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Mercedes-Benz Museum at Tuscaloosa, Alabama

by John Heilig

Amid all the fanfare associated with a Reba McEntyre or some rock concert, Mercedes-Benz officially opened its first American factory at Vance, Alabama, on May 21. More than 5,000 people attended the ceremony, which was accompanied by official speeches from Mercedes-Benz Chairman Jurgen Schrempp and Mercedes-Benz US International president Andreas Rentschler. Both Schrempp and Rentschler hailed the event as historic in the 100-year history of the company.

Along with the opening of the factory, Mercedes-Benz also dedicated its new Visitor Center and Museum, which celebrated the heritage of the company as well as displayed several vehicles.

The Mercedes-Benz alabama museum is divided roughly into five areas; History, Technology, Racing, Safety and M-Class. Each area has vehicles that demonstrate the company's leadership in these areas as well as displays that explain this leadership in detail.

In the History section, for example, there are three vehicles, an 1886 Daimler Motor Carriage, 1936 500 Cabriolet, and a 1905 American Mercedes Touring Car that had been on display in the lobby of Mercedes-Benz North America in Montvale, New Jersey. All three vehicles are significant in that they show important eras in the company's history.

Separate display areas highlight 20-year segments of the compan's past with artifacts that include grilles and steering wheels as well as photographs, posters and other memorabilia. Three busts celebrate the three men whose contributions were so important in the creation of the company, Gottlieb Daimler, Carl Benz and Wilhelm Maybach.

The Technology area has only one vehicle, a replica of Gottlieb Daimler's 1885 motorcycle, which was the first motorcycle ever and showed the possibility of a small internal combustion engine. A huge crankshaft has windows in it to view other significant innovations. Also on display are a Bens two-cylinder engine and a modern M-Class V-6.

In the Racing area is a European Sedan Racing champion C-Class Mercedes, mounted high as a backdrop to a half dozen racing trophies, Emerson Fittipaldi's racing suit, and racing posters. In a small amphitheater, visitors can watch videos of significant Mercedes racing victories.

Next to the racing section is a red 300SL gullwing coupe, placed there as a transition vehicle between the racing car and production cars.

Safety has always been paramount in Mercedes-Benz vehicle designs and this heritage is displayed in an area that has a sectioned M-Class sport utility for display. The car is cut away and areas where safety is built into the design are highlighted. This area also pays homage to Bela Berenyi, who is the father of passive safety at Mercedes-Benz.

An example of Mercedes-Benz in the movies is shown by one of the ML320 vehicles used in the film "The Lost World."

The reason for the visitor center/museum is in the final stop, the first ML320 to roll off the assembly line in Vance, Job 1. It is a white ML320 autographed by everyone who worked on the car, and serves as a fitting final stop for anyone visiting the center. Since this center will also be where customers can pick up their new ML320 vehicles, the pick-up point is just outside the door from this vehicle.

The Mercedes-Benz Visitor Center and Museum at Vance, Alabama, can be appreciated at several levels. First, it can be viewed casually, like a visitor center, enjoying the cars and exhibits at face value. Or it can be enjoyed at a deeper level, like a museum. There is a wealth of information available in each of the areas, and it would take several hours to read every placard and look at every photograph available.

There aren't a lot of vehicles in the museum, but the ones that are there are significant, and the information surrounding them will satisfy the most curious.