Wilhelm Maybach, a German engine designer who is often credited as being the 'King of Designers', designed the Mercedes Simplex which first came into production in 1902.
The first car manufactured was quickly incorporated into the Mercedes racing team in Nice where driver Wilhelm Werner took it on the 1901 Nice-La Turbie Hill Climb; it finish way ahead of the nearest rival. The following month there was another first place success in the Nice-La Turbie mountain race.
The all-important American market was not forgotten; a Simplex was entered for a five mile race on a track at Grosse Pointe, a wealthy suburb of Detroit; it won easily.
By the time the Simplex was in full production in 1902, with a 40 brake horsepower engine, there was already a huge demand for the car on the back of all this racing success.
Previous horseless carriage type vehicles had been unstable owing to their height and relatively high centre of gravity and they would frequently overturn during races. Maybach built the Simplex long and wide, with a low centre of gravity, which made it infinitely more stable, particularly at high speeds. They were fitted with pneumatic tyres which gave far better roadholding grip than their solid predecessors and there were two braking systems, one operated by hand and one by foot; these were necessary because of the pure power pumped out by the 6.7 litre engine, which was capable of propelling the car up to around 70 mph.
The car was aimed squarely at the upper echelons of society; royalty, aristocracy and even the German Kaiser were fans. An imposing saloon body with big brass oxyacetylene headlamps and bullhorns added to the image, along with the plush coachwork and space for three passengers plus a driver.
They were not just good to look at either. In 1902 a new world speed record of 69.5 mph was set up by William K Vanderbilt driving a Simplex; and the Mercedes image of power and luxury has survived virtually unscathed ever since.