A tale of two museums

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Recently I had the opportunity to visit Stuttgart, Germany. The city is home to both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz and both automakers have museums open to the public located next door to their respective automotive plants within the vicinity of the city.

Happily I was able to attend both of these museums across consecutive days during the course of my visit. I thought you might be interested in seeing a few of the pictures and hearing a little bit about my experiences of these two museums.

Porsche Museum

The Porsche Museum is located in the Zuffenhausen district of Stuttgart in an area known as ‘PorschePlatz’. It is very accessible for visitors to the city using public or personal transportation. I personally used the public S-Bahn rail system to access the museum with the train station named Neuwirtshaus (Porscheplatz) located immediately to the rear of the museum.

 

Porsche Museum exterior
Porsche works across the road.
Porsche center dealership

 

 

 

 

 

The building itself is architecturally brilliant with the entrance lobby, restaurant/cafe and workshop with glass wall located on the ground floor. I did notice in the workshop area behind the glass was a partially reconstructed QuakerState/Fosters branded March-Porsche Indycar.

The basic admission price for the museum is €8 although a variety of options exist including tourist passes which gave access to public transport and other museums in the area, as well as a bundled ticket which also included access to the Mercedes-Benz Museum. The museum allows you to freely explore at your own pace, however I did notice a few group guided tours happening as well, some of which appeared to include the option to tour the Porsche factory across the street. Personally my experience was just myself and a friend walking around the museum at our own pace.

The museum really comes into its own after you ascend the long escalator from the Lobby into the museum area itself. The first area we came across at this point was a collection of Porsche 550’s from the companies efforts on the Carerra Panamericana road race during the early to mid 1950s.

Porsche 550.

As you can imagine at this sight, my grin was already huge and I thought I’d ascended into Porsche heaven! That must be why the escalator was so long! The museum in places was quite busy, although you could easily get close to the exhibits.

It became immediately apparent that this museum was particularly ‘open’ access. Lots of Automotive museums around the world tend to include barriers around their exhibits so you can view them, but from a specific distance. I guess that style is fair enough given those are generally private collections. It was really pleasant however to be able to go into a car museum and walk right up to the vehicle I was admiring.  The style of the museum was as you would expect from Porsche, a very clean, modern style throughout with consistent lighting. This area also featured some of Porsche’s 330 models and a Porsche 718/2 F2 car from 1959.

Next up was a look at some of Porsche’s road cars. I’ve not included many pictures of these in the article but if you want to see them, mention in the comments below and I’ll happily share. Also on display was the Diesel Tractor you may have seen in the recent Audi vs Porsche Le Mans videos back when the 919 programme began. A fiberglass shell of the Porsche 908 was also on display.  My eyes however were already looking into the distance at the collection of Porsche’s famous Le Mans entrants.

You have to remember how important Le Mans is to Porsche. This is a company whose legacy is built on road sports cars and Le Mans. A company that has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans outright 19 times and have had countless other results in GT races around the world.

As I understand it, this is a museum which adapts and changes frequently and therefore what was on display during my visit may be slightly different the next time. For my visit the cars featured included a Porsche 909 Bergspyder designed exclusively by Porsche for hill-climbing and driven in period by Rolf Stommelen. A Porsche 908LH driven by Gerard Larrouse and Hans Hermann. The 1971 917 LH in Martini livery driven by Gerard Larrousse and Vic Elford during the 1971 24 Hours of Le Mans which failed to finish, the 917K in Gulf Livery, a Martini liveried Group 6 era 936/77 and the ‘Moby Dick’ Porsche 935 among others.

Porsche 917/20 ‘The Pink Pig’
Porsche 917 KH
Porsche 936/77

 

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Porsche 917 LH (Langheck)
upside down ‘956’
‘Moby Dick’ Porsche 935

 

 

 

 

 

A selection of Porsche’s other racing exploits made up the next section of the museum, including Rothmans sponsored Dakar and Safari Rally entered cars as well as a Kremer Porsche. Opposite was a suspended upside down Rothmans Porsche 956 entrant designed for the legendary ‘Group C’ regulation set with an explanation of how theoretically the car could be driven upside down.

Trophy collection

I rather enjoyed admiring the Trophy collection that Porsche had placed on display including one of their many Le Mans 24 Hours winners. It brought home how much racing means to Porsche alongside later generation road cars.

