.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: May 7, 2016 1:26:55 am

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Book: Mercedes-Benz Winning! 120 years on the world’s greatest race tracks & in India

Author: Adil Jal Darukhanawala

Publication: DJ Media

Pages: 402

Price: Rs 4,500

Mercedes-Benz is the elder statesman of automobile marques, with an unbroken production history going back to 1886, when Karl and Bertha Benz patented the world’s first petrol automobile, the Motorwagen, a three-wheeler which made no attempt to conceal its descent from the bicycle. Darukhanawala reports in his superbly detailed book that the Motorwagen is back in production 130 years later — in Coimbatore. GD Gopal Naidu’s Geedee Car Museum reverse engineered a model imported from Europe and now supplies Bentley Engineering with replicas for collectors.


That’s just one of the surprises in this voluminous history of Mercedes-Benz, which devotes about a quarter of its pages to the fortunes of the marque in India, a surprisingly varied story. Mercedes-Benz entered the market as the wheels of choice of royalty, and the book devotes 15 spreads to the cream of the royal stables: Benzes from the garages of Maharaja Yashwantrao Holkar II, Salar Jung III, Maharaja Hari Singh Bahadur of Jammu and Kashmir, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the royal family of Gondal… the list is practically endless. At the same time, the Benz three-pointed star was a familiar demotic sight on Indian roads for decades, thanks to the workhorse of the transport industry, the bonneted truck. With slatted wooden bodies fabricated in workshops all over the country, and emblazoned with delightfully rustic artwork, slogans and poetry, the Mercedes truck dominated the transport sector until the Tata logo displaced it. However, it is back now thanks to a tie-up with the Tatas.

As the title suggests, the first mover of the book is the thrill of racing. About half the pages are littered with scads of archival photographs from tracks and rallies which are hardly ever seen today. Racing was quite the rage at the turn of the century, as the automobile sparked off the modern era, which is marked by the ability to travel widely in personal transport. Darukhanawala picks up the thread from the racing paddock at Dieppe and dusty roads in Bordeaux and traces the triumphs of Mercedes-Benz through the rise of the Grand Prix circuits in the mid-20th century, displaying photographs from Silverstone, Monza and Buenos Aires.

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This isn’t just for the racing enthusiast, though. It is social history, too. There is a picture of Mercedes Jellinek — the daughter of the diplomat and technology evangelist Emil Jellinek, after whom the marque is named —at the wheel of a 1906 Grand Prix rig. The Daimler-Benz merger of 1926 is marked by superb promotional material from the period. A few years later in 1935, we see Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels inspecting a W25 Grand Prix model. Three years after, as Germany armed and Europe inched closer to conflict, a photo shows Hitler conversing with ace Mercedes-Benz driver Rudolf Caracciola about the record-breaking (and eerily scifi-styled) W125. On its cockpit fairing, it wears the Nazi swastika. Surprising archival images such as these, and the detailed notes which go with with, will prove to be the main draw of this book. However, the attentions of a professional editor would have made it a smoother read.

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