Motor Sport takes a Sunbeam Rapier to France and Germany, to visit Peugeot, Mercedes-Benz and Borgward Factories
(Photo : The journey nearly completed; the Sunbeam Rapier, which Motor Sport used for its visit to France and Germany, outside an hotel on the Liège-Brussels road, where we stopped for refreshments. This excellent 1-1/2-litre car had completed 1,600 trouble-free miles at this point, and its good driving position and comfortable seats, coupled with sensible controls, intelligent instruments, and generous window area, had made this winter jaunt a very pleasant trip.)
Having decided to visit some more European motor car factories we thought that with Britain entering a new period of prosperity it would be appropriate to make a journey in a British luxury car. However, when we put the proposition to Rolls-Royce, Daimler and Armstrong Siddeley they thought up reasons why Motor Sport should not borrow one of their vehicles. So we said to blazes with the V.I.P. transport and, knowing that Rootes have sufficient faith in their products to allow motoring journalists to thrash them about the Continent, we contacted their John Rowe, who agreed immediately to lend us a Sunbeam Rapier which had but recently returned from a photographic expedition to Monte Carlo.
After all, we thought, there is no more British-sounding make than Sunbeam and if the Rapier is not exactly in the luxury class it does not sell at a luxury price. So it came about that we went in one of these Coventry-constructed 1-1/2-litre saloons which, as will be seen, served us remarkably well and did all that was asked of it. This Rapier was standard except that it was shod against any eventuality with Dunlop Weathermasters and was equipped with very useful Lucas dipping fog lamps and a windscreen-mounted Helphos searchlight.
Throwing a couple of recent issues of Punch into our kit to dispel home sickness we left London early one Wednesday morning, and embarked at Lydd, to fly by Silver City to Le Touquet, with a pretty tight schedule before us.
With much fast motoring in prospect it was ironical that the writer should by chance pick up a copy of Time and Tide at the airport and find therein a strong condemnation of fast travel by none other than L. T. C. Rolt, apropos, however, exploration of Holland’s inland waterways by canal boat
By nightfall we were in Sochaux, beyond Belfort, 620 miles from our starting point, the Sunbeam having cruised comfortably at just below 4,000 r.p.m., at an indicated 85 m.p.h. in the very useful overdrive top gear. We averaged nearly 51 m.p.h. overall, including stopping twice to refuel the rather small (10-gallon) petrol tank and becoming involved in a hold up at Vitry Le France where some inexplicable road construction is in progress outside the town. This seemed as fair a run across France as one could wish for, driving fast but not at tyre-squealing velocity and our respect for the smart Rapier was firmly established before we reached our destination. Incidentally, February is too early for British tourists and apart from an M.G.-A, and a VW Caravelle we encountered no other G.B. vehicles.
The Peugeot Factory at Sochaux:
Although the main purpose of our journey was to visit the vast Mercedes-Benz plant at Stuttgart-Unterturkheim, with particular emphasis on how the 300SL sports car is put together, it seemed appropriate that before visiting the World’s oldest motor car manufacturer we should call on Peugeot, one of the earliest French automobile establishments.
As you drive towards Montbeliard along Route National 463 the works of Peugeot Frères flank both sides of the road. On the right a forge occupying 20,000 sq.m. and employing 500 persons, the foundries covering 50,000 sq.m. with 1,700 operatives, the mechanical components shop of 90,000 sq.m. keeping 5,000 workers employed, and the press and welding shop, 35,000 sq.m. employing 2,500 operatives. On the other side of the road is the body and final assembly shop, which covers 120,000 sq.m. and requires the services of 3,000 workers, unpainted body shells being conveyed automatically from press shop to the body shop through a tunnel which crosses the main road. On this side of R.N. 463 is Peugeot’s own Cercle Hotel, where we stayed on the Wednesday night, being met in the morning by François Lavaux. There followed a very interesting tour of this great plant, of which the factory buildings, five in number, soon to be increased to six by the erection of a new gearbox assembly shop, cover a total of 315,000 sq. m. and employ 12,700 operatives.
Peugeot started to build motor cars in 1889 and today the Peugeot brothers retain some 55 per cent. of shares in the three companies, which include the manufacture of items as varied as pepper, bicycles, motor scooters and the well-known 402 and 403 cars. The car factory at Sochaux was built on marshland in 1912 and has been vastly expanded since then. Occupied by the Germans during the Second World War for the manufacture of light armour intended for the Russian front, British bombers destroyed 85 per cent, of the buildings in 1943, which gave Peugeot an opportunity of reconstructing the factory after the war.
Any idea that because Peugeots is old in years it uses antiquated production methods is quickly dispelled after a visit to Sochaux. Today, working two nine-hour shifts (4.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m., 1.30 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.) five days a week, with three shifts in the press shop, over 800 vehicles are produced every day. The total number of workers is 10,000, with a grand total in all plants of 35,000.
In the forge, erected in 1930, raw material is converted into blanks ready for machining. National presses make crankshafts and Spiertz, Eumugo, Eric, and other machines are found here. 270 Yale and Fenwick trucks handle the parts and a store of 20 days’ material is maintained. Peugeot have a rigid system of inspection of the forgings by visual checking of impression marks made on test pieces ranging from con.-rods to stub axle forgings, the latter being examined on a Testwell X-ray machine. Women are largely employed on this work and 8-10 per cent. of the forgings are rejected and returned to foundry. The foundry consumes 45 tons of coke a day to produce 150 tons of metals.