A series of more recent Porsche race cars from the 1980s followed, including a Group C Dauer Porsche 956, this one positioned the right way up. (This one the right way up)
The highlight for me of this part of the museum however was the display of the 1998 Le Mans  Porsche 911 GT1-98. Because of the GT1 regulations of the period stipulating that the race car had to based on a road car, Porsche also created road legal versions of the car as displayed next to it in the museum. Additionally featured were the Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 as was fielded by Penske in the American Le Mans Series from 2005-2008 to great success. Also on display was one of Manthey Racing’s Porsche’s 911 race winning examples from the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring.

911 GT1-98 Road car.
1998 Porsche 911-98 GT1.
Porsche RS Spyder

 

 

 

 

 

As you head to the upper floor, a selection of Porsche’s more contemporary and future road cars including recent 911’s, some of Porsche’s Mission E products as well as the mid 2000s Porsche Carerra GT supercar features. The museum effectively finishes with a display of the Porsche 918 road car alongside the Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1. The 919 on display is the 2014 model from their return year to prototype competition and thankfully features a couple of clear battlescars instead of been a museum-perfect example.

Porsche 919 Hybrid
Porsche 919 ‘battlescars’ up close
Porsche Carerra GT

 

 

 

 

 

Personally I loved the Porsche museum. It took about an hour and a half to visit and features a little above 80 vehicles from Porsche’s automotive and racing history. It also interestingly featured a couple of examples of cars developed by ‘Austro-Daimler’ from the era when Ferdinand Porsche was a designer prior to the founding of Porsche, which links nicely into to the next museum I attended.

Mercedes-Benz Museum

The Mercedes-Benz Museum is located next to the Mercedes Works near to the town of Bad Canstatt within the Canstatt district. Geographically Mercedes-Benz is located much closer to the city centre than Porsche. It is however slightly more challenging to reach by public transport. The options included an S-Bahn train to Bad Canstatt then a bus directly to museum front door or an S-Bahn train to Stuttgart Neckarpark station, with a short walk from the station to the museum. Both options are relatively straightforward although not quite as direct as the Porsche museum. Alternatively if you have your own transport the museum featured large car parking spaces.

The advantage for us of waiting for the bus was that just down the road happened to also be a Porsche 70th anniversary event so the entire ‘Mercedesstraße’ was basically ironically full of individuals taking their Porsches to this event, which was a pleasant sight when waiting for of course a Mercedes-Benz public bus back to Stuttgart!

So Mercedes-Benz is of course a far larger company than Porsche. It is far more deeply integrated into the city of Stuttgart with a stadium, other sponsored locations and even the train station adorned with a three pointed star. The companies ancestral roots go back to the very beginning of the motorised vehicle and the company has played an integral role in shaping history. Therefore it is unsurprising that the museum is far more extensive than Porsche, existing over seven floors each with a different theme and time period related to the companies history.  Architecturally the design is very different to Porsche, however once again it feels ‘right’ for the brand for it to be designed in such a way.

Mercedes-Benz Werks.
Mercedes-Benz museum.
Mercedes Benz dealership & exterior buildings.

 

 

 

 

 

Once you enter the museum, the sheer scale of it becomes obvious. The building effectively has an open plan style with lifts going up through the centre of it and exhibits in large platform areas located on either side. After paying the admission fee, you proceed to an area were you are given a headset and a touchscreen audio device available in multiple languages. Parts of the audio begin automatically as you travel through the museum however the rest of it is based on you pointing the device at exhibit information which gives you options for further specific detail. The museum begins on the 7th floor, with a horse and a quote about the automobile as a passing trend, ‘I believe in the horse’ or words to that effect from the 1800s.

Benz Patent motorwagen

Walking into the exhibition area, you are shown the very beginnings of both companies. The main feature is the Benz Patent Motorwagen from 1886 as designed by Benz and Cie and is widely regarded as the worlds first automobile. The floor also features a number of vehicles by Gottleib Daimler & Willhelm Maybach which Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) produced in the early years before Daimler’s death in 1900.

As you begin to come down from the top floor, the walls are adorned with information on world events in this period. The whole museum dedicates a lot to world history and explains important changes in the world and the effect some of these had on the company. I quite liked the balance between world history and company history struck throughout the museum.

The second floor features turn of the century ‘cars’ demonstrating the fast development curve  from the patent wagon and designs upstairs to beautiful early motorcars through to the 1920s. Also explained in this area part of the museum is were the name ‘Mercedes’ originated from and the merger between Benz and Cie and DMG to form the company known as ‘Mercedes-Benz’

 

Mercedes-Benz 500K

The area of the museum focused on the 1930s featured the Mercedes 500K among a number of models. It also explained the beginnings of Mercedes-Benz in motorsport and the complicated political and societal changes of the era.

