How is it that I have a lot of time for the Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman, but find I have rather less time for its modern-day equivalent?
I suppose it is because the Cadillac Fleetwood Talisman could be said to be a real Cadillac whereas the Maybach is conspicuously uncertain as to its identity. Is that such a problem? Ford’s Vignale is a bit uncertain and yet I like those cars a great deal. Something else is at issue here. The Mercedes-Maybach featured today makes me think that, if I wanted to spend a lot of Euros on a statement car, I’d like that statement to be ‘I have taste.’ rather than ‘I am a Middle-Eastern bulk petroleum dealer.’ The fact that I can’t get past the car’s appearance is telling.
The Vignale’s message says ‘I want a nicely trimmed car and I am not shouting about it.’ The old adage (was there ever a new adage?) says that you do not notice if a person is well dressed until several minutes after you first see them. The Vignale Fords and Skoda’s Laurin & Klement models have generally been well dressed. The Mercebach is wearing an expensively loud suit with Gucci cowboy boots.
Twenty-five years after its glossy relaunch, and almost a decade after the 57 and 62 were quietly laid to rest, the folly of that experiment is obvious. I also think that, around the time of the relaunch, Mercedes-Benz stopped being confident enough to offer its own interpretation of good taste to the customer and instead pandered to their’s, which is where the Maybach badge came into the picture. Historians will no doubt explain this shift in terms of a generational change: the Ulm generation had retired to nice, quiet houses along the Rhine and Neckar just before the Maybach arrived.
Maybach was again disinterred in 2015, this time as nothing more than an XLWB version of the W222 S-Class with shiny garnishes and a ‘luxe’ interior. This is the car featured in today’s photos. It still struggles for a credible identity, especially as the Mercedes-ness far outshines the smear of Maybach-lite spread thinly over this particular baguette. I didn’t photograph the interior because a) I couldn’t get a good angle and b) I didn’t want to have to look too hard at it. You should not either.
Is the Mercedes-Maybach so bad? If you delete the after-market paint job (I know it´s not), lose the spatula ‘M’ badges and fit a plain S-Class interior, it would be a perfectly okay huge car in the mode of the Toyota Century. If the Japanese marque can support such a model, then why not Mercedes-Benz? Does the continued existence of Maybach as a sub-brand signal some deep-seated insecurity and, possibly, an ongoing crisis of self-confidence in Stuttgart? Having dragged the marque downwards in recent years in search of greater market share and profitability, is it now stretched to (or beyond) its limit?
A large piece of car
Only a sociologist, ethnographer and a historian could dig deep enough into the corporate culture at Mercedes-Benz to determine what could have happened for the company to feel the need to put a dead brand’s badge on what otherwise would have been a convincing car for a dictator, oligarch, kleptocrat, president (of a democratic* republic) or pop music mogul. Previous S-Class offerings had the measure of Rolls-Royce and Bentley without the need for ostentatious ostentatiousness.
If the existence of Maybach is evidence of deep-seated insecurities at Mercedes-Benz, then what does it say about those customers who would feel the need to choose such a car?
I saw another Laurin & Klement edition of the Superb a few weeks back. And I’ve spied some nice Volvo interiors. Ford’s Vignale versions also spring to mind in this context. What they have in common is that they are convincing examples of good taste, achieved at much lower price points than the Mercebach here. Taste is not always a matter of money: P.V. Doyle hotels, anyone?
* Countries that insist on including this word in their official title must do so because they enjoy irony, one presumes.