Mercedes-Benz and BMW: A Brotherly Rivalry That Spanned Over a Century

BMW 7 Series/Mercedes-Benz S-Class collage 1 photo
Photo: Image edited by autoevolution
The general consensus regarding German carmakers is that, despite the sheer lunacy of some of their models, they are usually about as conservative as Angela Merkel.
Even German humor is thought by many to be almost non-existent, with many nations being under the impression that there's no such thing as a German joke.

Still, those of you who have been closely watching the German car industry evolve over the years are already familiar with the existence of a very pronounced sense of satire and irony in the former Teutonic lands, even when it comes to more serious things, like making cars.

Around 2005 or so, when BMW was still known for making mostly RWD cars with naturally aspirated engines that revved into the stratosphere, the Bavarian brand was making fun of rivals with Audi and Mercedes-Benz badges.

For example, to deride Audi's FWD-based platforms, Munich's marketing made a series of ads with “RWD-based” animals, such as a rabbit, a frog or a horse, which had their “power legs” switched from the rear to the front. The tagline was something along the likes of “That's why we don't have front wheel drives.

BMW also took pleasure in lampooning Mercedes-AMG engines, which had gobs of torque compared to M-Technik's naturally aspirated screamers, by putting up the picture of a tractor when discussing their rivals internally.

In a somewhat humorous manner, BMW has not one, but two front-wheel-drive models nowadays, both of which are also minivans, while all their M models feature turbocharging and thus plenty of torque.

As it happens, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have been at it for decades, and the three-pointed star apparently considers its archenemy from Munich to have been a direct competitor since its inception, 100 years ago.

Earlier this week, Mercedes-Benz's official Facebook page wanted to show everyone its tongue-in-cheek “Happy Birthday” message for BMW, in which it poked some fun at their rivalry in a not so subtle way.

On top of it, Daimler also offered BMW employees free entry to the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart from March 8 to March 13, and free parking on the hill directly in front of the museum if they turn up driving a Bimmer. To make matters worse/better, the first 50 BMW employees to take up the offer are “cordially invited to partake of a Swabian specialty citing the double kidney shape of the signature BMW radiator grille.” If that isn't brotherly love and a perfect example of German humor, then I don't know what is.

Come to think about it, these slight pokes are nothing new between the two companies, which, despite their differences, have almost always played a fair-play game and respected each other.

French car designer Paul Bracq first styled a number of Mercedes-Benz models in the 1960s and early 1970s before becoming the design director at BMW, where he was in charge of the first ever 7 Series and the Turbo concept, which eventually spawned the iconic M1.

Karim Habib, who is currently the Chief Designer of the BMW brand, also had a short stint at Mercedes-Benz between 2009 and 2011, where he penned the F700 and F800 concepts. Interestingly, Habib had been snatched by Mercedes after spending quite a few years at the carmaker whose design team it now leads, so you could say he helped both brands achieve a new design language in recent years.

Bracq and Habib are just two of the high-ranking employees that worked for both BMW and Mercedes-Benz at a given time, and stuff like this isn't as common when it comes to other German car brands. As a matter of fact, it's only Munich and Stuttgart that have continuously cooperated over the years, despite the press almost always describing them as arch rivals.

Going further back, we can also see that BMW and Mercedes-Benz also share a lot of history in areas that you wouldn't believe, such as some of their best-known sports cars. For example, both the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing and the BMW 507 were largely created thanks to the lobby conducted by the same man.

Max Hoffman, who was probably the biggest European car importer in the United States in the 1950s, influenced both Mercedes-Benz and BMW in creating the two beauties mentioned before. Even though the 507 was a financial flop compared to the 300 SL, it's still regarded as one of the most important BMWs of old.

In fact, the not so obvious connection between the two German car giants was at one point so strong that, if it hadn't been for the faith of a certain Herbert Quandt, BMW would have ended as a subsidiary of Daimler alongside Mercedes-Benz. Maybe it's better that history didn't let that plan come to fruition, though, since even inseparable brothers need to move on and each start their own families at some point.

Despite all their differences and almost conflicting images, BMW and Mercedes-Benz will forever remain like a pair of brothers with different mothers. Both perfectly symbolize the reason behind German engineering stereotypes, and for good reason. So, they might be fierce competitors when it comes to overall sales, but they sure seem to duel it out like gentlemen.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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