Theme: Evolution – Refining a Theme

What do the Mercedes CLS, VW Passat CC and a forgotten 1982 rendering have in common? The stylist associated with each of them – Murat Günak.

Designer, Murat Gunak - photo via
Designer, Murat Gunak – photo:

The world of the international car design is a small and frequently incestuous one. Take the career of Turkish car designer, Murat Günak. Having studied design at the Royal College of Art during the 1980’s under Patrick Le Quement and Claude Lobo, he worked for Mercedes-Benz under then Styling Director, Bruno Sacco. During his time at Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, he was credited with the styling for the W202 C-Class and R170 SLK. With time came greater responsibility, so while the 2004 W219 Mercedes CLS body style was the work of American, Michael Fink, the project came under the supervision of Günak, reporting to Styling Director Peter Pffifer.

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Following his stint with Mercedes, Günak moved to Peugeot and later Volkswagen. While at Wolfsburg, he is credited with reprising the CLS concept in the 2009 Passat CC, a design that certainly more than doffed its cap to the Mercedes coupé but proved to be better executed in practice. The CC remains an unfairly marginalised car – arguably the most visually successful of the current crop of coupé-saloons. In fact, with a less of front-drive bias, it could have been lovely.

However, a precedent to both exists in Günak’s back catalogue. Way back in fact. In 1982, while still a design student, UK weekly, Motor commissioned a number of fellow RCA students to design a Jaguar for the 1990’s. Amongst them was Howard Guy who would later work for Geoff Lawson at Whitley, David Wilkie who became Design Director at Bertone before working with Günak at design consultancy Mindset, Olivier Boulay who would head Mercedes-Benz’s Chinese studio, and Steven Murkett, who went on to design the Porsche Cayenne. (for which we must try to forgive him…)

Many students threw themselves into fairly typical immature flights of fancy. Günak however didn’t – providing not only the most coherent, but also the most polished proposal – an elegant XJ-sized saloon which displayed a daylight opening outline which would become familiar two decades later. It appears Günak never quite got that Jaguar proposal out of his system – both the CLS and Passat CC displaying notable styling ‘nods’ to Browns Lane and ‘ol Billy Lyons.

Do all stylistic roads lead back to Browns Lane? Of course not – that would be silly, but when it comes to four-door coupé-saloons, they certainly appear to, especially if your name is Murat Günak…

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

25 thoughts on “Theme: Evolution – Refining a Theme”

    1. As far as I remember, the 206 is credited to him. I don’t know if there are others, apparently his time there seems to have been rather short.

    2. The 307 and 607 are credited to him. The front wing and a-pillar of the 307 are an unholy mess with appallingly wavy highlights. On the other hand, the 607 still looks very handsome and the rear lamps and bootlid are a delight.

    3. I fully agree on the 607 back, but I consider the 307 to be not too bad either. The proportions are ok, the back is fine and it’s overall reasonably clean and sober.

    4. Actually, the 307 is for me the last Peugeot before the marque’s design really went down the drain. Especially the estate is exactly what a French estate should be: roomy, no-nonsense design, elongated wheelbase. I think it looks even better than the hatchback because the car’s height is much better balanced ba the additional length.

  1. “A lecturer was not so sure” notes the caption on Gunak´s Jaguar concept. Ah, yes, strip away the chrome and see how far you get. There is too little weight at the front of his drawing. The third window makes me think of an Opel Senator. It would, wouldn´t it?

    1. Yes, yes and yes. Absolutely. And yes it probably would, with your reputation…

  2. Murat Günak is notorious for drawing cars that does not go very well together with the DNA of the brand. I remember the Golf V which was quite a complete copy of the Peugeot 307 (compare the dimensions). The Golf V breaks with the traditional horizontal design of all Golf-versions before and the rearlights does not have the familiar Volkswagen-look at all (without creating a new era),
    Walter da Silva had to revise these mistakes of the Golf V by carrying out the next two Golf generations in a very short period of time.
    I think Murat Günak´s Volkswagen era can be resumed with the Eos, the VW that does not look loke a VW at all (and concerning the Passat CC, Günak made the same mistake that he made at the 607 – the wheelbase is obviously two small).