Peugeot use many tools of their own manufacture, Cornac drills being employed to make their own body jigs and the huge machine shop contains Butler and Gendron drills and planing machines, etc. The vast assembly shops are heated by a hot air system and have shower baths for operatives going off duty.
The press shop is interesting for its large installation of single-stage presses engaged in stamping out small parts such as clutch plates, lock washers, etc., and nearly all operated by women. Peugeot use this system to conserve steel, being far removed in S.E. France from their source of steel supplies, these batteries of small presses being fed with surplus material from the main presses. In all, 180 presses are in use, from these small machines to thirty 2,000-ton presses, these latter including a giant French-built Clearing press. The small presses include Bliss, Crimar, Schuler and Raskin, producing 2,900 small parts every hour, these parts often fed magnetically to the machines. Steel in wide rolls is fed on McKay handlers to the big presses, which include H.P.M. hydraulic presses, four-stage Weingarten presses producing body floor panels, Spirty and Danty presses, and a 1,000-ton Bliss drop press engaged on stamping out sunshine-roof apertures and roof panels. The presses operate at from 6 to 110 times per minute and 20 overhead cranes, of which five are of 50-tons capacity, are employed in the press shop. Safety measures are not particularly up to date, hanging chains for a group of operatives to hold before a press functions and simple guards on the small machines being deemed adequate. One pressing of which Peugeot are justifiably proud is the 203 front wing, shaped from a single sheet of steel, an operation which American engineers said was impossible. The floor of the 403 station wagon differs from the floor of the 403 saloon, and the press making these floors can be changed merely by operating press- buttons, to make the floor required.
Peugeot employ an impressive battery of spot-welding plants, including 300 welding pistols. To obviate distortion, body panels are seam welded after they have been spot-welded, the panels being clamped in a National jig. Doors are welded automatically in Sciaky machines, and welding of the chassis parts is also automatic. Body parts are welded in the same shop as the assembly lines where 403 saloons and 403 station wagons, 203 saloons and 203 pick-up bodies are built up on separate lines. Petrol tanks are automatically handled for continuous seam welding, each tank then being filled with compressed air at a pressure of 20/30 kg./cm.2 and immersed in water to check for leaks. Close-spaced spot-welding is employed for the roof seams of the body.
The system employed by Peugeot for supplying finished parts to the floor-level chain-type car assembly line is far less complicated than the method of automatically routing parts in a prearranged sequence, which is normal in most other mass-production factories. At Sochaux the parts are simply hung on an overhead conveyor which travels past the operatives, who reach up when they see an appropriate part approaching and take down what they require to maintain a small stack beside them. Some parts may travel round untouched for several days, but are there when wanted.
The control system is likewise simple but effective. To ensure that the correct components for left-hand drive, right-hand drive cars, different models etc., are supplied to the final assembly-line, most manufacturers now use automatic selection of the appropriate components, controlled electronically from a remote-control room. Peugeot have none of this — instead, as the mechanical assembly of engine, transmission, suspension and wheels travels down the line to meet the finished body it bears large identification letters (such as ” U.S.” for an American car), which enables a controller, seated on a gallery above the line, to arrange for the required body to be slung in readiness to be lowered from the first floor storage bay to the appropriate “chassis” on the line. Engines have already been numbered and later a corresponding body number is supplied, this method obviating the need, as in B.M.C. factories, for instance, for engines and bodies to be brought together, for assembly so that their identification numbers tally correctly.
The body shells are moved from roof to floor on English King conveyors. Before final assembly, the body shells, which have come across the main road through an overhead tunnel, go to the vast trimming and paint shop. Three coats of paint are applied, dried in open infra-red-ray bays. In these bays each bulb costs 1,000 francs, so that tens of thousands of pounds must be tied up in electric light bulbs alone! Undersealing is done with black rubberised paint. Two-tone body finish is not used by Peugeot, which simplifies the painting process. They make their own door-handles, but these are now plated outside the factory. Stainless steel is used for many exterior parts. Lamps are either Marchal or Ducellier and tyres Michelin or Dunlop; tubeless tyres have not so far been fitted.
All models are assembled on one final assembly line, the present daily output being something like 700 type 403s including the commodious station wagons, 100 to 120 type 203s, and a dozen 203 pick-up trucks. Soon it is hoped to increase 403 output to some 800 cars per day.
Beyond the final assembly line and rectification bay Peugeot have a small three-lane test track round which every car is driven for about a quarter of an hour. The outer lane incorporates a severe switchback, which even at a speed of about 40 m.p.h. throws the backs of the cars well off the ground. Possibly this test may be the secret of the excellent results which Peugeot obtain from their coil-spring rear suspension. Adjacent to the test track are bays in which cars can be driven for brake test and adjustment, headlamp setting, etc.
Round the walls of the rectification bay some 2,000 cars are stored, awaiting delivery to customers.
After an excellent lunch we were shown round the engine and transmission shops by Jean G. Beguin, who is in charge of this section. Two points immediately impress, namely, the care taken by Peugeot to obtain smooth running from their engines, and silence from their gearboxes.
