Mercedes-Benz invented the radiator and then the grille to cover it. Since then, the radiator grille has become one of the most iconic features of the car. From cooling to cool factor, here’s a look at the evolution of the Mercedes-Benz grille.
What goes into the grill of a car? A lot, Mercedes-Benz says, starting with its first honeycomb radiator that revolutionized the car, and moving on to modern Benz EQs where there’s actually no grille.
From function to form
Yes, the first Mercedes-Benz grille design was actually meant to make the car work rather than make it look good. The year 1900 was still very early in the origins of the automobile, and keeping the engines from overheating was a challenge. Wilhelm Maybach invented the radiator to cool an engine with water in 1897, but it was more like a domestic heating radiator. Big, ugly and not so effective.
In 1900, he invented the honeycomb radiator. Eight thousand small tubes, barely a quarter of an inch in diameter, were placed in the new radiator form. A lot more cooling power with a fan for low speed driving made the 35 PS Mercedes and its 35 horsepower engine a big hit.
It took a long time for the radiator to become more than just a crucial mechanical part. At least, that is what Mercedes claims about the evolution of his grid.
The evolution of the Mercedes-Benz grille begins
In 1931, the company released the Mercedes-Benz 170. The radiator had a grille and was up and running. The grille was mounted to protect the rad, but it was also a cosmetic upgrade.
The rounded rectangle was enhanced by a wide chrome frame. Keeping the rocks out of the radiation wasn’t the only goal. Mercedes knew that a dirty radiator was less effective, so the fine mesh was meant to keep dirt out.
The Mercedes-Benz star appeared not once but twice on the new nose: a badge on the top and the traditional hood ornament. Everything was integrated into the long bonnet and was meant to send a clear message of quality and elegance.
Mercedes loved the chrome grille so much that it kept the same basic design throughout the 1960s. There were a few minor changes, as Mercedes added new angles to the top and bottom of the piece and changed the number of horizontal bars. The company also went wider and shorter, to match the changing styling of its vehicles.
The face of the sports car
Merc loved the grill until the ’60s, except for one car: the 300 SL Gullwing needed something different. The race car needed more airflow, so it got what the company called the “sports car face.” A major star from Mercedes-Benz, this one is going to come back a lot, a single horizontal bar and chrome trim. No more tights on this one: Sir Stirling Moss needed to keep his engine cool at the Mille Miglia.
That grille was used on many Mercedes-Benz sports cars and convertibles for decades. That is, until 2007, when Benz decided to give up all that history and added the plain sports car face to the entry-level C-Class sedan as an option. We will come back to that.
In the 1970s, Merc’s standard grille was short and wide because its sedans of the time were short and wide. It fits well on the nose. The star hood ornament came and went, as did the mesh.
Mercedes started by loosening up the spaces in the mesh and then turning it into a grid of bars. By 1998, it was just a few vertical bars and a horizontal split down the middle.
Mercedes-Benz says the changes make the grid “more dynamic”. We’re not sure what makes them dynamic, but the cars would look dated in the old style.
Once Mercedes opened the door to the nose of the sports car in the C-class sedan, things began to get out of control. the G-class it got its own grille design in 2008, and Maybach returned in 2010 saying “auf wiedersehen” to the horizontal bars entirely.
In 2012, a grill full of diamonds appeared. They are not real diamonds, but rather shiny studs in the empty space of the grill. If you are wondering how the radiator is protected at the moment, it is not.
Do you remember the Carrera Panamericana?
In 2016, AMG needed something to better identify its own models, and that launched the pan american grillnamed for the style of grille Mercedes used on a 300 SL to win the Carrera Panamericana back in 1952. The slats made it much easier to tell what was an AMG and what was a four-cylinder with the wrong badges on the trunk.
Sometimes these new grilles looked good. Others hide the many sensors to run modern security features and have a star that looks like a sticker. As Mercedes-Benz moves into the next era, we hope you’ll like this latest one.
EQ Says ‘See You’ To Classic Mercedes-Benz Grille Designs
With electrification, Mercedes-Benz does not need a grille. There are some small air intakes for ventilation and battery cooling, but allowing them to fill the entire nose is bad for aerodynamic performance and range.
So, Mercedes-Benz went all out for the decal. It’s actually called the Black Panel, and it mainly serves to give the car a face and hide even more sensors.
To make sure the cars don’t forget their past, Mercedes makes the grille light up instead of chrome. Decorative lighting running along the panel provides the effect of an antique chrome surround, with some details within the panel showing the difference between AMG and standard.
the black panel grille should stay a few years. For how long? Expect the changes to be more like the long-running early days than the burst of activity in the late 2000s, but with lots of small variations.