An atmosphere of research and development envelops visitors to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Legend Room 5: Visionaries – Safety and the Environment. One of the exhibits with a podium all to itself is the Experimental Safety Vehicle ESF 22. The large saloon looks similar to the S-Class of the 1970s. But the front section alone is already a tour de force of the engineers in the service of safety.
The vehicle’s front end is characterised by large expanses of plastic. The purpose of this material was to improve pedestrian protection – that was the concept of the developers at the time. To this end, they even dispensed with the typical Mercedes radiator grille with chrome trim. Instead they used the front section of the SL sports cars with a large central star, and wrapped it in impactabsorbing material. The headlamps are also surrounded by this, and recessed slightly. The bumpers are likewise designed to absorb energy.
In the early 1970s, road accident statistics in western countries reached a lamentable peak. As traffic density increased, so did the number of accident victims. Innovations in vehicle safety were able to improve the situation – as early as 1959, for example, Mercedes-Benz had set standards with the safety bodyshell of its “Fintail” saloons. However, not all manufacturers focused their development work on further improving passive and active safety. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) provided a stimulus: it established the “Experimental Safety Vehicle Program” (ESV). This was intended to develop new automotive safety standards for all manufacturers.
The so-called Experimental Safety Vehicles (ESFs) were used for testing. All in all, Mercedes-Benz has built more than 30 of these since 1971. The Mercedes-Benz ESF 22 was the company’s third publicly presented ESF. It was shown at the 4th International ESV Conference in Kyoto, Japan from 13-16 March 1973. This was preceded by public premieres of the ESF 05 in October 1971 and ESF 13 in May 1972. Most recently, the ESF 2019 was presented four years ago, again with groundbreaking innovations.
The ESF research vehicles provided an important impetus for safety technologies. Restraint systems, smooth impact areas in the interior, ABS anti-lock braking system, headlamp wipers, bodyshell measures – the ESF 05 and ESF 13 already featured these and other innovations. The ESF 22 built further on all this. It further refined these developments and provided additional safety.
Behind the front section the ESF 22 looks familiar. Quite so – it was based on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class model series 116 presented in 1972. This underlines the high safety standard of the brand’s production vehicles. While not all the measures tested in the ESF were later adopted in the model portfolio, the general goal of Mercedes-Benz safety development is to offer customers specific benefits with as many of these technologies as possible.
The company has taken a systematic approach to safety development since the 1950s. The list of innovations since then is a long one. And it will never end: for example, electric vehicles, with their various options for the use of space within the vehicle body, place quite new demands on safety systems. Mercedes-Benz engineers are developing conclusive answers to these. The brand always has its finger on the pulse – even 50 years after the launch of the ESF 22.