Connecting-rods are weighed on Dayton balances and are assembled in sets of four of equal weight. Pistons are likewise assembled in sets of four of equal weight, and then complete connecting-rod and piston assemblies are weighed and similarly grouped. In the case of gearboxes, paired gearbox pinions are checked in a soundproof room for silence of running and later each complete gearbox is automatically fed into a test room, is checked for quietness in every gear, and is dispatched, through automatically-opening doors, with a code number on it indicating its quietness factor. Peugeot use quite a lot of transfer machinery for cylinder block utilising their own drills and oil pumps for the machine tools and will soon install complete automation. Blocks are jigged in pairs for horizontal drilling, and great care is taken to clean the swarf from the finished blocks. Horstmann automatic honing machinery is used. On one transfer machine hydraulic car brake cylinders are ingeniously incorporated in the mechanism. Each cylinder block has the individual checker’s mark stamped on it. The wet cylinder liners are each carefully checked for concentricity. Proprietary pistons are used, milled by Peugeot. Engine assembly proceeds methodically with the block and crankcase mounted on trolleys on a continuous automatic chain assembly line. Batteries of power spanners are used for the majority of operations, but cylinder-head nuts are hand-tightened with spanners pre-set to 9 metres/kilo. Big-end nut tension receives two checks. The oil pump and connecting-rod assemblies are fitted first, then, with the pistons held in place by a metal strip, the block is turned over for the crankshaft to be installed. The pressed-metal oil case is fitted next and the block is turned on end for the timing case and cover to be fitted. The gearbox is then bolted on and finally the cylinder head. 403 and 203 units are assembled on the same line; about 8 per cent. of the former are fitted with automatic clutches. About 58 engines are assembled every hour, and 1,000 are kept in stock..
Before the engine leaves the line its ingenious o.h.v. gear is flooded with oil. The sump is filled later and the engine is run on petrol on an electric test-bed for 12 minutes at 1,200 r.p.m. and for three more minutes is subjected to various tests, including aural sound checks. Twenty test-beds, with five in reserve, are used, these having been installed in 1937. Soon fully automatic testing is to be introduced. Apart from this routine running, 10 per cent. of the engines, and every engine rejected as faulty, are given a power check, so this test covers some 20 per cent. of the output. The 403 unit is expected to develop 58 h.p. (French rating). If it exceeds this, well and good. The tolerance permitted in the other direction is minus one brake horse power. At one time clean oil was fed through the engines while they were on test but this has been dispensed with. Sump oil now suffices and remains in the engines after the conclusion of the test run.
A very interesting modification has been introduced since the middle of February. This takes the form of a free-running cooling fan pulley, so that the fan functions only when engine temperature rises to a point where the pulley is clutched in by the coolant thermostat. Thus Peugeot obtain rapid warming up and power-saving without the complexity of an electrically-driven fan.
Engines are moved by conveyor for assembly to the transmission and suspension units and cover some 3-1/2 miles before reaching the final assembly line.
Gearboxes are assembled on a chain conveyor with the necessary parts, such as S.K.F. ball-races, to hand. Power spanners screw together the gear casings and a new Lorraine self-controlled four-stage transfer gear pinion cutter — the only one in the world — has recently been installed. One cannot visit Peugeot without seeing the manufacture of the worm-drive back axle, which is peculiar to this make. Any suspicion that this form of back axle is used merely because Peugeot do not want to scrap existing worm-cutting machinery is dispelled when the elaborate new machinery is inspected. Although no claims were put forward, no doubt the high mechanical efficiency of this form of drive, its silence, and the level floor which the low transmission line permits are amongst its advantages, while the rear suspension can be allowed a bigger travel with an underslung worm drive. The bronze worm wheels are cut on Heller machinery to which a new cutter can be fitted in five minutes. Pfouter and Barber Colman cutters manufacture the copper-coated steel worm gears. The finishing process involves Grendron, Norton and other grinding machines. The worm and differential assembly are hand assembled, the casing being heated before the worm shaft is fitted and clearance checked microscopically. Lateral clearance of the worm is adjusted by shims. When the axle is completed and paint dipped, an overhead gantry stacks it and other parts automatically until they are required on the assembly line conveyor.
Steering is tracked before the front suspension is installed on the car. Incidentally, whereas the normal 403 has 3 stud wheel fixing the station wagon has 5-stud wheels. Peugeot now make their own lever type hydraulic shock-absorbers.
Monsieur Beguin told us he is soon to visit Ford at Dagenham and we were obliged to express the hope that the factory would not by then be closed down through strike action. He observed that Peugeot had not been troubled by a strike since 1938. The workers are graded P1, P2 and P3 and a man seeking promotion is required to take a test which, if he passes it successfully, upgrades him.
On this note and with increased respect for the individual Peugeot we bade M. Beguin goodbye, and drove in the Sunbeam to Stuttgart, crossing the Rhine at Strasbourg, where the change from French to German atmosphere is immediately apparent. This time our average speed wasn’t so impressive, what with getting lost in Strasbourg, stopping for fuel and coping with fog and winding roads in the Black Forest. But in due course we showed up at the ultramodern Rotenberg Hotel in Stuttgart, which sits on a hill overlooking the town with the imposing Daimler-Benz office block visible from its balcony. Here, Prince Von Urach from Daimler-Benz was waiting to act as our host, as he continued to do throughout the remainder of our visit. Incidentally, the Sunbeam had by now covered nearly 700 miles in two days.
How Mercedes-Benz sports cars are made:
Prince Urach was due to meet Karl Kling, on his return from winning the Algiers-Capetown Rally in a diesel Mercedes 190, at the airport in the morning but fog had interfered with this and Kling had to come in on the afternoon by train. Consequently we received a phone call bidding us to arrive early at the Mercedes-Benz factory to see a special 300SL engine on the test-bed. This proved to be an engine for a racing boat. It was being run on the experimental test-bed for 20 hours and was giving its 240 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., and holding 5,800 r.p.m. easily, the water temperature steady at 70 deg. C. This experimental test-bed consists of an electric dynamometer in a soundproof room with a control panel containing every conceivable item of equipment and mechanics standing by to run up the engine and control the brake.
