• Even today done mostly by hand, car washing is often considered a ritual

Ever wondered how the modern car wash came to be? The Mercedes-Benz Museum might have the historical accounts for you, it houses the German automakers prized possessions in the form of 160 vehicles which might well be considered the rarest on the planet, considering the company gave birth to the automobile. The museum also contains about 1500 other exhibits, all pertaining to the world of automobiles or the history of the company and its roots. There is a particular section called the ‘33 Extras’ which deal with the ownership part of an automobile, the care of the car as an owner and how the practices have evolved over time.

The Museum newsletter this time focuses on cleaning of one’s vehicle and a particular object called the “plumeau spécial pour automobiles”, which is exhibited among the 33 extras. It is a feather duster which has ostrich feathers and was used well over a hundred years ago to remove the dust from the surface of the cars. This particular cleaning implement was also detachable from its wooden handle which made the transport and storage easier.

The car has to be taken care of and one of the most common ways to do it is by using sponge and water. It is often considered a ritual and in Germany after the economic boom in the 50s when more people started buying cars, this method was reserved often for sunday afternoons. Individuals would use sponge and water to remove the toughest of stains and then clean the car to bring it to a shiny look.

In America where the ‘assembly-line’ method of car manufacturing was introduced much before Europe, two individuals named Frank McCormick and J.W.Hinkle were the first to implement the idea of a motorised car wash in the Mecca of cars-Detroit in 1914. They used a principle similar to the car manufacturing assembly line, where each individual worker had exactly one job to do and replicated that to use cleaning methods. The workers would push the car while people would spray water, soap and scrub the car and then ultimately dry it, the mechanical car wash came later.

Today car washes with mechanical functions are common, it was developed in Germany by Johann Sulzberger and Gebhard Weigele in 1962. They used two rotating brushes on rails which revolved as the car moved on the pathway. The earlier designs used bristles like a toothbrush, today softer materials like fabric are used as the bristles were deemed too rough on the surface of the car.

Evolution of the car wash bifurcated into two ways, Portal or conveyor method. The portal is a method where the is stationary and the cleaning mechanisms move over it, while the conveyor as explained earlier has the car moving through the different steps of cleaning. Mercedes has also equipped its GLS and GLA models with a car wash mode, which retracts the door mirrors, closes all windows, deactivates the rain sensors and recirculates the air. The mode is automatically disabled once the car is driven past 20kmh.

The Car washes have also added various other features to the services offered like blow-drying, and hot wax which protects the freshly cleaned car from getting dirty too quickly. Modern car wash also recycle the water and various other elements and keep their pollution levels to a minimum. Mercedes-Benz dealerships through the years functioned as service centres for the cars, and among the services also provided cleaning services, which can be seen depicted in the museum. The 160 cars in the museum are dusted daily by hand using soft clothes and feather dusters.

Anagh Bhaskar

Anagh Bhaskar

I am a journalism grad who has always had a passion towards machines, especially cars and war machines, the sheer competitiveness of the industry which works with the same enthusiasm everyday without fail is what fascinates me. Favourie Car: Nissan GT-R R35 Quote: What you do in life echoes in eternity- Russell Crowe, Maximus, Gladiator