Just When I Feel I Can’t Dance Anymore, Love Comes to Play

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?

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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?

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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.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

22 thoughts on “Just When I Feel I Can’t Dance Anymore, Love Comes to Play”

  1. Good morning, Richard. The Ford Vignale model leave me cold. Having said that, Ford is kind enough to offer the Vignale customers coffee of a better quality than the regular Ford customer or so it was told to me when the Vignale label was introduced. If ever I saw a cynical marketing approach it has to be this one. On a side note I don’t drink coffee, so I wonder if they serve tea.

    The S-class leaves me cold with or without the Maybach trinkets. I’ll have the Cadillac if it weren’t for the Toyota Century. It has wool fabric, the others can’t match that.

    1. The wool in the Century is a clincher. It is also plainly built to a fabulously robust standard.
      You´re a bit hard on Vignale. The Vignale models all look ritzy-plush to me but they aren´t yelling. Ford have done something with the paint and the detailing which makes the Vignales almost glow. I think it´s been well done and better coffee is not the main plank of the marketing platform.

    2. I agree that the paint is good on the Vignale. The chrome accents are too heavy for my liking, but I will allow that. I have no problem with all the extra equipment. I am not very fond of the Mondeo itself, it is bloated, just like most if not all of the competition, but that is not my issue.

      I am this hard on the Ford because in the (only) Dutch magazine add I saw of the Mondeo Vignale the text was trying to persuade you this wasn’t a Mondeo, which it very clearly is. And they mentioned the coffee in the add too. I am trying to find it online, but no luck. I somehow do not like the idea that I have to buy a Vignale in order to get better coffee in the showroom or workshop than I would have if I had a bought a regular Mondeo.

    3. This is true, understated elegance and luxury for those who don’t need to flaunt their wealth:

  2. There are complete body kits to convert a standard S-class into a Maybach. Then it should be possible to make a Maybach look like an S class. This would still leave the awful interior.

  3. Good morning Richard. My goodness, that Mercedes-Maybach manages to be both bland and vulgar at the same time, quite an unusual combination. The current S-Class has so little presence, being little more than an XL C-Class in stylistic terms. The overlay of Maybach embellishments, particularly that horrible two-time paint job, is just awful.

    Here’s a proper luxury car with real presence (and one which shows how to design in a two-tone* paint finish so it doesn’t look like an afterthought):

    In the era of the W126 and W140, Mercedes-Benz would never have contemplated doing a ‘Vignale’. The S-Class could justifiably claim to be the best car in the world, so no embellishment was necessary. No longer, sadly.

    * I would still prefer my Ghost in a single colour, but not black.

  4. Hi Richard, I was wondering about that Maybach when I noticed it in the background in your previous exploit:


    For me, this car, like many SUV’s, is a slightly lazy way of giving something ‘cachet’: instead of painstakingly creating the ‘best car in the world’ you just put a huge neon sign over the thing that says “this car is really, really good!”. As for the clientele… well, as Irene Vallejo (and others) have taught me, complaining about the lack of taste and the witlessness of the rich and famous is as old as the invention of social strata in society – that is to say: as old as society itself. Doesn’t make it untrue, though.

    As Daniel observes: it’s remarkable how said neon sign clashes with Mercedes’ current design philosophy of Maximum Blandness™, creating a blandly vulgar car. Custard with a dash of 1778 Clos de Griffier Vieux Cognac?

  5. I had the opportunity to sample the most recent Maybach S-class and was quite taken aback by the flimsy plasticness of its cabin – a Genesis G80 offers an ambience of immensely superior perceived quality. A Bentley Flying Spur feels like a proper luxury item by comparison (as it ought to, of course). Having said all that, the Maybach’s seats were excellent.

    In regular guise, I must admit to rather liking the current W223 S-class’ exterior. It does verge on being bland, but its proportions are decisively better than its predecessor’s – to say nothing of a BBQ 7 series or the bloated, overchromed A8.

  6. There’s something very ‘corporate’ about the Maybach – I can’t imagine that many private individuals would (want to) have the use of one, in the way that they would a Rolls-Royce or Bentley. I don’t think the Maybach is meant to be ‘tasteful’, it just exists to look impressive. It makes one appreciate the Phaeton’s integrity, though.

    It may be that Maybachs sell in sufficient quantities to their designated market, in which case, job done. I would think that’s certainly true of the S-Class – it fulfills a role in a wider marketing strategy.

    The question of ‘brand stretch’ is an interesting one – I’m sure that Mercedes-Benz would deny that there’s any problem with their brand having been diluted. I think they have a problem, but it’s not because of the number of models they offer, it’s more their quality (of design, etc) and their reason for being offered. I get the impression that the soul searching which went on over the creation of the 190 would now be regarded as very quaint indeed.

    Having said all of the above, if I were to have something like this, I’d want the luxury SUV version, for the full experience. Or, more realistically, a helicopter.

  7. Another Sunday, another ugly car.
    Thank you, Mr Herriott, for sparing me very precisely nothing at all on this sunny day.

