Kurt Obländer celebrates his 80th anniversary

Kurt Obländer celebrates his 80th anniversary
October 2007
  • Engine developer at Mercedes-Benz from 1955 until 1991
  • Clean and economical engines in all vehicle categories
  • Numerous generations of engines carry the signature of Kurt Obländer
On November 30, 2007, Dipl.-Ing. Dr.-Ing. E.h. Kurt Obländer will celebrate his 80th anniversary. The graduate engineer worked in engine design at Daimler-Benz AG from 1955 until 1991 – in the last years as Director and head of Mercedes-Benz Passenger Car Engine Development. He left his mark on several generations of engines, occupied himself with the issue of emission control at an early stage and was instrumental in the introduction of the catalytic converter. Concepts such as clean and economical vehicle engines from Mercedes-Benz are inseparably linked with the name Kurt Obländer.
Among the engines carrying Obländer’s signature is the legendary M 100 eight-cylinder unit of the Mercedes-Benz 600 (W 100 series). The final highlight in the engineer’s career was the development of the six-liter V12 engine which was premiered in the 600 SE/600 SEL S-Class models (W 140 series) in 1991. In retrospect, Obländer said in an interview in 1991: “In my professional life, everything fell into place nicely. I started out with the 300 SL, was involved in the M 100 and quit with the V12. What else could anyone ask for?”
Kurt Obländer was born in Karlsruhe on November 30, 1927. Initially, he wanted to become a forest warden and enrolled for vocational training at the Karlsruhe Forestry Office in 1943. However, World War II set out a different course for him. After the war and a period as prisoner of war, Obländer trained as a motor vehicle mechanic before studying mechanical engineering at Karlsruhe Technical University. He wrote his diploma thesis as an intern at Daimler-Benz AG – on the subject of “Knock in the 300 SL engine” – with the benefit of seven months of intensive development work on – and trial driving of – the legendary Mercedes-Benz sports car. He joined the company in 1955, working initially in the Vehicle Engine Testing department where he was occupied with the 300 SL engine time and again.
From 1964, Obländer first and foremost specialized in the optimization of combustion processes. He represented Daimler-Benz AG at the first emissions hearing in California in the mid-1960s, having occupied himself with emission control at an early stage and acquired extensive expert knowledge in this field. Obländer proved to have a sure instinct for the future significance of this issue and within the course of one year convinced those in power of the necessity of setting up an in-house emissions test rig, for instance. In 1965 he took over as head of the Testing department for passenger car injection engines. In 1971 he was appointed head of Passenger Car Engine Testing – at a time when he had already made a name for himself as an engine expert throughout the world. In 1975, Kaiserslautern University recognized his “achievements and contributions to the development of low-pollutant vehicle engines” with an honorary doctorate – at a time when the Federal German Government had already appointed him to the steering committee of the “Automotive Emissions” research and development program as well as to the expert committee for “ Gasoline Fuels and Automotive Emissions”. In 1985 Obländer took over as head of Passenger Car Testing and in 1988 as head of Passenger Car Engine Development. He was instrumental in the development of the exhaust gas catalytic converter – and Mercedes-Benz was the first motor manufacturer to offer this equipment as standard from 1986.
At the end of June 1991 Obländer retired after having worked for Daimler-Benz AG for 36 years – but not before the market launch of the first twelve-cylinder engine from Mercedes-Benz in a passenger car. He described this challenge aptly by saying: “It is nothing special to build a steam-hammer engine with lots of power and torque. In a Mercedes-Benz, however, I want to have torque and power combined with high levels of comfort and refinement.”
Obländer remained associated with the company for several years as a consultant for environmental protection and nature conservation issues. He intensively engaged in establishing a dialogue between industrial companies and nature conservation organizations with the aim of achieving a sustainable relationship between nature and engineering. In this freelance activity, he found “his second professional home”, as he himself put it. Finally, two of his major interests were united as his profession in engineering had not pushed Obländer’s love of nature into the background. Throughout his professional career, he also was an amateur ornithologist and acquired an excellent reputation as an expert in this field as well. Many of his photographs of nature earned distinctions. Obländer is a founding member of the European Nature Heritage Fund (Euronatur). In 2000 he was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit for his life-long commitment to nature and environmental protection. As early as 1975, Obländer, a man with a fine sense of humor, commented on his gratification with the course his life was taking: “Driving Mercedes as a hobby would definitely […] be more expensive than bird-watching.”
Professional career:
  • March 15, 1955: Joined Daimler-Benz AG, Vehicle Engine Testing department
  • 1965: Departmental manager responsible for injection engine development and emission control
  • 1971: Head of Vehicle Testing
  • 1975: Honorary doctorate of Kaiserslautern University for his achievements in the development of low-pollutant vehicle engines
  • 1985: Appointed Director in Passenger Car Development at the Untertürkheim plant Head of Passenger Car Testing
  • 1988: Head of Passenger Car Engine Development
  • June 30, 1991: Retired
  • July 1, 1991: Consultant of Daimler-Benz AG on environmental protection and nature conservation issues