After seeing this impressive engine on test we were motored in a Mercedes-Benz 180 to Sindelfingen, through the beautiful woods which surround Stuttgart, to the new factory where the Mercedes-Benz press and body assembly shop for saloons, sports cars and trucks up to 1-3/4 tons are situated. Here 17,000 operatives and 500 apprentices work in ideal conditions and a new town is springing up.
The immense press shop contains mainly Weingarten presses, of which the largest is 1,100 tons. The floor of this shop is steel, earthed against lightning. Automatic handling of the steel sheet is installed and safety measures on the machines consist of both push-button controls and photo-electric eyes. Two American Clearing presses produce roof panels, these being bought before German presses became obtainable. There are also some Muller hydraulic presses but Mercedes-Benz prefer mechanical presses as they are easier to maintain. The usual enormous gantry cranes are in use. The presses normally function at eight or nine operations per minute, but a new Weingarten sheet steel cutter, fed by a suction lift-loader cuts 18 sheets per minute. Surplus steel goes down a chute to be returned to the foundry.
Adjacent to this imposing press shop is the body assembly shop in which the steel multi-tube space frame for the 300SL is welded up by hand. The small tubes are first welded in groups, and then the whole frame is jigged for final welding and given elaborate cheeks for alignment, etc.
Near the factory buildings is the old Luft Hansa aerodrome, where Mercedes-Benz put 10 per cent. of their cars on a test track and run all their sports models there, this track being quite distinct from the new track being built at Stuttgart, which will have all manner of surfaces.
We had insufficient time to see the whole of the vast and scattered Daimler-Benz factories so we concentrated mainly on their sports cars, which have been introduced in the past 4-1/2 years. In that time over 20,000 190SL and 2,000 300SL cars have been sold. The 300SL, is now made only in roadster form although there is a steel hard top available for it. Output is two 300SLs and 14 or 15 190SLs per day. Of the normal models, all are assembled on a single U-shape line at the rate of approximately 365 a day, of which about 100 are 220S and 150 to 180 per day are diesel engined models, the compression-ignition cars predominating.
The factory works two shifts, starting at 6 a.m., five days a week, and has had no labour trouble since the war. Cars are assembled at floor level with pits for the operatives and 106 control stations ensure the correct supply and sequence of parts. Incidentally, all cars have balanced wheels. The final assembly line is 350 metres in length under a timber roof, this being the only roofing material available for the shop after wartime bombing. The finished cars go on to three lines for final inspection and are tested on a roller brake, leaving the factory at the rate of one every three minutes. The factory is open to customers calling to take personal delivery of cars.
Real beech wood instrument panels and window fillets, etc., figure in the more expensive Mercedes-Benz models such as the 300 and 220S, and a big wood-working shop supplies this equipment. Here high-tension, almost instantaneous, glueing apparatus is installed, for completing sections which have been shaped after steam heating. Different veneers can be supplied to order. Bodies are elaborately cleaned before being painted.
Reverting to the sports cars, these are assembled by hand and inspected in a separate shop. After the bodies have received primer they are dried in a temperature of 100-120 deg. C. They then receive two coats of sprayed paint. The bodies are then assembled on the chassis and a road test is carried out and then, and then only, is a final coat of paint applied and dried at 80 deg. C. for 40 minutes. The sports cars are assembled on roller trolleys in two lines, one for 190SLs, and the other for 300SL cars. This line moves slowly, because the cars are almost entirely hand-assembled. Amongst the new 300SLs on the assembly lines were some customers’ cars which had come in for hard-tops to be fitted. Doors, boot-lid, and bonnet panel on the 3005L are of aluminium. Michelin tyres are fitted but Continentals are specified for rally work, 15-in. covers being used on the 300SL, and 13-in. on the 190SL.
The engines come to the Sindelfingen plant in vast Mercedes-Benz lorries and trailers. Every 300SL engine is run on a water brake for some 15 to 24 hours and is required to give its maximum of 225 b.h.p. (240 S.A.E. h.p.), no tolerance being permitted. Fuel consumption is also checked and, likewise, no tolerance is allowed. The 190SL engine is run for one, two or five hours before installation in the chassis, as required. The engines are not stripped down for inspection after they have passed their final tests.
It was a sobering experience to roam the great Daimler-Benz factory and see the fabulous 300SL sports cars being built. After lunch in the canteen a new 220S took us back to Stuttgart to visit the splendid Mercedes-Benz museum, soon to be housed in a new building near the factory entrance. The latest exhibit was one of the 1924 2-litre straight-eight racing Mercedes obtained from England, where it had been owned by Peck.
That evening we departed in a 190SL to discover over the weekend what a desirable sporting car this is and how well it carries on the great Mercedes-Benz tradition.
Road Impressions of the 190SL
Saturday was spent driving along the autobahn to Frankfurt and then on beside the Rhine, the scale of which and the activity thereon makes the Thames seem a trifle insipid, to Koblenz, where we turned off for the Nürburgring. Here we each drove a lap of this difficult circuit, where the public is allowed to test its prowess for the equivalent of 6s. a go. On this warm, sunny February afternoon several VWs, a racing motor cyclist, and a very fast driver in a D.K.W. 1,000 were doing just that. Leaving the Ring, where the 190SL proved to have magnificent brakes and road-holding, and where high r.p.m. in third gear did not put the water temperature above 80 deg. C., we proceeded to Dusseldorf — our destination for the night — somewhat impeded by traffic jams in Cologne, occasioned by a Trade Fair. At Cologne we were much impressed by the ambitious overhead motor road which is under construction there.
