With its inconspicuous grey paintwork, the Mercedes-Benz ambulance built in 1937 differs significantly from today’s standard. This is demonstrated by its immediate neighbours in the Mercedes-Benz Museum: a few vehicles further on, in the Collection Room 3: The Gallery of Helpers, is an emergency ambulance dating from 2001 that has a box body based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter – with blue lights, siren and the familiar livery in bright colours. The Mercedes-Benz 320 ambulance at the Museum, on the other hand, does not yet have the visual and acoustic warning functions that have been standard since the middle of the 20th century. In technical jargon, these are referred to as blue “rotating beacons” and a “two-tone horn”. Instead, a simple Red Cross sign lights up above the windscreen during operations.
Musical instrument manufacturer Hohner in the German town of Trossingen purchased the ambulance based on the comfortable Mercedes-Benz 320 (W 142), presented in 1937 and featuring a 57 kW (78 PS) 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine, for its company medical service. Open the two side-hinged rear doors and you’ll find stretchers for two patients on the left-hand side, one above the other. The lower stretcher can be loaded and unloaded quickly and gently, as it rests on a rail-guided roller-mounted bogie. The bench seat on the right is presumably for an attendant – ideally medically trained. There is also a folding seat. All in all, the vehicle offers a better standard than the so-called “rear-view mirror rescue”: until the nationwide introduction of the modern ambulance service, the paramedic doubled as the driver and kept an eye on the patient in the rear-view mirror while driving.
86 years ago, in the event of an accident or other medical emergency, the focus was not on first aid at the scene of the incident, but on fast and reliable transport to a hospital or doctor’s office. But at least the ambulance already provided options for emergency treatment en route. What measures were carried out at the time? The exhibit at the Mercedes-Benz Museum gives us clues: there is a holder for a cylindrical object – perhaps a gas cylinder for respiration. There is a kidney dish in a compartment in the partition facing the driver.
Today’s emergency service with its now familiar structures and vehicles was systematically built up in Germany from the 1970s onwards. However, various preceding organisations have existed since the 19th century. These include public, voluntary and private ambulance service providers, as well as companies with their own ambulance service. Since the 1890s, these have used vehicles with various types of drive system as ambulances. The combustion engine soon established itself as the best drive system.
The body of this 1937 ambulance was built by Lueg in Bochum according to a patented system. It makes maximum use of height and length, and is designed specifically for transporting patients. The front end as far as the windscreen corresponds to the original Mercedes-Benz 320. Behind the driver’s cab is the compartment for patients and attendants. It is heated. Access is provided by the double rear door and a side door behind the co-driver. This configuration proved its worth: later in the brand’s history, comparable ambulances of the “high-long” type were often built on the basis of chassis in the tradition of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class with a long wheelbase.
Today, there is a wide variety of Mercedes-Benz base vehicles providing for emergency rescue needs. Estate models, SUVs and vans are used by emergency doctors, while vans and van chassis with special bodies are used as ambulances. Trucks and buses bearing the Mercedes star form the basis for large-capacity ambulances and intensive care vehicles. Their key mission has remained the same: to provide emergency help – quickly and reliably.