    And I believe Peugeot is still suffering of Günak´s nose design, which destroyed Peugeot´s great tradition of cars with a decent harmonic style. It is sad, Peugeot had nobody that was able to correct this mistake smoothly.

    But on the other hand i love Murat Günak´s newest cars a lot. The mira electric car is a car that looks really, really pretty and outstanding in reality and the Mindset – well, for me this was love at first sight (because i was always hoping of a new Nissan Pulsar EXA or a new Smart Coupe).

    1. I fully agree with your remark about the CC’s too short wheelbase. In my eyes, this makes the back overhang sag a little because of the inclined bootlid – but not as badly as the CLS’s. Wath both cars also share is the upper window line. This line is much rounded, but as the car lacks the height for a really arching canopy, the windows become very small. Especially on the CC, the part of the doors above the crease and the upper door frames optically have too much weight compared to the windows. With the CLS it’s similar.
      Actually, I like their competitors (BMW series 6 Gran Coupé and Audi A5/7) better exactly for this reason – bigger windows. The Audis have the additional benefit of being real fastbacks with a hatch. I like that more than notchback designs without a notch.

      Should I mention the C6? It would be an unfair comparison, I’m too biased.

    2. Günak’s tenure at VW can only be considered a mistake in hindsight, but his (then) popular style was probably exactly what the powers in charge – Bernd Pischetsrieder and Wolfgang Bernhard, to mention but two – had in mind.

      Apart from the CC, I cannot come up with a single product of the ill-fated, but thankfully rather brief Günak/Schreyer era. And despite having been one of Bruno Sacco’s personal favourites back in the day, I find little to like about Günak’s output during his Daimler days, too. The vulgarisation of Mercedes-Benz started with him, even though his cars have the benefit of appearing in a rather favourable light, thanks to what came after them. Murat Günak should be sending birthday cards to Peter Pfeiffer and Gorden Wagener for this reason alone.

      Yet blaming Günak for Peugeot’s demented shark front may be one step too far – if I’m not mistaken, that was the deed of Gérard Welter.

  3. I thought the point of the CC was the slim side-glass. In profile you can say there’s too much rear but you seldom see the car from that distance. At 10 metres the front and rear overhang are hidden perspective effects.

    1. I’m not sure about the slim side glass. It might be true for that exact design as Günak intended it. However, a coupé should be about reduced height. For me this includes also reducing the height of the lower bodyparts. And slim pillars and door frames would also be better. But I’m aware that this is ’70s thinking and not in line with today’s levels of safety and the cocooning trend (which in my eyes is dishonest as it simulates safety while really making cars unsafe because of bad visibility).

    2. It is about weight as well. Glass (or whatever compound is used instead) is heavier than sheet metal.
      But I nevertheless agree on your design points.

  4. Hmmm. That’s asking alot of a coupe. I think it’s okay for the door height to remain the same on the saloon and two door derivative. Can you suggest an example that works? I’ll suggest 406 coupe, 780ES, Jaguar XJ-C (thin ice alert), Lancia Gamma coupe, Mercedes CE 200/230/260 etc.

    1. Was it the same height on the E46 coupé as on the saloon? If so, I’d add it to the list. It’s still quite an attractive car, I’d say.

  5. All I’m asking from a coupé is elegance and a hint of profligacy, because that’s what it should be about – deliberately impractical and unreasonable. So why not be really profligate and lower that window line? Is it too much to ask?

    Of course I’m aware that there are reasons not to do so. Many so called coupés are really just two door saloon variants, sharing a majority of body panels with their four door siblings. And even if the coupé has a completely different body, as in many of your examples, the underlying structure has to remain the same due to cost reasons, thus defining for example the height of the bonnet and the starting point of the A-pillar.