That evening we took stock of the Mercedes-Benz 190SL. The test car was shod with 6.40 by 13 Firestone Super Balloon four-ply nylon tyres and had two Hella spot lamps to supplement its extremely effective Bosch headlamps. Otherwise it was a normal example of this stylish roadster, with the 1.9-litre 4-cylinder engine fed by twin Solex double-choke carburetters. There is a commodious luggage boot, locked automatically as the lid is shut, and each trailing door has a well-cum-armrest — this well being sufficiently deep to accommodate the bulky “Europa Touring.” In addition there is a spacious well provided behind the seats for luggage.
The 190SL however, is purely a two-seater with no concession for pigmy children. The seats have adjustable squabs and are upholstered in high-quality leather, matching that of the body interior kind facia sill. These seats are, however, rather shapeless and slippery.
The driver sits behind a large, rather high-set, two-spoke steering wheel with the hooded Vdo rev-counter and speedometer immediately in front of him. The rev-counter is calibrated with figures every 1,000 r.p.m. up to 7,000, the speedometer every 30 k.p.h. to 210 k.p.h., with total and trip distance recorders. Below are three dials recording, respectively, water temperature (normally 75 to 80 deg. C.), oil pressure and fuel tank contents. The fuel tank contains 14.3 gallons with 1-1/2 gallons held in reserve. The oil pressure gauge normally has its needle against the stop at 6 kg./sq. cm, at fast cruising speeds, so that a glance is sufficient to show whether the proper pressure is being maintained. A series of neat but unidentified knobs control the various services, these being spaced out along the facia, and there is a headlamps-flasher stalk on the left (in l.h.d. cars) of the steering column. The horn ring turns to operate the direction flashers.
There is a splendidly sensitive heater controlled by a central quadrant with individual controls for driver and passenger, each of these having a system for directing heat to screen or floor as required. The heater controls are marked with red or blue, the German method of indicating hot and cold. The interior appointments of the 190SL are naturally in the luxury class. The doors possess neat pull-out interior handles and recessed lock controls and have wind-up windows, the handles of which take six full turns. The metal facia contains a big lockable cubby-hole with a clock on its lid and a neat item is a dash lamp which can be concealed with a neat cover, illumination being automatic as the lid is lifted. Beside the usual warning lamps there is a light to show when the choke is out. Interior anti-dazzle and outside mirrors are fitted. The pedals are noticeably substantial and allow the driver to “heel and toe.” A lidded ash tray is found on the facia sill, padded but non-swivel anti-dazzle visors are fitted, and there is slight crash padding under the facia. The hood is securely held down by toggles, the centre one stayed to the screen base and, for a soft top, the car is commendably free from wind roar and hood drumming, conversation being possible while motoring at over 100 m.p.h. The hand-brake is of the pull-out type under the scuttle. Parking lamps are provided. The spare wheel is carried vertically in the boot, and bonnet and boot lid both have to be propped open manually.
This 190SL accelerates with a hard purposeful sound and its dimensions and steady ride convey a sense of Mercedes-Benz dignity, while everywhere in Germany admiring glances followed its swift progress. The rev-counter is marked in red from 5,750 to 6,000 r.p.m. and the engine runs readily up to the latter speed, equivalent to genuine maxima of about 29, 44 and 73 m.p.h. in the indirect gears. The comfortable maximum in top gear is 109 m.p.h.
Visibility from the driving seat through the laminated screen, apart from high set wheel, is good, the driver looking out over a rigid bonnet with central “power bulge.” The body generally is rattle free, the doors close nicely, but some rattles intruded from the rear.
The 190SL is a highly satisfactory motor car in which to cover long distances, as we did. The steering is accurate but somewhat “dead,” the wheel transmitting no kick back, having useful castor return action and needing 3-1/4 turns, lock-to-lock. The suspension provides an extremely comfortable ride and fast sweeping bends can be taken at 100 m.p.h. in confidence; on tight bends there is some roll and the low-pivot independent rear suspension is sensitive to tramlines.
The central rigid gear lever is well placed clear of the seat and the gear change functions rapidly and impeccably.
Leaving Dusseldorf on the Sunday morning we found it easy to average 88 m.p.h. on the autobahn to Hanover without exceeding much over 90 m.p.h. and this in spite of showers of Dutchmen in their VWs travelling at modest speeds in the outer lane. We were able later, on the road to Bremen, to take some acceleration figures after having checked the speedometer, which proved to be 3 m.p.h. fast at 75 m.p.h. Two up, with considerable luggage aboard, to 60 m.p.h. occupied 12 seconds, to 75 m.p.h. took 22 seconds, and to 80 m.p.h. took 25 seconds. A standing start kilometre was covered in 35.6 seconds and 0-60-0 m.p.h. occupied 16-1/2 seconds, the brakes being outstandingly light, progressive and powerful. The Solex carburetters have two-stage throttle action and the change-over is discernible as a slight flat spot. The gearbox is notable for the silence of the indirect gears. Our objective was to visit the Borgward factory at Bremen and the journey there from Stuttgart proved what an excellent motor car the 190SL Mercedes-Benz is for long-distance travel but it was on leaving Bremen at 3.30 the following afternoon that the car really came into its own. We had to traverse the length of the city and encountered long hold ups and more traffic jams than Hanover. But once on the autobahn the Mercedes really got into its stride; even then, there were long stretches of 100 k.p.h. speed limit yet this night journey of 700 kilometres back to Stuttgart was accomplished in 6 hours 43 minutes from “door to door,” which included crossing Stuttgart to our hotel. This represents an overall average speed of 64.4 m.p.h. On this after dark journey along the autobahn 88-1/2 miles were covered during our best hour’s motoring. Driven for long spells at over 100 m.p.h. the Mercedes returned a petrol consumption of 22.2 m.p.g. and during our 1,200-mile two-day jaunt it consumed less than 1 pint of oil, equal to a consumption of 6,000 m.p.g. It never put a foot wrong and its comfortable suspension, excellent braking, and feeling of durability are the outstanding impressions we retain of this fine car.
