Pushing the Envelope

The 1999 Mercedes CL redefined the term ‘back of an envelope design’.

(c) Autoevolution.com

Like most major carmakers, Mercedes-Benz, under the design leadership of Bruno Sacco at Stuttgart-Sindelfingen assigned individual teams to specific product lines. However, Sacco also decreed that all members of his styling team, irrespective of discipline could submit proposals for evaluation whenever a new model was being considered.

These would be then whittled down to a shortlist; the favoured proposals being produced in quarter scale form. A further evaluation would see these being reduced to a final shortlist of three proposals, which would be produced in 1 : 1 scale for final selection. This ensured that management had sufficient quantities of alternate styles to choose from and allowed each member of the design team a decent shot at producing a successful design – a vital springboard to their career.

Australian-born Peter Arcadipane joined Mercedes’ Sindelfingen studios from Ford, having in his early years as a car designer laid claim to having adapted the design for the Ford Falcon-based Interceptor featured in the very first Mad Max movie. As the design process for the S-Class coupé got under way in 1993 (dubbed C215 internally), Arcadipane determined to have a shot at the job. As recounted by the designer, while on a flight to Australia, he sketched a proposal for the forthcoming coupé on what he had to hand – in this case the back of an Air Mail envelope.

Image: Formtrends

His note to self made clear from the outset that this was not to be a traditional Mercedes coupé design, but one with a “Jaguar-like flavour”. His notations underline the ethos behind the shape, with a “roof structure in one clean arch – architectural – like a bridge span!” The distinctive c-pillar treatment was a nod to the W111 coupé from the 1960s, with Arcadipane emphasising the study’s “big wrap to rear glass”.

Allegedly seen as the most radical of the shortlisted C215 proposals, it nonetheless made it through to the final three, being produced in full-sized, see-through form for senior management to review. Despite there being resistance to it from elements of the supervisory management team, Arcadipane’s study was eventually chosen. The finished car, while not as compact or lithe as first envisaged, nevertheless marked a clear departure from the rather substantial-looking C140 which preceded it. It is believed that a convertible version had also been proposed for this model, but was overruled, allegedly on business case grounds.

From an exterior design perspective, the frontal aspect remains by far its visually weakest trait – the favoured four-headlamp setup flanking a somewhat undersized and gauche-looking grille, lending the frontal aspect a disappointing lack of substance and gravitas, but frankly neither of the latter traits were in abundance at Sindelfingen during this period.

Image: Autoevolution

The C215 went on sale in the Autumn of 1999, sharing engine, running gear (not to mention electronic and cabin architecture) with the shared platform W220 Sonderklasse saloon. Engines were initially either the 5.0 litre V8 or 5.8 litre V12 units, the latter featuring electronic cylinder deactivation, which disabled one bank of cylinders at cruising speeds for improved economy. The CL was also believed to be the first production car to be fitted with bi-xenon high intensity discharge head and side lamps.

Undoubtedly a fixture amid the annual migration of the privileged and monied to the Nordfriesland resort of Sylt[1] the C215 saw the well-heeled Swabian, metaphorically at least, loosen his tie a little. And while no Mercedes coupé for the ages à la C126 or its predecessors, the C215 nonetheless remains perhaps one of the more accomplished of the early Pfeiffer-era representatives of three pointed star art.

(c) Australiancar.reviews

Peter Arcadipane subsequently became part of the design team who alongside Michael Fink created the body style for the W219 CLS of 2004 – a design he since appears to have claimed credit for, also suggesting that a shooting brake concept (which was later realised on its successor) too was his. Having departed Sindelfingen, first for Hyundai and later Mitsubishi, he journeyed by air to Beijing in 2013, having been appointed that year as design director for BAIC Auto. What he sketched en-route however remains undocumented.

[1] Arguably Germany’s equivalent to the Hamptons.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

10 thoughts on “Pushing the Envelope”

  1. The C215 is certainly one of the less offensive millennial Mercedes-Benz designs, and the DLO treatment is interesting, but I think that it’s not just the front that lacks gravitas: the whole design is, to my eyes, rather ephemeral and lacks the visual heft one used to associate with large Mercedes saloons and coupés. This was a subliminal indication of the quality and durability of the underlying engineering, so perhaps the change was apt, given the shift in the company’s priorities around that time.

    In fairness to the company, the W140 and C140 had arrived at an unfortunate time and there was resistance to their designs, which some considered to be rather bombastic and just too much of a good thing, hence the radical shift. However, time has, I think, been much kinder to the C140 than its successor:

    1. I still think the headlamps give this C140 a curious, almost surprised look, but the rest of it is rock solid Mercedes dependability.

      The C215 is, however, alarmingly affordable, for anyone who wishes to enjoy the experience of owning a V12 motor car and is feeling brave or lucky. It will be a sought after classic one day, honest.

  2. I agree with jacomo, the C140 always looked surprised and the stock wheels and tyres are too small. The front of the C215 just reminds me of the horror of the W208/W210.

    1. How about this then? A C140 with the W140 grille and headlamps:

      Conversely, you can have A W140 with a C140 grille and headlamps, just to mess with your head:

      I found both images on Google and have no idea as to whether they are real or Photoshopped. I think that the problem with the C140 headlamps is not their height, per se, but the way they cut into the leading edge of the bonnet. This makes them look curious from an adult viewing height.

    2. This C140 with a W140 front end is, apparently, real:

      And Lexus apparently used the opposite mash-up as the inspiration for their 2000 LS430:

    1. So prolifically accurate, which Bruno Sacco noticed quickly and called out in retirement. In 1997, Lexus designers took the C140 (darling of 90s Japan) front and rear end, placing them on a facsimile of W140 sedan center section (A to C pillar) and created the LS 430 of 2000.

      The other LS 430 design proposals were worse, which span 1996-97. The preceding 1997-2000 LS 400 facelift was a mimicry of the facelifted W140 sedan.

      The LS of 1989 was E32, W126, and W124 meets 80s JDM in aero form, 1994-97 car was an evolution of that, borrowing trapezoidal themes from R129 and early W140.

      LS 460 was basically a Lexus E60 LWB. Japan loved the E60 5er and they copied it by the end of 2003 (LS final design set) for 2007 LS to beat E65 in Japan.

    2. The C124 was the best looking coupe of the VA/HH models

  3. I have a CAD file of that A215 convertible. It was canceled in part because of the SL R230 and resources being shifted to C216.

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