Mercedes-Benz: Car Model Nomenclature, Product Codes, and Revisions From Beginning to Current
I have always been curious about how Mercedes-Benz named their cars. I thought I had a grasp on it, knowing what each model looked like and having some idea what the numbers mean. As I started learning about the history of Mercedes-Benz, there was a bit more too it, so I’m going to share this knowledge with you.
As you read this article, keep in mind that the model name and product code are two different things. The model name is the name you will see on the back of automobiles or printed in publications. Product codes are names used internally by the company for their own records. You may also hear automotive enthusiasts refer to cars by their product codes.
Mercedes Naming in the Early 1900s
We have already discussed how the Mercedes-Benz name came to be. In the early days of Mercedes model naming, the naming was at it’s simplest. The cars were titled Mercedes and the models were titled as the amount of horsepower they produced. This is evident with the very first Mercedes, the Mercedes 35 HP. Mercedes soon began naming with 2 numbers. For example, the Mercedes 8/11 HP which was produced from 1901-1902. The first number represents “fiscal horsepower” and the second number represents the horsepower actually produced. Fiscal horsepower is not an actual measurement of horsepower but calculated from the size of the engine’s cylinders. In Germany, the fiscal horsepower took the engine bore and engine stroke into account. In those times, fiscal horsepower was used for taxation purposes within Germany and other European countries.
The models following the Mercedes-Benz 35 HP was titled “Mercedes Simplex”, however, they were still labeled with their horsepower. This title was chosen to denote the fact that these models were easier to drive than earlier vehicles.
The next model after Mercedes Simplex was the “Mercedes Cardan” with production beginning in 1909. This was the first Mercedes with propshaft drive. The models before this all had chain-driven transmissions. “Cardan” is a synonym for propshaft aka drive shaft.
In 1910 a Mercedes model was released with a bit of radical change. Daimler started to produce the Mercedes-Knight. “Knight” referred to Charles Knight, the inventor of the slideless slide-valve engine. Using a slide-valve engine was controversial because it came along with a number of drawbacks as well as benefits. Ultimately, the car proved popular and many units were sold.
In 1921 the very first supercharged Mercedes was offered for sale to the public. This made an addition onto the naming nomenclature. The two numbers (fiscal horsepower/actual horsepower) remained the same but a third number was added. The third number denotes the power added by the supercharger. For example, the first two supercharged Mercedes were the 15/70/100 hp and 24/100/140 hp.
In 1922 there was a change to the Mercedes model codes. Previously the model codes started with M followed by three numbers such as M 836. The “M” stood for motor and was replaced with “W” which stands for wagen which means car in German. The first number in the code denotes the engine bore which in this case was 80mm. The second number denotes the engine stroke which in this case is 130 mm. The last number represents the number of cylinders which in this case is 6 cylinders. In some cases you may see Mercedes with a 4 digit model code. In these cases, there is a a digit being inserted between the standard third and fourth digit. This digit is attached to the engine’s stroke. In a case of a model code like M 9456, the engine’s bore is 90mm, the stroke is 145 mm and it has 6 cylinders.
In 1927, the model codes again changed. From this year on, a number was assigned to each model which did represent any information about the automobile or engine. Instead, models were numbered in the order in which they were produced.
The Original S Series
In 1926, shortly before the merge with Benz & Cie., Daimler began producing a car model specifically designed for performance-minded consumers. This model was titled the “K” model. “K” stands for “kurzer Radstad” which means “shorter wheelbase” in English.
After the merger of 1926, cars titled Mercedes-Benz began being produced. Prior to this, Daimler Motor Group produced Mercedes and Benz & Cie. Produced automobiles with the title of Benz.
In 1927, following the success of the Model K, the production of the Model S began. S stood for sport and it was based of of the S class. The Model S was designed for racing.
In 1928, the Model S was used for the basis of a new model. This model was labeled as Model SS which stood for “super sport” and had a larger engine. The Model SS was designed as a Grand Tourismo.
In 1928, the Model SSK was produced. It was mainly designed based on the Model S and Model K. “SSK” stands for Super Sport Kurz. The Model SSK was designed for hill climbing.
In 1931, The Model SSKL was introduced. SSKL stood for Super Sport Kurz Leicht. The SSKL was the highlight of the original S series and gained world recognition as it lead drivers to many racing victories.
The Beginnings of the G Wagon
In the year of 1926, the first Mercedes G model was produced. It was named G1 and the product code was W108. It was designed for military use. G stood for gelandewagen which is German for cross-country. Only a handful of G1 automobiles were produced but it was basis for many more G models to follow.
1927 Model Naming Changes
In 1927, Mercedes did away with their previous model naming which included the fiscal horsepower, actual horsepower, and supercharger added horsepower. Instead, they began basing their model names off of their model codes. The model code was multiplied by ten and the result became the model number. So the car with the model code of W 020 became model 200.
Mercedes Model Naming in the Hans Nibel Era
In 1928, Ferdinand Porsche stepped down as the chief designer and passed the torch to Hans Nibel. Nibel began making aesthetic adjustment to the current models and renaming them. The 8/35 HP became the Stuttgart,the type 35 became known as the Mannheim.
In 1928, the Nurburg model was introduced as Mercedes first 8 cylinder model.
In 1930, a new Mercedes model was released called the “Grand Mercedes”. It the United States it was called the ‘Grand Mercedes Super Eight”. It was the top-end Mercedes at that time, so it is not difficult to understand how the name was chosen. It was also one of the first automobiles available for purchase which had an option for it to be armor-plated.
1994 Mercedes Naming Revisions
In 1994 Mercedes revised their model naming system to something more familiar to us today. They began naming their cars with a capital letter followed by numbers. Each model had up to 3 letters. The higher the number generally equated to higher performance.
- C-Class: refers to coupes and cabriolets
- D-Class: refers to diesel engines
- E-Class: E is used for 2 different references, depending on the car. It may stay for Einspritzung which is German for fuel injection. Mercedes also uses “E” to denote electric.
- G-Class: “G” stood for Geländewagen which translates to cross-country vehicle.
- L: “L” is another letter with two different meanings depending on which car it is being applied. When being applied to sports cars it means “Leicht” which translates to light weight. When “L” is applied to sedans it means “Lang” which means long wheelbase.
- R: “R” stands for “Rennen” which is German for racing.
- S-Class: “S” stands for “Sonderklasse” which translates to “special class”.
- T-Class: T stands for touring which was also applied to hatchbacks.
2015 Model Year Naming Revisions
In 2014, Mercedez-Benz naming was once again revised, in order to simply the classifications and make the models more straight forward. In this naming scheme, models were based on core models, and then those core model labels were applied to SUVs, 4-door coupes, and roadsters. The cores A, B, E, and S. The SUV incorporated from each core have the corresponding letter in their name. The adapted SUVs are GLA, GLB, GLC, GLE, and GLS. The coupes are CLA and CLS. The CLA is considered to incorporate both the A core and B core. The CLS is considered to incorporate both the E core and S core. The SLC (known as the SLK in previous model years) is based on the C core and SL is based on the S core.
In this naming scheme the drive system is also denoted by a lower case letter after the numbers in the model name. Compressed natural gas is “c”, diesel is “d”, electric is “e”, fuel cell is “f”, hybrid is “h”.