The wheel of its day: a light-alloy classic from Mercedes-Benz
Light-alloy wheels such as the high-sheen two-tone variants, or the weight and airflow-enhanced standard wheels of the BlueEFFICIENCY models, currently represent the culmination of development which began in series production Mercedes-Benz vehicles as early as 1970. Up until that time, steel was the material of choice when it came to making wheels. Alternative materials such as aluminium, for example, were only used – if used at all- in motor racing and for specific prototypes such as the C111. The breakthrough into series production came at the end of the 1960′s, when new metal alloys and production methods found their way into large-scale production.
When the first light-alloy wheel came onto the market at the start of the 1970′s, the Mercedes-Benz model range was very well-organized. The predecessor to today’s E-Class was called the “stroke eight” and was the bestseller, accompanied in the range by the S, SE and SEL luxury Saloons, Coupés and Cabriolets, and the SL, SLC and 600 Roadster family. The model series were not so varied as the vehicles of today’s diversified product selection, which comprises models ranging from the small A/B-Class, through the Saloons of the C, E and S-Class, right up to the medium and large SUV’s of the R, GLK, M or GL-Class, as well as such sporty highlights as the SLK Roadster series and the new SLS gull-wing.
Given the early, well-organised model range, at the time it was sufficient to have just one wheel model made from the new material which could be made available for all model series. Initially Mercedes-Benz started off with forged aluminium wheels from the renowned manufacturer Fuchs, a company also famous for pro-ducing the five-spoke wheels with matt-black painted wheel braces and silver wheel rim base for the Porsche 911. The “premiere wheel” was the first to become available as an optional extra for the 280 S to 300 SEL 6.3 W 108 series Saloons, available in the sizes 6J x 14 and 6.5J x 14, and was later christened the “baroque wheel” on account of its ornate design. Up until the mid-1980′s the “baroque wheel” was the Mercedes-Benz light-alloy wheel par excellence and became inextricably associated with the brand.
After this initial foray into the world of light-alloy wheels, the range continued to be expanded. For the 190 compact model series and models from the 200 to 300 E mid-size model series, the 20-spoke light-alloy wheel first appeared in the size 6J x 15 in the accessory catalogue from the mid-1980′s, which thanks to its characteristic wheel disc shape soon earned the nickname the “police star wheel” and to some extent is considered to be the first work of Mercedes-Benz Accessories. The final triumphant move came in the same decade in the form of the legendary “manhole cover wheel”. Today, with a few exceptions, almost all of the series production vehicles from Mercedes-Benz run on light-alloy wheels.
How successful light-alloy wheels have been is reflected in the following compari-son: around 4600 examples of the “baroque” model were sold each year at the start of the 1970′s. In 2009, the majority of new Mercedes-Benz vehicles were on “alloys”. Together with the sales figures from Mercedes-Benz Accessories, the number of alloy wheels brought into circulation has increased to around 4 million per year.