Sensuelle Pureté

An oddball concept car by an almost forgotten French coachbuilder retrospectively turns out to be an almost eerily prescient source of inspiration. 

Was this on Gorden Wagener’s bedroom wall? photo (c)

Daimler AG Chief Creative Officer and creator of hot & cool Sensual Purity®, Gorden Wagener, once stated that he doesn’t worship any other car designer, preferring to act as his own role model. Yet it could be argued though that there might be one stylist Mr Wagener could be willing to share his pedestal with – and that’s Marc Deschamps.

Most famous for following in the vast footsteps of Marcello Gandini as Bertone’s chief designer, Deschamps later joined coachbuilders, Heuliez in his native France, acting as that company’s chief designer during the 1990s.

In this capacity, Deschamps oversaw the creation of a concept car that baffled visitors to the Paris Motor Show in 1996. Half all-terrain utility vehicle, half retractable hard-top roadster, the Heuliez Intruder didn’t so much intrude into the automotive landscape, as truly protrude it.

It may have been ridiculed for its genre-busting concept and Mercedes SLK post-cortisone treatment looks. But hindsight turns the former laughing stock into a pioneer-of-sorts.

Ain’t that just hot & cool? photo (c)

Above all else, the concept of a convertible SUV doesn’t seem as daft today as it did during those innocent ’90s, thanks to the open-top Range Rover Evoque (if not the considerably less successful Nissan Murano convertible). And in stylistic terms, the Intruder’s less than subtle, some might even say: clumsily ornate surfaces have certainly formed some sort of precedent. Which leads us back to Gorden Wagener.

The Intruder was unveiled the year before the company’s future guru of style joined Mercedes-Benz, but it could be argued that a whiff of Deschamps’ design rather quickly found its way into Wagener’s own forms for the McLaren-Mercedes SLR.

Despite the obviously drastically different proportions, the SLR and the Intruder share not just audaciously expressive surfacing of a kind that far exceeds the early ’90s fad of soft design, but even minor details, such as the rather uncoordinated shutlines and protruding (that word again…) rear mirrors.

And it seems as though Wagener could never quite get the Intruder’s proportions out of his head over the following decades, for the Mercedes GLE Coupé unveiled some 19 years after Deschamps mould-breaker dares be almost as challenging a design in terms of stance. Some ideas don’t age – they mature. Or lose a set of doors and retractable hard-top in order to gain massively larger wheels.

What is most striking about the Heuliez Intruder though is how its overall stylistic flair seems to have informed quite a lot of current Mercedes-Benz design. The sculpted flanks and rear shoulders that have come to define Sensual Purity® were already present on the French trailblazer, albeit in even more bulging form. As well as, of course, the slightly erratic, flashy shutlines.

All things considered, it might come as some sort of relief to Marc Deschamps that his legacy eventually proves to be at least as influential as that of his more illustrious predecessors at Bertone. For accolades don’t come much higher than having inspired no mere car designer, but a true (by his own admission) artist.

The Heuliez Intruder may have taken the Sensual Purity® cues to adipose extremes, but then again, surpassing as blunt a form language in terms of sheer stupor must be considered an achievement in itself.

See what they tried to achieve there? photo (c)

And if Gorden Wagener was to continue trying to emulate Marc Deschamps later body of work, he could do worse than looking at the Frenchman’s Heuliez Pregunta for inspiration. A bit of that supercar’s idiosyncrasy would at the very least help the German design wizard’s rather generic AMG Project One stand out. For some ideas don’t age…


The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

6 thoughts on “Sensuelle Pureté”

  1. I had never seen this before and I honestly thought it was some kind of toy sold in M-B dealerships for trust fund toddlers. That really bears a frighteningly close resemblance to a whole bunch of latter-day Mercs. All things considered, a pretty impressive notch for Deschamps. On balance, probably less so for Daimler-Benz.

  2. KK should be commended for finding the missing link here – a great piece of investigative journalism.

    However, the article is wrong in one important detail. I am given to understand that Gorden Wagener’s bedroom wall is decorated not with a picture of this impressively prescient concept, but with a portait of Gorden Wagener.

  3. Interestingly, the Heuliez Intruder was, mechanically, a Mercedes G-320 Kurz

    1. We’re dealing with fine art here and you come up with some negligible technical details, you philistine!

      You are, of course, absolutely correct, Roberto. I believe the Intruder’s wheels where the only visible component that wasn’t drastically changed though.

  4. The author’s apostasy has been noted by the blessed one’s acolytes – (who are all seeing and hearing by the way), so Kris would be advised to watch his back over the coming days. A spot of ‘re-education’ in Gorden’s hot and cool (three pointed) Sindelfingen star chamber is most likely in the offing, so if our good Mr. Kubrick goes quiet on us, I think we’ll know why.

    Don’t venture out alone Kris…

  5. Did Mr Wagener simply make an inflatable SLK and then put too much air in?

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