Mercedes, BMW and Opel: daughters, planes and bikes. How the brands were born – La Gazzetta dello Sport


Fourth episode of our journey, full of curiosities and anecdotes, in the history of the car. Today we are going to Germany

Maurizio Bertera

We have already addressed the issue of German houses, talking about those related to the Volkswagen Group. Now it’s the turn of the other noblesse oblige, let’s start from Mercedes-Benz. Brand born in 1926, when Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, founded in 1890 by two ingenious engineers such as Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, merged with Benz & Cie which was created in 1883 by another pioneer of the automotive industry such as Karl Benz . Why was the new company called Mercedes-Benz and not Dmg-Benz? Incredible story where the protagonist is Emil Jellinek, Austro-Hungarian consul in Nice, a very rich and influential man, with a strong sense for business but above all a great racing fan for whom he used Dmg cars. After making a collaboration pact in 1900 with Paul Daimler – son of Gottlieb – he imposed how condicio sine qua non to your financial contribution that the new cars bore the name of their beloved third son, Mercedes. For the record, the brand was registered in 1902, although the first car to bear the new name, the 35PS, had been launched the previous year. The rest of the production until 1926 used the Dmg brand. Curiosity: Mercedes was the nickname of the thirteen year old, who was named Adriana Manuela Ramona Jellinek at the registry office and did not share her paternal passion for cars and, in fact, never wanted to own one.


As for the brand, it is affected by the merger. On the one hand, the three-pointed star of Mercedes to symbolize air, land and sea or the three routes of mobility: it appeared only in 1909, replacing the classic oval with the name inside. On the other, the laurel wreath of Benz & Cie, to celebrate the numerous sporting victories since 1909. Moreover, seven years after the merger, the focus was on essentiality with a circle (increasingly thinner, constantly) and the silver star, with points or more or less subtle depending on the time. Mercedes-Benz also owns the Smart brand, created in 1996 together with the Swatch of the genius Nicolas Hayek who then sold his share to the Stuttgart house. Beyond the English term (translated into Italian, it means brilliant, friendly, smart), Smart was born as an acronym for Swatch-Mercedes-Art. The current logo (introduced in 2003) represents the ‘C’ of Compact and an arrow that invites you to ‘think ahead’.


Behind the birth of BMW there are the First World War, aviation and … Daimler. In essence, Austro-Daimler – led by Max Friz, one of the brilliant engineers of the Daimler racing department – in full conflict asked for help from a licensee factory in Munich, the Rapp Motorenwerke of Karl Rapp and Julius Auspitzer, to build aircraft engines hunting. From the merger with another local factory, the Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenfabrik (not by chance, Gustav was the son of Nikolas August Otto, the inventor of the internal combustion engine), was born in March 1916 Bayerische Flugzeug Werke or Bfw. Otto and then Rapp left the scene, the new manager of Bfw – the Austrian engineer and manager Josef Popp – changed his name to Bayerische Motoren Werke, translatable as a ‘Bavarian engine factory’. It was July 21, 1917, a year later in the corporate reorganization – with a third of the capital – an Italian entered who would change the fate of BMW. Camillo Castiglioni from Trieste, a very powerful entrepreneur and financier at the time: it was he, given the impossibility of producing aviation engines due to the sanctions provided for by the Versailles Pact against Germany, to convert the plants in Bavaria to build motorcycles (the first in 1923 was the R32) and subsequently cars, starting from DixiDA1 in 1929. Moreover, later on it started to produce engines for every vehicle, including boats and agricultural machines.


The BMW logo has undergone very few changes in history: a circle with the Bavarian dials in white and blue. But with the reverse sequence, if you look at the logo as in heraldry, starting from the top left in a clockwise direction. The reason? The trademark protection law of the time prohibited the exact reproduction of state crests or other national emblems in a trademark or logo. Simple, but in reality the legend has grown that the logo was a stylized propeller, in reference to the origins of the Rapp Motorenwerke. It was the fault (or merit) of an advertisement from 1929 showing an airplane with the BMW logo in a rotating propeller. At the dawn of the world economic crisis, a new aircraft engine that the house built under license from Pratt & Whitney was to be advertised. The propeller idea was perfect for advertising the young company, as it underlined the company’s roots and skills in the aeronautical field. Given that the Third Reich took full advantage of it. “But for a long time, BMW itself hasn’t bothered to refute this legend,” says Fred Jakobs of BMW Group Classic.


Opel – from 2017 Psa brand – owes the foundation to Adam Opel, a young entrepreneur with a fixation for sewing machines. The company’s registration dates back to January 21, 1862. The transition to bicycles, fundamental for the next stages, took place between 1886 and 1887: for the record, during the 1920s, the house in Rüsselsheim became the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world, even launching a specimen equipped with a small engine. For cars and motorbikes, the credit came from Adam’s children, very skeptical about the future of these vehicles. The first car ever is from 1899: the Patent-Motorwagen, still similar to a carriage (pushed by a 1.5-liter capable of delivering up to 3.5 HP) while the real boom began using the know-how of the French Darracq. The first authentic Opel cars were seen from 1907 onwards. As for the logo, everyone knows the Blitz: the lightning bolt, initially intended for commercial vehicles that made its appearance on cars in 1937. Moreover, ‘Victoria Blitz’, that is the lightning bolt of victory, was the claim of the bicycle division, led by Carl Opel, Adam’s son. From 1910 until that logo, Opel had adopted the original eye with the inscription inside: it was suggested by the Grand Duke of Hesse, the region where Russelheim is located, Opel’s home from birth. The eye then changed into a circle that together with the lightning – with various shades of colors and characters for the writing – has come down to us.

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