    The two-colour paintwork is so wrong. Not two-tone paintwork per se. But the way the dividing lines run is terrible. (The way the line cuts through the rear lights, and then the angle to the back is wrong. It’s creepy.)

    I ask myself what they were thinking in Untertürkheim – and what do they pay, having you driving around in something like that?

  8. The Maybach is the brainchild of people drinking cheap and nasty wine called Trollinger from glasses like this

    Their idea of luxury is a larger glass of Trollinger with more engravings and certainly not some Brunello di Montalcino.

    1. I looked up Trollinger: “Trollinger, Schiava, or Vernatsch, is a red German/Italian wine grape variety that was likely first originally cultivated in the wine regions of South Tyrol and Trentino, but today is almost exclusively cultivated on steep, sunny locations in the Württemberg wine region of Baden-Württemberg”. As one fortunate enough (mere luck) to know Baden-Württemberg quite well, I can only say that if you get the chance, go to B-W and see how truly lovely the place is and discover their delicious wines:

    2. Tne name Trollinger most probably is a parody of ‘Tyroliger’.
      And yes, the region is beautiful but the wine is awful.

      From German Wikipedia:
      Good Trollinger wines are ruby ​​red and are described as “fresh” and “juicy” due to their comparatively high acidity (the average values ​​are 7-10 g/l). They do not require long storage times and are usually ready to drink within a year. Trollinger wines are almost never developed as ‘Prädikat’ (quality) wines. In the case of ‘Prädikat’ wines, the mash must not be additionally sugared. Even with the best quality, the Trollinger’s own sugar rarely exceeds 180 grams per liter. Its must weight of 75 degrees Öchsle is not sufficient for wine production of such qualities. […]
      Trollinger is the epitome of the Swabian ‘Viertele’ (quarter) wine – and thus an expression of a down-to-earth wine culture in Württemberg; the appreciation that it experiences in its main growing area is opposed to widespread rejection outside of it.

      The stuff is so sour that you can’t make proper wine from it without adding sugar to the grape must – something German winemakers habitually did until young and wild winemakers in the Rhine and Moselle areas re-discovered an sold secret that is still unknown to their Swabian counterparts: it is possible to make wine from grapes!

      Try a Riesling from Mariannenaue – an island in River Rhine close to Wiesbaden where they make wine from what wild boars leave after they swam to the island for the grapes (who said wild boars aren’t gourmets?). They employ a hunter because otherwise there would be no more grapes and you can get delicious meals prepared from the boars accompanied by their great wine.

  9. How far can one stretch a brand? I remember when the first “relaunched” Maybach was introduced; I had a late night and admittedly somewhat alcohol fuelled dispute with someone involved in the PR side in the UK, in which I referenced the de facto failure of the W100 Mercedes 600. My contention (as a fan of and serial owner of a series of 1960s Mercedes) was that the 600 was a technical tour de force but a market flop because Rolls-Royce had the market sewn up, if only because no-one was ever going to confuse one with a taxi (unlike my Fintail, affectionately called the “Greek taxi” by one friend but indistinguishable from a 600 to others). The memory of that expensive debacle has to be the reason that Mercedes decided to try again decades later with frankly made up brand Maybach, but by that stage the gap between an S class and the new Maybach was so slender in real terms as to be negligible (unlike my taxi and the 600). The fact that the Maybach was ludicrously more expensive and (even) less attractive than the S class while offering no real advantage was no way to compete with the Phantom which, if nothing else, says “I am a plutocrat” in capital letters. No contest. Now they are trying to be a bit more honest in calling it a Mercedes Maybach (or vice versa, but who cares?) but that really is just another way of saying 2.0 GXL Ghia, isn’t it? And no more likely to succeed, in my opinion.

  10. Should we be asking ourselves whether Mercedes should be making the Mercbach at all, or whether Sindelfingen should simply be doing a more convincing job of it, since they insist? Perhaps neither question matters since Mercedes appears to be doing quite nicely from ‘sub-brand-Maybach’.

    What jumps out at me from Richard’s photos is the total lack of care Mercedes has taken in its metamorphosis from ‘Merc’ to ‘Bach’. It really looks knocked up in a backstreet garage with some sticky tape and a rattle can. One imagines they could have done better, but I suppose they concluded they didn’t really need to.

    No point overthinking it I suppose.

    1. What sort of tragic ‘wannabe’ would one have to be to buy a new S-Class, then disfigure it in that manner? One assumes that they are not genuine Mercedes-Maybach parts either, as €173 would not go far on such parts.

    2. Are you sure that the original parts Mercedes uses are more expensive regarding the quality levels they have nowadays?

    3. Dave, I think Mercedes-Benz has long since dropped any pretence that money, even loads of it, buys you quality (or even decent design) from Stuttgart.

  11. We should not forget the target audience. They have no interest in other peoples opinions. So insulated from the outside world and wider opinions they remain unmoved by the effect their lack of aesthetic judgement has. I walk past the Port of Nice regularly and try to ignore their gin palaces, still depressingly in evidence despite growing distaste for this type of gross excess. Hillman Hunter anyone?

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