Some hours after we had returned it Mercedes-Benz had serviced it, washed it and it was off on another fast journey. In respect of the excellent performance from its 1.9-litre engine, its comfort, luxury and safe handling this Mercedes-Benz 190SL ranks amongst the World’s outstanding cars and we were privileged to have had this opportunity of road-testing it in its native land.
Looking in at Borgward
The Borgward factories are grouped together on the East side of Bremen, and comprise the Goliath and Lloyd small car factories and the Carl Borgward factory which builds the fast 1-1/2-litre Borgward two-door saloons, coupés and station wagons, truck, and military vehicles. In all 20,000-22,000 persons are employed, 10,000 at the Borgward works. Last year the group made a total of 103,212 vehicles, of which Borgward built 40,386.
At the Borgward works body parts are given four coats of paint before the bodies are assembled. Body assembly is completed on two very slow-moving assembly lines almost at floor level, saloons and station wagons travelling along the same conveyor. An interesting feature is the use of separate wing pressings, making for easy replacement should these become damaged in a road accident. Sound-proofing material is liberally sprayed on the panels and body interior before the floor covering is stuck down.
The components required for assembly are brought by hand to racks alongside the conveyors, assembly being a comparatively leisurely process. Incidentally, no protective “jackets” are fitted to the bodies while assembly is in process, as is done by Peugeot to protect the paintwork. The body shells are lowered onto the final assembly line from an overhead conveyor, over the power unit and back axle which are statically-mounted on the conveyor belt. There is frenzied activity on the part of five operatives as the body is guided into place, after which they attach power unit and axle by hand. The steering gear incorporates a damper and the front doors have pockets, two rather unusual items.
Isabella and T.S. engines are stacked about the shop ready for hoisting onto the assembly conveyor. The radiator is lowered in and the cars come down to floor level, wheels of the required colour being brought to the line for fitting. The engine of the completed car is started at the end of the line and immediately the car is driven into a darkened bay for head-lamp setting and tracking of the front wheels. Every Borgward then goes out on a short 15-20 km. road test, after which it is driven through a bay where rain-proof-ness is checked under high-pressure water jets. One car emerges from the Bremen factory every eight minutes. The daily output is approximately 150 Borgwards, of which 25 are the handsome Isabella coupés, the bodies of which are welded up on a separate line in the Press shop, the output of station wagons varying according to demand but being at present about ten a day, while in a separate shop some 30 trucks are produced daily. Incidentally, as at Mercedes-Benz, customers sometimes collect their new Borgwards in person. When we remarked that this is no longer encouraged in England because our manufacturers found it a nuisance, we were told. “So do we, but some customers still manage to make arrangements to collect new Borgwards direct from our factory.”
The Borgward factory consists of five main buildings, the press shop, the engine assembly shop, the main assembly hall, the truck assembly shop and the office block, the last-named containing a very fine experimental department and series of dynamometer rooms. The total area covered is 250,000 sq. metres. Incidentally, few women operatives are employed in the Borgward factory.
The press shop contains Weingarten, Kieserling, Clearing, Schuler, Sige and Muller presses, the main battery of presses numbering 23, including I,000-ton Weingartens. Main and subsidiary body panels are pressed out together in some instances but sheet steel is hand-fed to the machines. Large stores of body parts are stacked up in the press shop.
The machine shop and engine assembly bay is extremely impressive. Engines are assembled on trolleys moving as a slow assembly line from which 250 engines are produced daily. After completion every engine, including the diesel truck engines, is run-in for one hour on a test stand with clean oil circulating through it. There are 16 of these test stands. Borgward are extremely thorough over engine testing. After the hour’s running-in each engine goes to a bay shut off from the engine assembly shop, wherein are 18 Zollner electric dynamometers on which every engine is run for five hours and each one is power tested. The Isabella 1-1/2-litre engine gives 60 b.h.p., the T.S. power-unit the excellent output of 75 b.h.p. and we were assured that no lower horse-power reading is permitted.
Gearbox teeth are ground on MAAG grinding machines and batteries of Stachely and Pfauter gear cutters are used, driven by Demag and other electric motors. Apart from cars assembled at Bremen crates of parts leave this factory for assembly in many countries.