    Coming to your examples, I will agree that they work. What all of your examples have in common is a relatively low waistline and a tall glasshouse as a saloon – at least compared to today’s standards. And I think that’s where the problem with the CC or the CLS starts. Their bases already have windows I’d see as (too) slim. So if you reduce them even more, they really become too small for my taste, and the whole design imbalanced. So, while taking a saloon body and just lowering the roof has worked well* until around the ’90s, today I see it as a problem.

    By the way, I’m not sure if all of your examples really prove your point. The Peugeot and the Lancia for example have bodies that are completely different from the saloon. While it’s hard to compare the Peugeot’s door heights from photos, I have noticed a litte detail on the Gamma: the saloon has a window line that runs more or less straight from the bonnet. The coupé however has a line that starts at the bonnet/A-pillar corner and has a little downward curvature. Doesn’t that mean that they have effectively lowered the door height with that little trick?

    * A little remark about this scheme working well in past decades: it’s not always the case – think of the Volvo 262c or the Rekord P2 coupé from around 1960.

  6. Good answer. I must admit to not having given in it this kind of consideration. I would approach that sort of design intuitively (which can be unreflective). For me, the coupe was more about a reduced length. And my mentality is such that a coupe exists in relation to a saloon. If there is no standard saloon then a two door has not been cut or coupe’d (sorry for the coinage). If a coupe had a tallish glasshouse I’d be less concerned than if it was not actually shorter of wheelbase.

  7. Thanks for the answer, Richard. Of course there are two directions you can cut (assuming that it makes little sense to make the coupé narrower than the saloon). I didn’t consider the length. One reason could be that we started out discussing four-door coupés. The other one might be my obsession with long wheelbases and flowing lines. If you just cut length unreflectedly, you get a Kappa. A nightmare for my eyes.

    If a coupé has to be related to a saloon, I’m not convinced. I’d call every sportier, two-door, maybe fastback car a coupé. Think of things like a Celica, RX7 or SM which weren’t directly related to a saloon. But this could just be a different usage of the term in English and German.

    And about the tall glasshouses: yes, please! Also on coupés! And no “privacy glass”. And how about slim pillars? A coupé should be light and airy.

  8. Never liked the CC really. Remember seeing it at the Frankfurt show and thinking the rear lights were way to large a graphic for the rest of the car. In silver it was especially apparent. It looked like two great fried eggs has been spilled over the rear of the car. Given that a car of its type is supposed to trade on its looks I was really disappointed. So I cannot really agree that it was any better executed than the Mercedes CLS. The Mindset is an interesting one (it developed from a number of sources, and I was present in the process for some time). It had real potential, and a group of very committed people behind it (of which Murat was just one).

  9. Hi Adam: it seems we have both been through the revolving doors of Gosford Street.
    Thanks for your comment. I didn’t view the Passat CC as being a design one could dislike much. What it seems to generate is a surprising level of indifference. I imagine you are surprised more people don’t hate it while I am surprised more people don’t like it a lot. In ten years it will be definitely one of those forgotten cars.

  10. The real question is “why is Murat Günak credited as the ‘stylist’ for a project that he only supervised as a design manager, but did not create a single design line on this car?”

    Given, he may have had a vision leftover from a student design competition for Motor Magazine to redefine Jaguar back in 1982 but, the way I see it, he had little to do with the actual styling of this car. That credit undoubtedly belongs to the exterior designer, Michael Fink and interior designer, Jeremy Sommer who created the unique style of the CLS in shape and form. Chances are that Günak was the driving force behind the CLS project and took it with him in his back pocket when he switched to Volkswagen perhaps using a few of Fink’s sketches with him to create the CC.

    Obviously Murat’s luck was running out after a short time at Volkswagen and the products he and Peter Schreyer created there left quite a lot to be desired. One comment here from Kris Kubrick puts it quite well: “I find little to like about Günak’s output during his Daimler days, too. The vulgarisation of Mercedes-Benz started with him” and “Günak’s tenure at VW can only be considered a mistake in hindsight.”

    I totally agree.

