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100th anniversary of Friedrich Geiger
- Friedrich Geiger, born November 24, 1907: The man responsible for the styling of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars from the 1950s through to the 1970s
- Masterpieces: the coupe and roadster of the 300 SL (W 198)
- Breathtaking bodywork design for the Mercedes-Benz 500 K special roadster as early as 1934
Friedrich Geiger shaped the style of an era in German automotive design. He was, for instance, responsible for the breathtaking styling of the production version of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. The designer born on November 24, 1907 rarely appeared in public but many of his designs – transformed into production cars from Mercedes-Benz – appealed to the public and the automotive expert world alike, and became legendary classics in the course of time. Geiger therefore enjoys an outstanding reputation among younger automotive designers. “He created timeless designs,” said Bruno Sacco, former head of Mercedes-Benz Passenger Car Design, about Geiger at the Automotive News World Congress in 1999.
Friedrich Geiger joined Daimler-Benz AG as a design engineer in April 1933. Born in Süßen in southern Germany, the Swabian had trained as a cartwright before completing university studies to qualify for his new assignment.
He started out in the department for the manufacture of special vehicles where he was responsible, among other things, for the design of those luxurious Mercedes-Benz sports cars for which the Stuttgart-based brand tailored the bodywork itself. With these models, the name “Sindelfingen bodywork” became a seal of quality for automotive design by Mercedes-Benz. Geiger’s legendary designs in that era included the Mercedes-Benz 500 K special roadster (W 29 series) which turned heads from 1934.
Geiger’s work assumed even greater significance after the end of World War II. The designer left Daimler-Benz in April 1948 but returned as early as June 1950 – as a test engineer in the Styling department. At the time, this job designation derived from the fact that the Styling department belonged to the Testing unit headed by Karl Wilfert in those days.
This Styling department was a product of the 1950s. Its assignment was to monitor the development processes for new Mercedes-Benz automobiles and to develop and compile guidelines for their styling. Geiger was appointed head of the Styling department after just a few years. His staff included Bruno Sacco who – influenced by Friedrich Geiger – was to leave his mark on the style and aesthetic appeal of Mercedes-Benz models in the coming decades. Paul Bracq also ranked among Geiger’s staff.
The sports car models are prime examples of Geiger’s outstanding work during this time. In creating the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 198), in particular, the master of automotive design succeeded in cladding the engineering of a road-going racing car in the breathtaking guise of a Gran Turismo. For Bruno Sacco, the coupe of the 300 SL is one of the major icons in automotive design: “In the history of sports cars, there are only very few other examples of a successful combination of performance and superiority with harmonious and at the same time powerful lines,” said Sacco in Detroit in 1999. In this first model of the SL family, Geiger converted the limitations caused by the geometry of the space frame into a virtue and replaced the conventionally hinged doors by the famous gullwing doors for the great coupe. He was also responsible for the characteristic star which decorated the front end of the 300 SL and doubled as air intake.
On October 1, 1969, Geiger was appointed senior manager within the Styling directorate. Until his retirement on December 31, 1973, Geiger designed numerous outstanding sedans, coupes, convertibles and roadsters for Mercedes-Benz. The range of model series for which he was responsible includes the fintail cars (W 110 and W 111/112), the Pagoda (SL from the W 113 series) and the representative Mercedes-Benz 600 (W 100). These were followed by the luxury-class models from the W 108/109 and W 116 series, the SL (R 107) launched in 1971 and the famous cars from the mid-sized series W 114/115 (“Stroke Eight”) and W 123.
The oeuvre of this reticent and modest man outshines the meager framework data of his biography in the archives. That is in keeping with the designer’s attitude during his time as head of the Mercedes-Benz Styling department. Friedrich Geiger relied on team work and commitment without putting himself in the limelight. In his portrait of Friedrich Geiger, published in Mercedes-Benz Classic (03/2007) to mark the designer’s 100th anniversary, Günter Engelen wrote: “Friedrich Geiger was rather the type of reticent conductor who was capable of bringing out the very best from his chamber orchestra without being overly ostentatious.”
In 1975, Bruno Sacco was appointed senior engineer and head of the Styling department as successor to Friedrich Geiger. The man who had been responsible for the aesthetic appeal of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars for 20 years died in Bad Überkingen on June 13, 1996.