After we had walked round the factory, we were taken out to lunch by Herr Myer, head of the Customer Relations Department, and Herr Fischer, the Press Chief, the latter’s charming lady secretary having accompanied us round the factory as interpreter. Herr Myer used to be a keen amateur racing motor-cyclist; first with a Cotton-Blackburne, later with Rudge machines, until the Hitler régime, when racing became too professional under State direction. He is a shrewd observer of present-day motor racing and, before taking us to the splendid experimental department to see the new petrol-injection twin o.h.c. 1-1/2-litre sixteen-valve Borgward engines destined for Cooper Cars and Rob Walker, Herr Myer asked us many questions relating to the Cooper, Lotus, Elva, and other British sports/racing cars. In the experimental department are last year’s sports/racing Borgwards, where they are likely to remain and be used for experimental research, as they are not for sale. They have Borgward turbo-fin brakes, de Dion back axles, front suspension consisting of slightly modified and strengthened normal Isabella i.f.s. units and Bosch petrol-injection. The early cars had inclined o.h.v. engines with valve actuation by long and short rockers and push-rods and dural bodies, the later cars twin-cam engines and elektron bodywork. Both used five-speed all-synchromesh gearboxes. The 1959 RS engine has the four-valve-per-cylinder twin-plug pent-roof head which lends itself particularly well to fuel injection, stretch-pattern big-end bolts obviating the need for lock washers, and light-alloy bearing caps. There is provision for a small belt-driven dynamo.
These engines are entirely different from the production Borgward engines, and 150-160 b.h.p. is developed.
Last year Borgward built five racing engines. This year they propose to make four for installation in Coopers but are unlikely to take orders for more. Each of these engines costs in excess of £1,000, being hand-assembled and exhaustively tested. Whether this promising 1-1/2-litre engine is used by the factory for Formula 1 racing in 1961 rests entirely with Carl Borgward, which to date has issued no directives. Nor will the factory race their sports Borgwards this year. They have had a Cooper-Borgward on test — on the local autobahn — with the police co-operative in being somewhere else at the times they send their works’ driver out on test runs!
Back at Mercedes-Benz
On the Tuesday morning we were back at Mercedes-Benz to return the 190SL, so we took the opportunity of taking a quick look at the Stuttgart engine assembly lines and of sampling the petrol-injection 220SE saloon.
Mercedes-Benz is the most dignified, efficient and hospitable motor car factory we have visited. All round Stuttgart you encounter places redolent of Daimler-Benz history — Unterturkheim, Bad Canstatt, Mannheim. Mercedes-Benz builds huge marine engines, lorries, coaches, and the go-almost-anywhere Unimog, besides a range of quality and high-performance cars and its factories are many and scattered. It employs a total of 56,000 employees of whom some 16,000 work at the main factory at Stuttgart, other factories being situated at Mannheim, Sindelfingen, Daggenan and Berlin. Here cylinder blocks cast at Mannheim are planed, bored and honed on the most modern of automatic transfer machinery. Of these, perhaps the most impressive are the fully automatic electro-hydraulic Heller planing machines and the Burkharot & Weber automatic drilling machines, driven by Schorch and other electric motors. The entire planing process of the cylinder blocks is supervised by about five operatives, otherwise it is entirely automatic. Swarf is cleaned out of the blocks, they are tested in a pressure bath, then dried off. Honing is done by Nagel transfer honers and Burr honing drills.
Every engine is run-in, first on coal gas, then on petrol. We counted 33 test stands and over 40 dynamometers, where engine testing is scrupulously carried out. Every engine, except the SL engines which are tested elsewhere, is power-tested and a minimum tolerance of minus 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. below the D.I.N. ratings oI the engines is required.
Stub axles are turned out on Heller transfer machines, two men being able to look after the entire operation. Brake drum blanks are automatically fed to other Heller transfer machines. Throughout the factory inspection of material and finished parts is rigid; it is carried out on up to 15 per cent. of the production programme.
190SL engines are separately assembled on their own line, while the 220SE and 300SL engines are hand-assembled to racing-car standards.
Almost as impressive as the production of cars is the way in which Mercedes-Benz feed their workers. The canteen serves 6,000 three-course, self-service meals in 70 minutes, the modern kitchen having eight main ovens. The meal, with a drink, costs 60f. (about 1/2d.) and there is also a menu for diabetics and a canteen for disabled workers, 400 special diet meals being served daily.
After seeing this efficient workers’ canteen in operation we were taken to lunch by Prince Urach in the visitors’ dining room, reached by lift in the main office block. Here our table was decorated by a Union Jack and our host remarked that visitors of almost every nationality are entertained by Daimler-Benz. This reminds us that there is a story circulating in Stuttgart to the effect that when beautiful Princess Soraya paid a visit to the Mercedes-Benz plant the workers naturally left the assembly lines to see and photograph her, resulting in a loss to that day’s output of ten cars; when Mikoyan visited the factory the loss to the day’s production was a mere five cars….
After lunch we departed for a few hours to sample a Mercedes-Benz 220SE saloon and managed to cover nearly 100 miles in this impressive car, including covering some fast laps of the 11 km. Solitude circuit, on public roads running through the forests that surround Stuttgart, and which Mercedes-Benz are able to have closed for test purposes when they wish — in a few days’ time they were due to stage a Press demonstration of some new commercial vehicles at this useful circuit, which is reminiscent of Spa in its gradients and wide sweeping curves and where neat, wooden-shuttered pits flank the road in readiness for the next race meeting.
This 220SE from Uhlenhaut’s experimental department was shod with Dunlop RS tyres — noisy over concrete setts — and had Hella head and spot lamps. The engine is notable for Bosch petrol injection, giving smooth rapid pick-up and good fuel economy. This is injection into the ports, whereas, of course, the 300SL has injection into the combustion chambers.