 

 

Mercedes 300SL
Mercedes SLR

Heading into the ‘modern era’ Mercedes famous 1950s 300 SL and Mercedes SLR were the highlights. The ‘Gullwing’ 500SL has effectively become a signature of Mercedes-Benz in the years since and it was amazing to be able to see these cars in reality.

The rest of the floors focused on the modern Mercedes-Benz road cars and a demonstration of ‘Future technology’ including experimental cars from the 1980s and current all-electric technology. One area of interest in the future technology section was the demonstration of a Mercedes fuel cell van from the 1980s next to a current A-Class demonstrating the size difference in the fuel cell technology that had allowed it to go from barely fitting in the van to basically within the size of a regular car. Mercedes also demonstrated some of its safety innovations in this area.

The bottom floor was the part I was absolutely in awe of though, which is strange when I’d spent by this point a good few hours staring at gorgeous road cars. I knew prior to going that Mercedes-Benz Motorsport collection was something special but nothing quite prepared me for how amazing this collection looked in person.  The style of the museum was very different to Porsche, with a lot of attention to presentation and cars based on large platforms.

The area dedicated to racing however was just incredible. You could see down to the floor below throughout the museum via viewing platforms. The Motorsport area had set the cars on effectively a banked road. So looking down from above you saw the collection out in front of you and what a collection it was!

Features included a Black Falcon entered Mercedes SLS GT3, Pascal Wehrlein’s championship winning DTM car, Bernd Schneider’s 1995 DTM winning car, Lewis Hamilton’s championship winning 2014 Mercedes Benz and his 2008 McLaren, Mika Hakinnen’s 1998 winning McLaren, a Mercedes CLK-GTR, Sauber C9 and some examples of Mercedes-Benz championship winning truck racing vehicles (and not the american type) along with the early years of ‘AMG’.

Collection of Mercedes race vehicles
Wehrlein’s DTM car among others.
1989 Le Mans winning Sauber Mercedes C9
McLaren MP4-23

 

 

 

Mercedes WO5 Hybrid
McLaren-Mercedes MP4-13

 

The display also featured some of Mercedes-Benz racing simulators and encased in glass, engines from various points in Mercedes-Benz racing history both in Grand Prix Racing and Indycar Racing.

1936 Mercedes Grand Prix engine
‘Beast’ The 1994 Indy 500 Penske-Mercedes Engine.
F1 Power unit.

 

 

 

 

 

You could effectively walk around the top and bottom of the exhibits when on the bottom floor. Next up was the heritage side of Mercedes-Benz racing programmes, featuring the world famous  ‘Silver arrows’.  The recent racing cars are amazing but historic racing cars are always special, particularly those as famous as the Silver Arrows. That effectively concluded the museum.

 

 

 

 

Classic Mercedes race vehicle transporter.

We decided at this point to go back up to the top of the museum and go down the other side of the building which we had missed. This featured a large selection of Mercedes Commercial vehicles, safety vehicles including an F1 Doctors car and a variety of other vehicles including buses, the ‘popemobile’,movie cars and various other vehicles supplied by Mercedes Benz. My favourite part of this section of the museum was the aerodynamically designed 1950s Mercedes Benz Race Transporter. I just love that for events like the Mille Miglia, it was decided that they needed a transporter appropriate for the purpose of carrying them and thus designed one precisely for the purpose.

F1 SLS safety car

From here we went back downstairs to see the final exhibits, handed back the audio devices and admired some of Mercedes streamliner designs, before looking at the Mercedes SLS F1 safety car and an SLS 722 edition, ending the visit with a look around the Mercedes-Benz dealership attached to the museum. I spent about 3 and a half hour going around this museum. Mercedes-Benz history is amazing, the museum is enormous and I could easily have spent a bit more time in it than I did.

Fangio sculpture outside.

Overall I don’t think I have a clear favourite of the two museums. Both of them are very enjoyable and interesting visits in different ways.  My word of advice would be if you decided to go, then I would definitely suggest visiting the Porsche museum first if you plan to see both due to the scale difference between the two museums. Both are certainly very worthy of a visit and I’m very pleased I had the opportunity to visit them.

 

 

 

 

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Brilliant, thanks Tom. Thanks for sharing that with us, and that selection of pictures – I’d definitely like to see more from both museums – especially the 909 Bergspyder, which is so exquisitely detailed. It sounds like the museums are quite different in character. I like the idea of the Mercedes museum featuring the world events that were current when the cars were released. Did the Porsche museum provide any context for their race cars? I’d imagine that without your encyclopedic knowledge of motor sport it could be a bit bewildering. So now I know that my next trip to… Read more »