Visionary engineer Béla Barényi (1907-1997) worked for Daimler from 1939 to 1974. He initiated more than 2500 registered patents, many of them concerned with the principles of automotive safety. Among his inventions was the safety cell, protected by crumple zones.
When asked at his job interview what aspects of the current Mercedes-Benz vehicle range he would improve, the young engineer Béla Barényi boldly responded: “Pretty well everything“
Wilhelm Haspel, at that time a deputy board member of Daimler-Benz AG, was won over by the unconventional thinking of the 32-year-old Austrian and took him on, at the recommendation of the then head of testing in the bodyshell development area, Karl Wilfert. On 1 August 1939 Barényi took charge of the newly established safety development department.
Béla Barényi had groundbreaking ideas early on: even as a student in the 1920s, he was working on a design for a state-of-the-art car with a tubular backbone chassis and air-cooled boxer engine. From 1939 the engineer dedicated himself to improving passenger car bodies at Mercedes-Benz. This work resulted in a 1941 patent for an improved platform frame which, owing to its particular resistance against distortion, minimised “booming and shaking”.
From his studies of motor vehicles based on a cellular design, Barényi developed the concept of a stiff passenger cell with crumple zones. Mercedes-Benz implemented the patent filed in 1951 for the first time on the W 111 model series (“Fintail”) of 1959. Crumple zones deform in an accident and absorb the kinetic energy from the collision in a controlled way. At the same time, a sturdy occupant cell protects the vehicle occupants. Since that time, this structure has become an established part of passenger vehicles worldwide.
Barényi’s “safety steering shaft for motor vehicles” also caught on. This technology was patented in 1963 and premiered as a complete safety steering system in the W 123 series of 1976, the predecessor to the E-Class. It took 28 years before his idea for a recessed windscreen wiper to protect pedestrians made its debut in the W 126-series S-Class of 1979.