IAA: Lone Star

The classiest, most charming Mercedes-Benz S-class derivative in ages does not wear a three-pointed star. How poignant. 


This is not a Mercedes-Benz S-class convertible sporting some new DetoxAmbience® specification, but the Carlsson Diospyros. Hiding behind that clumsy moniker – and the presumption that car customising inevitably leads to Mansory-like levels of gaucheness – is the most assured and tasteful version of the current S-class released so far.

Inspired by, but not clumsily trying to mimic, Mercedes’ top-of-the-range offerings of the ’70s and ’80s, the Diospyros is mainly about eschewal. For it avoids the excessive ornamentation and overbearing decorum of the base car and instead focusses on quality of materials and craftsmanship.


For that reason, most of the regular S-class cabriolet’s chrome accents have been removed. As has most of the conspicuous stitching that usually does its utmost to blight any remaining sense of class and calm inside the S-class’ overwrought cabin.

There is, of course, only so much one can do on the basis of a car like the current, pure & sensual S-class. But the artisans and stylists at Carlsson have truly done the best they could, and that isn’t intended to be faint praise.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Even under the less-than-flattering spotlights of the Frankfurt Motor Show, the Diospyros (named after the ebony used for its interior) betrays genuinely impressive levels of craftsmanship. The leather used is a tactile delight and the stitching is of an artisan quality that’ll never be replicated by the current craze for ‘bespoke’ touches produced on an industrial scale.

Thanks to these substantially raised levels of perceived quality, the Diospyros doesn’t need to rely on conspicuous detailing. Just comparing the patterns of its seats with those of the donor car tells the whole story.

The Carlsson’s wheels – inspired by Mercedes-Benz’ range of Gullydeckel wheel designs of the ’80s – are more obviously retro than the rest of changes to the base car. They may constitute a less then subtle touch on an automobile that’s mainly about restraint, but then again, their clean styling certainly drives the message home with a vengeance.

More than a lesson in how to craft a luxury automobile that’s both tasteful and charming, the Carlsson Diospyros hopefully establishes a trend for customisers to offer restrained alternatives to the manufacturers’ increasingly excessive luxury offerings. And that would be quite something.


The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at www.auto-didakt.com


Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs www.auto-didakt.com // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

21 thoughts on “IAA: Lone Star”

  1. I must admit I think it’s really tasteful. At the moment there is nothing in MB’s current lineup that speaks to me. But I’ll have one of those any day. If they could have an option to remove the right hand half of the display cluster, it would be perfect.
    “I’ll have the cream white one, please”

    1. There obviously is only so much that can be done with the base car, but Carlsson’s artisans exceeded my (non-existing) expectations with this one.

      Where the regular S-class screams ‘Rocher’ false aspiration, the Carlsson discreetly relies on the quality of its craftsmanship (which is impeccable).

  2. The colour combination is the right side of bright and aristocratic. If I can be fanciful, the colours are for a much more optimistic world. For that reason some (who won’t buy it anyway) that makes it unacceptable. However, I reckon Carlson will have no trouble finding enough customers who don’t want to channel society’s worries. We aren’t going to save the world with grey paint and dark hide.

    1. I would go as far as claiming that this colour combination really lends the Carlsson a far more amiable aura than the usual black, silver or white paint jobs.

      Cars in non-Star Wars colours are today considered non-serious, which is why the same people who’d take issue with the Carlsson’s colour scheme (‘but it’s an S-class, that’s a classy kind of car!’) would deem it perfectly acceptable for a Fiat 500 (‘isn’t that cute?’).

      Everybody is harping on about individual this and bespoke that. And yet we’re right in the middle of a period of deeply conformist aesthetics. Which would be perfectly acceptable, if only we weren’t fooling ourselves that we’re so much more creative than mommy and daddy, back in the day.

  3. Ironic isn’t it? During the Sacco era, customisers such as Carlsson were purveyors of the tacky, the tasteless, the virtually unspeakable. Today, we have one of their number showing up at Frankfurt and showing up the Sindelfingen messiah for the charlatan he is.

    It also does illustrate that no matter how well crafted the materials, and how much lipstick is removed, the result is still decidedly porcine…

    1. They turned a borderline-Lady Docker kind of vehicle into something acceptable. No mean feat, I say!

  4. Fascinating thing how the almost non-colour white can set people’s (including myself) feelings in motion. I agree with the comments about “Star Wars colours”, they are terribly dull. To clarify my previous comment, I’m talking about proper cream white, white with a distinguished tint of yellow. Not Alpina white, “Audi white”, or any of the other titanium dioxide-like shades. That would be too boring, especially in combination with that beautiful leather interior.

    1. It looks to me like the colour of British NHS premises and local government offices from the ’50s and ’60s, widely thought to be toned-down war surplus paint.

  5. On the topic of Mercedes’ current design direction, this official dealer option (at the least in the US) might merit a full-blown DTW post on its own:

    There’s even a video kindly reminding us of the progression (cough) of Mercedes design through to this pinnacle of high taste:

    1. That was a lovely feature of Wolseleys. Buicks used to have groovy full width rear lamps which bore the marque. It looked excellent at night.

  6. Yes, I am actually based in Egypt. Up until only 20 years ago it was solid Fiat/Lada/Peugeot territory (all models from the 1970s), with Mercedes as the ultimate aspirational marque. Since then, the Koreans and Chinese have made significant headway with more modern (though less characterful) fare, though you still regularly come across some nicely preserved European classics used as daily drivers. The general lack of rain/snow helps in this regard. I’ll see if I can put something more comprehensive together…

  7. If only they could do something about that godawful front end and correct the bad angle the entire hood and grill meets with the car. All those bad angles makes it look like they attached the hood of another model to the wrong car. In fact, it looks like the kind of aftermarket hoods Carlsson provided to the Flash Harry’s of the 80’s wanting to give their W124’s the look of an SL or SEC. Why Mercedes is trying for that unfinished mismatched look already from the factory boggles my mind.

    1. You hit the nail on the head, Ingvar. There’s something slightly off and droopy about the S coupé/cabriolet’s nose. I guess it’s due to The Gorden and his boys going for a ‘sporty’ low & slanted front end, which is obviously hard to reconcile with pedestrian crash legislation. BMW had to fulfil a similar brief with the 4 series, but did a much better job.

  8. Also, the dying att of diminishing shut lines. How hard could it be to fill in the gap between the window frame and A-pillar? When even Maybach and Rolls-Royce have panel gaps big enough to poke a finger through you know you have problems.

    It can’t be only me that sees it as a problem? To me, luxury means attention to details, and the invisible hand of artisans and craftsmen trying their best to erase all the visible marks of something stamped out of a machine. Like how the tinkers at Aston Martin or Maserati used to weld every visible seam shut making a Lagonda or Quattroporte look like it was all billet from one single block of polished aluminium.

    No one gives any car that kind of attention to detail anymore and the punters don’ seem to care anyway. And all the cars look like they were churned out from the same factory in South Korea.

    1. I can’t see much exterior difference in assembly quality between the prestige makers and the rest. A Bentley looks as if it was made the same way as a Peugeot or Kia.

    2. The (non-existing) shutlines of a William Towns Lagonda are indeed something to behold. I believe Aston Martin tried to achieve something similar with the 1/77 (sic?), but that car somehow failed to take my breath away in the metal/carbon.

      Mind you, Mercedes-Benz still have no grasp of shutlines whatsoever. The fit & finish of the A-class’ front valance is plain shoddy, particularly next to the efforts of ‘non-premium’ brands like Skoda.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: