Ashtrays: 1968 Mercedes W114 Coupe

These cars won’t keep out of the way of this site. It’s a W114 coupe ashtray, as designed by Paul Bracq.

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If you look at Bracq’s career, we see that the 1968 W114 (the six-cylinder cars) and the W115 (the four-cylinder cars) came out the year after he left Mercedes Benz. So where does this design fit in with the story of German design rationalism? How can we reconcile the fact that these cars which epitomise German design sensibilities were overseen by a French chap who trained under another French designer, the great Charbonneaux?

I take it that the cars really do express German values and that Bracq did not allow his personal taste, however French, it might have been, to get in the way of choosing what best fit the market the cars were intended for. I suppose he also made his choices in a very Swabian environment so naturally he did not suggest the kinds of solutions that would have found favour in Britain, France or Italy.

Another way of slicing this biscuit is to imagine that Mercedes designed Mercedes cars the way the people who happened to be there imagined cars should be. And that has come to define German-ness in automotive design. If we ask ourselves what is German-ness in design we think of qualities we have seen in Mercedes cars, for example. And then when we look at a Mercedes anew, later, we see naturally enough, German-ness.  It could be simply a tautological loop, circular thinking. The same thing might be said for France or Britain. And if we look for German design outside of car design, what are we looking for now but qualities we expect from our experience of German car design?

The car I looked at lives at J.C Biler in Viborg, in the middle of Jutland. I have driven past there for fifteen years without popping in. Recently I looked at the cars outside opening hours. Then on Saturday I had a chance to get a look inside when it was open. Outside the showroom are cars for sale (some nice Peugeots for keen prices and a really super Epica, late-model, low miles).

Inside the garage I saw a wide variety of Mercedes, chiefly from the 60s and 70s. These are the usual suspects but, irony aside, there’s a reason these cars are popular. The one car I got to look in was this W114 (I assume it was a 114 not a 115) with a fully original interior. Apparently the laws of physics don’t apply to whatever fabric Mercedes used for their seats. Quite breathtaking. Built. To. Last.

Turning to the ashtray: nice and big. It has width (good Fitt’s Law condition) and depth (holds lots of ash). It is well placed, right above the gear lever. This one has even been used to judge by the marks on the chrome. The mechanism is a bit stiff, reminiscent of the 1984 Opel Senator I looked at in February. I will have to see what the W123 is like. Presumably Opel benchmarked that for their car.

I still don’t want a Mercedes like this, but only because I am stubborn.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “Ashtrays: 1968 Mercedes W114 Coupe”

  1. On the mention of Philippe Charbonneaux, I see that Retromobile in Paris next February is featuring a retrospective of his work. Certain members of the DTW team (i.e. me) promise to visit Retromobile every year, yet never manage it. Maybe this will be an incentive.

    Never having smoked, I find old school car ashtrays arcane devices with metal cutouts of different shapes … for what? Please don’t spoil the mystery and tell me. Modern ashtrays are, of course, un-mysterious, being just more solid versions of takeaway mugs.

  2. “Quite breathtaking. Built. To. Last.”

    Note to the editor: I would be surprised to hear you tolerated this kind of abuse of punctuation, and trust you will be taking appropriate action to clamp down on it immediately.

    1. Laurent. As always, I am in awe of your strict outlook to these matters. However, one of my old subs taught me that you should punctuate as you talk. In Richard’s case he often gets overexcited and will speak between puffs into a brown paper bag he carries with him at all times. So, if you knew him as I do, you would realise that you are hearing the genuine voice of the man.

  3. I must admit Simon, that I like using punctuation and …… loads of full stops and the like…. to generate an understanding of my speech. I take the point from Laurent though.
    On the subject of ashtrays that Mercedes one seems a poor design being so close to the radio – a particularly expensive device at the time.

    1. Possibly Richard (and I) has in mind the elegantly gloved hand of LJK Setright, deftly dropping the ash from his Sobraine into the tray, whist simultaneously turning up the volume on a favourite Mozart sonata on Radio 3. Anyway, those Beckers were bulletproof.

    2. For me the proximity of the ashtray and the radio is a plus. Any stray flecks of ash can be blown away if necessary. There might be a problem in that the ashtray doesn´t look well suited to a proper cigar. One might want to rest the cigar and this ashtray lacks depth for the cigar to rest safely.

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