Laughing Stock

For every alleged innovation there is always a precedent. Come now, you hardly imagine the Gorden comes up with this stuff on his own, do you?

AMC Eagle Sedan: Image credit: favcars

When Daimler’s Chief Design Officer, Gorden Wagener turned up in his immaculate sport-casual attire for the debut of the Maybach Ultimate Luxury concept, he told assembled journalists it represented “a totally new archetype of kind never seen before.” Of course even the most empty phrases contain a grain of truth because in the manner of a stopped clock, he’s half right.

It’s entirely possible that Daimler’s CDO neither knows nor cares that his verbiage-laden uttering lacked much by way of substance. After all, Mercedes’ resident believer in beauty and intelligence is unlikely to have much time or emotional bandwith for history or the lessons thereof, largely because both he and his Sindelfingen minions are far too busy erasing it.

Image source: curbside classic

As any engineer or designer worth their magic marker will tell you, there is nothing truly new in the world. In 1979, the perennially struggling American Motor Corporation launched the AMC Eagle, a range of cars which could well lay claim to being the first genuine car-based crossover.

The Eagle is interesting in a number of ways, not simply in underlining that necessity really is sire of invention. Because, say what you will about the now-defunct Kenosha-based carmaker, AMC certainly was inventive. After all, they had to be.

In 1970, AMC introduced the Hornet, a range of compact saloons aimed squarely at the mid-market. Offering few surprises and a resolutely conventional mechanical specification, the Hornet’s neatly executed styling was orchestrated by Richard A. Teague, conceivably America’s equivalent to BL’s Harris Mann, both in terms of genuine talent and misplaced opprobrium.

Image credit: Pinterest

In 1977, the Hornet gave way to the restyled Concord model, although not before also lending its platform architecture to both the subcompact Gremlin and Pacer models, neither of whom require much introduction. Around this time, AMC’s engineering chief, Roy Lunn examined the concept of a unitary-bodied car with full time offroad capability, which could be offered in the context of the impending downsizing ethos gripping the US car industry.

With Jeep sales hit hard by a series of fuel crises, combining the Concord bodyshell with a permanent four wheel drivetrain and suitably bolstered underpinnings led to the creation of the Eagle programme.

As a piece of inexpensive on the hoof product planning, it was rather smart, even if it wasn’t particularly fresh looking or in saloon form, terribly attractive. Available in a frankly bewildering array of bodystyles, which included 2 and 4-door saloons, an estate, a fastback coupé, a kammback subcompact and even a convertible, nobody could quibble at AMC’s intended reach.

Establishing a ready market within the snow-belt of North America and with close to 200,000 made (overwhelmingly estates), until its demise in 1987, it’s a little cheap to sneer at AMC’s offering, particularly in the light of its prescience and fitness for purpose.

Spool forward to the Millennium and within the Lincoln-Mercury design studios, styling chief Gerry McGovern was excavating the dusty reaches of brand-Lincoln, creating a series of creditable concepts which reached its apogee with the much-lauded 2001 Continental. Two years later the Navicross was shown, a compact symbiosis of saloon and crossover, redolent of a more polished version of AMC’s ’80s pathfinder.

Utilising similar highly disciplined and fine detailed form and surfacing to previous McGovern helmed Lincoln concepts, what Navicross suggested was perhaps not best expressed in a raised height, pseudo-offroader. Certainly, Lincoln’s Dearborn masters didn’t see the merit in either the concept as presented or indeed the rather fine conventional saloon it might have spawned. Bullet swerved or myopic blunder? You decide.

But it’s impossible to keep some ideas down. Having witnessed the success of Subaru and Audi in establishing a market for wagon-based mild crossovers, Volvo entered the fray in 2015, offering the high-riding, S60-in-Berghaus Cross Country in both saloon and estate form. It won’t surprise anyone to learn it failed to ignite the market, the saloon being ignominiously withdrawn the following year with a mere handful sold.

2015 Volvo S60 Cross Country. Image credit: Indian info online

It’s entirely possible of course that Mercedes or its brougham-brand Maybach offshoot is the marque to make the saloon / crossover breakthrough, but it’s unlikely. Largely because history teaches us there’s a fundamental flaw in the notion of a high riding three volume saloon, one which pops the bubble on the whole great outdoors image.

While an estate or hatchback format lends itself to outdoor activities such as surfing, skiing or mountain biking; the kind of leisure activity we’d like the look of ourselves being involved with, the three volume equivalent of outdoor pursuit tends to be carried out on golf links.

Fundamentally then, the three volume crossover is a marketing oxymoron and Mercedes-Benz is far too canny / risk averse (delete as appropriate) to try it, especially when it can sell every oversized hatchback it makes.

But while we are unlikely to see the Vision Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury concept enter production, at least in three volume form, we’re equally unlikely to be spared much of its stylistic excess. Mr. Wagener isn’t minded to loosen the thumbscrews anytime soon.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

18 thoughts on “Laughing Stock”

  1. Believe it or not, AMC Eagle was the first thing I thought when I saw the Maybach abomination.

  2. Yet another reminder of FoMoCo’s very-hard-to-understand failure to use McGovern & Co’s excellent Lincoln proposals. Luckily Mr McG has seen plenty of other good ideas implemented so the people who should be feeling regret about Lincoln are on the Ford pension rolls now, I suppose. Still, they did permit the Lincoln LS.

