Mercedes once valued their wheels. That’s just another thing they’ve forgotten.
In the 1930s, Mercedes introduced body coloured hubcaps with a central star, as seen on the 170. At the time, in fact, many manufacturers offered body-coloured wheels or hubcaps. After the War, some companies continued with this, Rolls Royce and various US brands in particular, but none did it with as much style as Mercedes.
Some of the more basic 180 models seem to have had plain chrome hubcaps but, generally, the body coloured hubcap became an integral part of Mercedes styling. Even the proto-supercar 300SL Gullwing came with them as standard, although it was available with the optional Rudge wheels that were a popular fitting to various German sportscars in the 50s – oddly, these were heavier than the standard wheels though they could be removed more quickly using the central knock-off spinners.
Throughout the Sixties all Mercedes cars made dignified progress on coloured hubcaps. The actual hubcap expanded to include a chrome surround in its one piece construction, but the look remained. In 1969, the W108 S Class saw the introduction of an optional aluminium wheel but, even then, this was a suitably Benz like affair. Nicknamed after a vague resemblance to a cake, these ‘bundt’ alloy wheels were manufactured by Fuchs and, as you’d have expected from Mercedes back then, they were of the highest quality. They were forged rather than cast, a more expensive process but one that results in a stronger wheel.
The 1976 W123 was the last new model to be offered with coloured hubcaps. Over time the bundt wheels supplanted the painted hubcapped wheels and they became, in their turn, a distinctive and inherent part of the design of any Mercedes. They lasted until 1985 and, despite a couple of attempts at a new classic wheel, since then it has been open season.
A true wheel afficionado might well recognise an alloy devoid of its star that had been removed from a current Benz but, for most observers, it could come from any car. In 1994, the S Class had no wheel options available. In the 2013 brochure for the previous S class there are 7 different wheels shown. The current one shows 8 types. A Mercedes wheel is no longer an integral part of the car’s identity, it is just an add-on.
Of course the plethora of wheel choices is a result of marketing departments convincing customers that they want choice in all things – because choice means individuality means profit. Once, Mercedes led with haughty dignity and we loved them for it. Now all other manufacturers offer choice, tasteful or otherwise, so they follow suit.
Despite the inaccurately termed concept of ‘colour coding’ being generally seen as irredeemably naff when applied to every part of a car, I have a sneaking liking for colour coordinated wheels and would like to see them come back. The problem with so many modern Mercedes is, of course, that they don’t come in any colours to coordinate with. However, I’ve cobbled up a quick idea for Gorden Wagener’s team, proposing both an overall colour and suitable wheel design that deviate as little as possible from Mercedes’ totally unsubtle 21st Century design direction, but still with a nod to its more illustrious past.
Incidentally, there is a nicely informative article on colour matched wheels and hubcaps here with a lot of applications on US vehicles right up into the 90s (the author is an entirely different Sean by the way).
8 thoughts on “Theme : Wheels – The Three Pointed Star”
That proposal works for me. You are right: the plethora of wheels results in the cars having a Halfords quality. The spindly, thin ones suggest boy racers and tuning not aloof Swabische grandeur. The wheels I liked best on my car weren’t alloys but full hub covers. They looked simpler.
Sean, your article may well have helped me with a dilemma I’ve been having with wheels. Albeit not wheels for a Mercedes.
I guess that optional wheels are a nice little earner for the manufacturer and dealers, and whether it was those blokes on the telly, or that bloke who watches those blokes on the telly doing the talking the received wisdom amongst modern car buyers is alloy wheels proper, steel wheels poverty. Of course, you could always buy a new Mercedes with steel wheels (I’m sure they must have a taxi or police pack with steelies) and add body colour hubcaps for the effect. Just make sure to add some random creases to the hubcap before painting for the correct effect.
The latest Beetle does a really nice retro steel with hub-cap effect wheel – just like the original. It’s the nicest detail on the car to my eyes. It’s also available on the Up! and it works well there too.
Beetles are very rare here. The Danes have not warmed to them. They might be too frivolous. Are they more common in the UK?
Erm, well there are definitely more Beetles than C6s, but I notice them because I look out for those wheels – daft really, and a bit nerdy (so my wife tells me).
There were too further developments of the Mercedes wheel before they abandoned all – a replacement for the bundt wheel, similar in design but with a flatter centre section, and the 8 hole (AMG?) wheels, as used to great effect on the 500E.
Compared to what went before, they seemed daringly racy… rather like an Edwardian lady lifting up her skirts and flashing a bit of ankle. Then came MB’s jazz age, when it abandoned all sense and forgot itself.
Yes, the so-called 15-hole and 8-hole alloys also came to my mind. They are the last typical Mercedes wheels, unique and recogniseable, and used over several models. I think they suited the smooth ’80s and ’90s designs much better than the bundt wheels and come very close to my ideal of the smooth, full-cover wheel.
Wheels are – in my eyes – a very simple and convincing way to pronounce the personality of a car or of a company. And to persuade the customer to buy a more expensive version of a car, because this version has wheels with an unique design – i remember the Saab 900 Aero for example. Or the Citroen CX Turbo Wheels or some Alfa Romeo Quadrofoglio versions..
The last typical Mercedes wheels were these so called manhole cover wheels – with different number of holes, but always easy to identify as an orginal Mercedes wheel. The fact that these wheels are having a nickname is saying eyerything about their own style.
And those coloured hubcaps are still on the road – often those elder loyal Mercedes owners here in South Germany did mount those hubcaps on those popular little trailers that nearly everybody has for all kinds of duties.
It is a shame that many companies are not able or willing to create unique wheel designs for their cars. Nice exceptions are the Citroen C4 Cactus, the Fiat 500 and the VW Up the Up! has several verx nice designed wheels and hubcaps).