    1. Moltomenz, thanks for stopping by and commenting on the piece. I did credit Michael Fink as the CLS stylist in the text and if I inferred that Günak was responsible for ‘drawing’ this or the VW CC, that really wasn’t my intention.

      I did intend to make a (possibly tenuous) connection between an early render for his design student days and two similarly themed cars he was (rightly or wrongly) associated with. I have made my views on Fink’s CLS known elsewhere on this site but given the awfulness of the Wegener era at Sindelfingen, my disdain for the car has softened latterly. Also, it was not my intention to lionise Murat’s contributions on the basis of a render I rather liked as a 16 year old. As others have pointed out, his legacy is sketchy at best, whether through design or circumstance.

      Anyway, thanks for your views and I hope this clarifies things a little.

      My thanks too to Adam for stopping by earlier. Any further light you can shine on the CC’s conception would be most welcome.

    2. It’s a general problem when discussing ‘designers’ from Battista Farina onwards. With someone like Gandini, who had no ambitions to create a large studio and use his name as a brand, you tend to know that if his name is attached to a design, he actually drew it. Others (Giugiaro, Opron, Sacco) have often supervised certain designs that we think of as ‘theirs’, though that doesn’t necessarily diminish their input since that overview is often crucial to the final result.

      If Günak really was responsible for Peugeot’s awful overhanging lip treatment then I’d condemn him to designer’s hell. If he wasn’t, then I’d be more open minded.

  11. Eóin, I understand your point and the intention is quite clear now. It just makes me ill to see these design bosses taking credit for the work of their designers, and Günak is no exception.

    The idea to create a Mercedes to fight against the wonderfully stylish Jaguars of the day was a brilliant one at best and perhaps it was even a stroke of genius on the part of both Günak and Fink to create this groundbreaking new approach to modern automotive styling. What makes me curious is why Günak didn’t take Fink with him when he went to take the leadership position at Volkswagen Design? If their teamwork was so successful at Mercedes, then Günak could have secured himself a few more successes at Volkswagen by taking his lead designer with him from the most important project of his career. Or did he really believe that he designed this car all by himself? Maybe this is the reason Günak’s career was cut short at VW once they realized he was not the sole mastermind behind the design of the CLS and Walter DeSilva was called in to reshuffle the cards.

    Whatever the case my be, Gorden Wagener has not been able to keep on track with what Günak and Fink started with the first CLS which was definitely a new chapter for Mercedes Design. Instead of following the elegant nature of the CLS line, Wagener has twisted and contorted it into some horrid looking abomination that has spread throughout the entire Mercedes product portfolio so that not one car he has created is worth admiring.

    As regards to the conception of the cc, it can be suspected that Robert Lesnik worked on this car under Murat Günak in a similar position as Michael Fink, being Günak’s favorite designer. Chances are that Günak took advantage of the inside information from Mercedes Design strategy to be the first to market a reasonable replica of the trendsetting CLS, where others took longer to follow suit. Most successful was the sixth generation Hyundai Sonata (YF) which is rumored to have been influenced by Fink as well during his tenure there although the credit for the design went to designer Andre Hudson .

  12. While it might be tempting to guess at why this or that designer moved for political reasons, sometimes other considerations come into account that are personal: remuneration, living standards, office culture and so on. I have met more than a few designers who would avoid VW if it meant a life in Potsdam or Wolfsburg versus Stuttgart or Cologne or Paris. Perhaps Fink liked where he was.
    I agree that attribution is tricky in car design: for large firms the chief designer is a chooser and referee and editor. Even when Car Design says a certain individual “did” the car it might be that they studio managed a theme fused from two or more other themes. As I guess you know, attribution is a deeply political process.
    I have to disagree about Merc’s Jag fighter. Compare the way the crease on the 2002 car’s bodyside terminates on the wheel arch lip (front) with the Peugeot 307 (2002) – it’s the same and it’s unsatisfactory. Gunak’s handiwork?
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I think your points helped draw out the ambiguous nature of credit in car styling.

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