    1. Ford’s decisions around Lincoln probably need to be considered within the wider context of what was happening at the mothership at the time. And to sum that up in one word, it would be turmoil. Perhaps by then FoMoCo was too unwieldy a ship to steer, but one thing we can say with some certainty is that the Blue Oval has not benefited from the Mullally One-Ford doctrine.

      The LS by the way was probably sanctioned because there was a business case for it, being twinned with the X200 S-Type and given its DEW98 platform was also shared by the 2002 Thunderbird. In fact, as an aside, some suggest the aluminium platform for the 2003 X350 XJ-series was also DEW98-based. The LS is rather unlikely to have happened otherwise.

    2. The LS was also intended to launch the Lincoln brand in the EU. For whatever reason.

    3. The LS design work was finished before McGovern et al were re-imagining Lincoln. If there were to be better Lincolns they ought to have appeared around 2006 onwards. Instead there were half-baked cars covering Mercury’s territory.

  3. The first SUV-sedan? How about the 1958 Moskvich 410N?

    The AMC Spirit has a Jowett connection, which I’ll leave the readers to work out.

  4. There’s also the GAZ Pobeda M-72, from 1955:

    Something of a BMW X6 Vörlaufer, but far more handsome

    1. Or a Standard Vanguard. Robertas, I’m in awe of your archive…

  5. Audi brought out the quattro in 1981, with its three differentials, two of them lockable by vacuum-operated pins. All or nothing basic 4WD stuff. Huzzahs all around from the enraptured crowd. Genius!

    Roy Lunn’s AMC Eagle had a viscous limited slip element around the centre gear diff in 1979. No nasty locked diff unusable on-road. Nobody really noticed. 4WD was all they understood, not the subtleties. New Process Gear division of Chrysler produced that centre unit and had many variations on the theme for various Blazers, Broncos etc., and is now owned by Magna. You can even dredge up on the web facsimiles of various typewritten parts of Lunn’s proposal for the Eagle to AMC management. Our electricity utility bought quite a few for supervisors in the field, both wagons and sedans, the latter with half-vinyl tops for that special gauche look with commercial lettering on the doors. They were a tad fraggilly in service though compared to BOF pickups.

    Audi was a johnny-come-lately on AWD systems. Ditto Subaru. I had two Audis myself, not jacked up though, followed by two non-jacked-up Subies, the latter of which I still daily drive.9

    As for the 3 box Maybach SUV concept, overstatement by the gonzo designer cum PR flack is expected from the insecure purchasers of such expensive mobile boudoirs. They entrust Gorden to apply his inbuilt sense of over-the-top style and excess to compensate for their own shortcomings in such matters. It must merely make the proles gawp in awe as it swishes by.

    1. Bill wins. Roy C Lunn was Gerald Palmer’s replacement at Jowett, before an illustrious career at Ford and a sidestep to AMC.

  6. This is the title of probably my favourite Talk Talk album; as it follows on from a Smiths classic, I wonder, are you working through your library of old vinyl, Eóin?

    1. Duly rumbled. I had hitherto suspected you of being a man of taste and perception, SV, but even so it is pleasant to encounter a fellow traveller. Both Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock stand as amongst the finest body of work of any contemporary music artists – certainly of that period. I never tire of them. Mark Hollis’ later solo release was also sublime.

      I admit to using song titles or lyrics as article captions, but I do strive to ensure a degree of relevance. It’s a habit of mine. We all have our little predilections here at DTW. All of Richard’s articles contain a subtle coded reference to the repeal of the Corn Laws. Sean’s pieces (when he wrote for the site) were always about Nancy Regan.

      Of course having revealed this, you may never view DTW in quite the same light again. I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives and now it’s happening in mine…

    2. Spirit … a gem, one can lose oneself in it. What ever happened to Mark Hollis?

      This site truly has hidden depths.

    3. Last I heard SV, he had given it all up to go and learn the clarinet. It’s all a bit of a mystery really. But perhaps he’s said everything he wanted to say. Either way he has left a beautifully elegiac musical legacy.
      Incidentally, former Talk Talk bassist, Paul Webb collaborated (as Rustin Man) with Beth Gibbons (of Portishead renown) on the 2002 release ‘Out of Season’ – an album I would recommend wholeheartedly.

  7. Just checked my captions. Tony Hatch, D P A MacManus, S P Morrissey get one each. The greatly missed Mark E Smith gets two.

    1. Now there’s a handy little game anyone can play to enliven a torpid car journey. Spot the DTW musical / film / other reference. Another example of how Driven to Write goes that little bit further for our readers. You won’t find that on AutoWhatCropleyCar…

      Robertas: seconded on Mark E. Smith. Irreplaceable.

    2. Sean’s XTC reference is quite obscure, but completely relevant to the piece. Please inform him it was discovered.

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