Combustion-engined vehicles as we know them were born over 130 years ago, but it took a surprisingly long time before manufacturers began to think about safety when designing and building their cars. For example, Mercedes-Benz didn’t begin looking into safety research until the late 1930s, and systematic crash testing was only introduced in 1959. With more and more cars on the road throughout the 20th century, the accident rate could only but climb in the 1960s, and in 1970 19,193 people lost their lives in West Germany alone. It was around this time that car safety was taken seriously and special vehicles were specifically built for research and testing.
In 1968, the US Department of Transportation launched a programme to develop experimental safety vehicles, and with the aim of bringing awareness on a global scale, the “European Enhanced Vehicle-safety Committee” was founded in 1970, defining the requirements of the these experimental safety vehicles. Mercedes-Benz developed a total of 35 vehicles within the ESF programme, the first of which was the ESF 05, based on the medium-size W 114 model series. It was configured for a front and rear impact speed of 80 km/h and a side impact speed of 20 km/h. It was also able to withstand minor accidents at speeds of up to 16 km/h without permanent deformation at the front and rear, as per the committee’s requirements.
With the bodyshell structure reinforced at the front and sides, the wheelbase was extended by 100 mm, and the front end was extended by 370 mm. Inside, the dashboard featured an impact-absorbing sheet metal element at the front, plus polyurethane foam padding in various impact areas. Mercedes-Benz also took the opportunity to incorporate brand new innovations including ABS, airbags, and seat belt tensioner.