On a recent trip I was fortunate to be able to visit the Forney museum. It is a museum which celebrates transportation throughout the ages and includes everything from the horse drawn wagon to the space shuttle. The bulk of it however is dedicated to automobiles, trains, motorcycles, and bicycles. The Forney is another great museum located in a not so great industrial park. In fact, driving up I was convinced that my GPS had lead me astray. Once you get through the doors though the museum is rendered all the more impressive due to the contrast of its exterior surroundings.
Although I would like to think that they arranged this just for me, at the time of my visit the Forney museum happened to be featuring an exhibit on the history of Mercedes Benz. Brilliant. About half of the automotive space was dedicated to this exhibit. Even with this much space, it made for a pretty crowded exhibit due to the number of cars. The date range covered was 1950 to 2000. Nothing very new, and nothing very old, but covering what I consider to be some of the best years for the marque.
A little more space was dedicated to some really valuable cars which were posed with mannequins (womannequins?). These rarities began with a 1950 type 300 Cabriolet in maroon with tan interior, followed by a coupe in two-tone silver and green. One forgets how beautiful the front grills were on these cars, and how they were enhanced by ornate grill badges common at the time. Further down there was a 1954 220 with the next generation of body styling. Another exquisite star was the 1959 220 SE Cabriolet in pale yellow. Not the first color I think of with Mercedes, but a stunning car in this case. There was a Gullwing of course, and a nice black 190. Perhaps over exposure of these “rockstars” has dulled my appreciation for how special they are, but I moved on quickly.
However, the exhibit did not just consist of ultra-rare examples of the marque. Moving on chronologically, we come to the first of the pagoda cars, a 230 SL. I owned one of these cars (another car I should never have sold), and have always maintained that they have one of the best engine bays in vintage cardom. Although mine was certainly not, properly done they are like jewelry. The example on display belonged in Tiffany’s. As you moved on, the entire range of SLs was well represented through to the 450SL. Another superb aspect of this marque are the interiors. The earlier cars contain fine furniture more so than auto interiors. They give the British a run for their money on this front. But even the later cars have dash and trim that exude luxury, even on lower end models. The interiors deserve their own article, so we will move on….
What would a Mercedes exhibit be without their fabulous sedans? The early 190s, 220s, and 300s, gave way to successive generations with the same numbers, but with new designations like S, SE, and SEL. There was a 220 SE from the early 1970s, a nice silver 450 SEL, and a beautiful black 600. And what about the diesels you say? Well the engine that Mercedes helped to make acceptable both in luxury cars and in taxicabs alike, was well represented. The diesel cars present were drivers (kudos to Forney for including working examples). The stalwart is the 300D, and there was both a turbo diesel sedan and a diesel wagon.
Last but not least, was a sedan reminding us that Mercedes can do performance when it wants to. The 190E with the Cosworth 16V heads is near and dear to me as one with my name on the title sits apart at an undisclosed secret location. This model would have been cock of the walk in performance sedans, except for the bad timing of being introduced in the 1980s around the same time as the all-conquering BMW E30 M3. It has instead become a cult classic. On display was a euro version of the ultimate expression of that car, the 2.5 Evolution, complete with charcoal grey color and houndstooth interior. I may have left a puddle of drool nearby.
It is not until you see an exhibit like this that you can appreciate what a particular marque has accomplished over time. And in this case, it was just a fraction of the cars that Mercedes has produced. It was missing the beginnings of the automobile, the pre-war era, the trucks and G-wagens, and the most recent 15 years !!