Our first impression was of the luxury of this big saloon, our second how silently and with what freedom from wind noise this “square” -bodied car with wide windscreen ran at high speeds. This dignified Mercedes-Benz went easily up to an indicated 108 m.p.h. and, as its Vdo ribbon-style speedometer was 4 k.p.h. fast at 120 k.p.h., this can be considered a genuine 100 m.p.h., which is extremely commendable when it is remembered that the engine capacity is a mere 2.2-litres. Indicated maxima in the lower gears were, respectively, 31, 48 and 75 m.p.h. The gears are changed by a slender steering-column lever which functions lightly and precisely, the lever rigid in spite of its delicate appearance, but with rather long movements.
The steering is free from kick-back, but transmits some vibration. Fairly low-geared, it is normally light, heavier towards full lock and has useful castor return action. As on the 190SL, the brakes are superb — extremely powerful, yet light and progressive to apply. As has been said, wind-noise is virtually absent at 100 m.p.h., while the interior appointments of the Mercedes-Benz 220SE are the epitome of luxury, backed up by extremely comfortable suspension characteristics. At first the front doors appear to be devoid of pockets but closer examination reveals large, pull-out pockets upholstered to match the interior and normally fitting flush with the doors. The same excellent heating and ventilator controls as on the 190SL are fitted, the facia is of highly polished beechwood and the upholstery was in an original and attractive combination of mottled plastic and cloth. Below the speedometer neat square instruments record water temperature, oil pressure, distance total and trip readings and petrol tank capacity, while in the centre is a clock.
The ashtrays are built out on fillets in the rear compartment of this spacious saloon, the horn-ring and headlamps flasher are as on the 190SL and in addition to the aforesaid heater controls for driver and passenger aircraft-type fresh-air inlets for finger-tip operation are let into each end of the facia and a particularly pleasing fitting is that of coat hooks which slide along rails under the roof.
We took some hurried acceleration figures, after checking the speedometer and allowing for its mild optimism, but these were hampered by traffic and rather severe clutch slip. However, 0-75 m.p.h. was accomplished in 22 seconds, equalling the figure achieved by the sports 190SL! So this petrol-injection 220SE really goes and we predict that soon many who require fast luxury travel will consider this latest and luxurious Mercedes-Benz, which does on a modest size but extremely efficient and well-built engine what previously called for a power unit of 2-1/2 or even 3-litres. In this country this fine car costs £2,896 7s. inclusive of import duty and purchase tax.
This short test of a Mercedes-Benz 220SE concluded our week’s business visit abroad. The next morning we loaded the faithful Sunbeam Rapier with more luggage-weight than many people put into a light camion of equivalent size and, four-up, set off in heavy rain — at last the wonderfully warm weather had broken — on our way to Ostend and the Air Charter channel air ferry, via Brussels, where the remains of the World Fair are still to be seen. Apart from a puncture in the off-side front Weathermaster on the autobahn no trouble was experienced and the British Rapier was cruising as effortlessly as ever, as our journey drew towards its close along the long, straight motor roads of Belgium, past Jebbeke, where speed records are made. Even the abnormal load did not greatly affect the road-holding or leave it devoid of brakes.
The Sunbeam, indeed, had served us faithfully for a distance of 1,765 miles since leaving England a week previously. Always its water temperature stayed at 170 deg. F., oil pressure never fell below 45-50 lb./sq. in. and a petrol check showed consumption to be 25-1/2 m.p.g. in spite of the manner in which we were obliged to press on. As to oil consumption, we added less than half a gallon. Well done, indeed, this rally-developed Coventry product! A full road test of the Sunbeam on English roads was published in Motor Sport for March, 1958.
We had been abroad for eight days, during which time the writer and a colleague covered 1,300 miles in the Sunbeam Rapier (which was used for local runs in the Stuttgart area by another party for part of the time), 1,142 miles in the Mercedes-Benz 190SL, and 95 miles in the 220SE, in addition to which our hosts at Daimler-Benz drove us probably another 50 miles in various Mercedes-Benz cars. Apart from motoring some 2,500 miles we visited three motor-car factories. When he was not driving or trudging round factories the writer was talking into a Minifon wire recorder, and when he wasn’t talking into the recorder he was replenishing his energy with food and drink and sleep. Having set down the outcome of a busy week, he begs to be excused — so that he can do some motoring. —W. B.
Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster
Engine: Four cylinders, 85 by 83.6 mm. (1,897 cc), Overhead valves operated by single o.h. camshaft. 8.5 to 1 compression-ratio. 120 (gross) b.h.p. at 5,700 r.p.m
Gear ratios: First, 13.7 to 1; second, 9.02 to 1; third, 5.92 to 1; top 3.89 to 1.
Tyres: 6.40 by 13 Firestone Super Balloon 4-ply Nylon Sport on bolt-on steel disc wheels.
Weight: Not weighed. (Maker’s figure: 21-3/4 cwt. with 5 gallons of petrol).
Steering ratio: 3-1/4 turns lock-to-lock
Fuel capacity: 14.3 gallons, including 1-1/2 gallons in reserve. (Range approximately 318 miles.)
Wheelbase: 7 ft. 10-1/2 in.
Track: Front, 4 ft. 8-1/4 in.; rear, 4 ft. 9-7/8 in.
Dimensions: 13 ft. 10-1/8 in. by 5 ft. 8-1/2 in. by 4 ft. 4 in. (high).
Price: £1,930 (£2,896 inclusive of import duty and purchase tax.)
Makers: Mercedes-Benz Ltd., Stuttgart-Unterturkheim, Germany.
Concessionaires: Mercedes-Benz (Great Britain) Ltd., 10, Albermarle Street, London, W.1.