Mercedes-Benz would never build another car like the 1991 W140 S-Class.
European automotive industry watchers, motoring journalists and the public were amazed that Mercedes-Benz could launch such a large and profligate flagship in the teeth of an economic recession and growing environmental concerns. Journalists’ preconceptions and reservations about the size of the W140 were, however, seriously challenged when they drove the new S-Class. While they had expected that it would be beautifully built from the highest quality materials and would Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part Two)”
The 1991 W140 S-Class was a technological tour de force, and possibly the finest car Mercedes-Benz ever made. Its arrival was also painfully mistimed. We remember the Uber-Benz on the thirtieth anniversary of its launch.
The arrival of a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class was always a seminal event for the automotive industry. It often heralded the introduction of new technology and safety features that would subsequently be adopted by other Mercedes-Benz models and, eventually, by its lesser competitors.
The 1959 W111 predecessor to the S-Class was the first car to feature a rigid passenger safety cell with front and rear crumple zones, to slow the deceleration that occurs in a high-speed impact and dissipate the kinetic energy released(1). In 1978, the W116 S-Class was the first car in the world to Continue reading “Der Zenit (Part One)”
A car made for its times, Mercedes-Benz’s 107-series helped define them. We tell its story.
“It’s a glamourous world”.
In the field of creative endeavour, matters of an unintended nature often have an inconvenient habit of altering initial intentions, and while in some cases this may be to the detriment of the finished product, more often the outcome emerges simply as different.
Why one of the least loved Mercedes might actually be one of the best.
I used to think a good Mercedes is distinguished by the sound its doors make when closing. Nothing oozes solidity and confidence in a subtle, effortless way, like a good Mercedes Klonk. By this standard, my Mercedes E430 T is not the best Mercedes ever made.
Pininfarina and Mercedes – it wasn’t all bad. Just good – in parts.
There are certain carmakers and design consultancies who despite all positive signs to the contrary, never quite gelled creatively. Certainly, in places where the incumbent design heritage is sufficiently strong and embedded, there are few if any instances of a coachbuilder or styling house crafting a superior design to that created in-house. Mercedes-Benz during its patrician heyday and carrozzeria Pinin Farina (during its own) are cases in point, especially so if you Continue reading “Four Lessons from History”
Profiling the R129 Mercedes SL – the silent sportscar.
There is little question that successive generations of Mercedes-Benz SL would never have come into being without the patronage of the more affluent and socially aspirant United States car buyer. After all, there simply wasn’t a sufficient market for such wilfully indulgent fare in the old world – nor available spaces one imagines on the car-train to Sylt. Also beyond doubt is that by the close of the 1980s, the SL had become the automotive marker of choice for those who really wished to Continue reading “Quiet Confidence”
The 1999 Mercedes CL redefined the term ‘back of an envelope design’.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
 Arguably Germany’s equivalent to the Hamptons.
The previous generation of Mercedes’ E-class was supposed to mark a return to the marque’s traditional values. Instead, it turned a great many of them into damaged goods.
Willkommen zu Hause. Die E-Klasse. Upon its market introduction in 2009, the newest Mercedes-Benz E-class was ‘welcomed home’. Attentive observers may ask when and why the E-class had left in the first place – an answer to which would require a return to the decade most people of Stuttgart Sindelfingen and Untertürkheim would like to forget : The 1990s.
The E-class for the ’90s, unveiled in the middle of that decade, was of course the W210 generation, which has since gained notoriety for issues of rust, profit-optimised engineering and styling that has aged as gracefully as the materials the Benz was made of. Continue reading “The Car That Killed Sobriety”
In response to the lively discussion about the W220’s predecessor, I have posted this little gallery of how one might go about redesigning the rear end of the W140’s coupé sister, the C140.
The initial problem is the narrow boot aperture and the odd business of the visible weld in the middle of what looks like one part.
I can see from Daniel O’Callaghan’s proposal that if you simply extend the lamps to the existing boot aperture one ends up with very small radii on the lamps’ inner corner. Mercedes did not want the lamps to have sharp corners: the whole car has quite large radii but especially the lamps are all given relatively rounded corners.
We return to a fine retrospective of an automotive monument.
We have over the years at Driven to Write, presented long-form essays and articles in serialised form, partly in deference to our more time-poor readers, and from our own perspective, to help even out the schedule. However, we concluded that it might be pleasant to have the opportunity to revisit these pieces in the format to which they were intended – in full and unexpurgated form.
A commercial hit for Mercedes-Benz at launch, but Father Time has not been kind to the 1997 CLK.
We didn’t know it at the time, but when Mercedes-Benz ceased production of the C124 coupé line in 1996, its terminus would be more than a stylistic one. If not quite the final example of the legendary ‘Vertical Affinity, Horizontal Homogeneity’ design ethos overseen by Bruno Sacco, the C124 would prove to be the last mid-sized Mercedes coupe built upon its saloon counterpart’s platform for another two generations. Continue reading “Fleeting Star”
After sighting a few dark and tatty examples I saw this conveniently clean and pale W-201 yesterday. Where’s quality hiding?
I asked this of a BMW 3-series (E-30) recently. Both came out the same year, 1982 (as did the Ford Sierra). So, presumably the cars gestated at the same time and without a large likelihood of designers and clay modellers migrating between studios. First let’s take a close look to Continue reading “Can’t, and Will Anyway”
The 1993 Vision A and ’94 Studie A were everything the ensuing A-Class failed to be. A genuine Mercedes in miniature.
One doesn’t get to the size and scope of Mercedes-Benz by being incautious, even if at times, an element of risk is sometimes both prudent and necessary. For example, the W201 programme saw the German car giant risk a move downmarket, albeit one taken only after a great deal of consideration and iterative trial. That programme, instigated during the dark days of the post oil-shock 1970’s, wouldn’t see series production as the 190-series until 1982. Continue reading “Loss of Vision – 1994 Mercedes-Benz Studie A”
Some time back I harvested a set of detailed photos of a Mercedes W-123. It wasn’t until recently I had a chance to take a corresponding set of its replacement. Alas the correspondence is not complete. Some details are paired for comparison and the rest are dumped in a ragbag of two slideshows. The conclusion is that in replacing the W-123 Mercedes merely wanted to Continue reading “The Two Mares From the Wild Fellow’s Forest”
Taking the unveiling of the facelifted Golf as the starting point Autocar thinks all car makers should aspire to evolutionary design. DTW disagrees.
“It’s a ballsy move, though, making a car look like its predecessor. But one that’s starting to spread – Audi’s in on the game too, with its new Q5, and BMW did it with the new 5 Series not long ago” writes Autocar.
The Golf is a text-book example of a product that has evolved gradually over the course of its 40 years on the market. Audi have also cleaved to such a strategy as do BMW (nearly). Mercedes have been less adept at this. Sometimes they’ve adopted quite florid designs such as the fintail cars and most of the current batch. At other times they’ve had the urge to
In my survey of the values of the motoring manufacturing nations, we have touched on Italy, Britain and France. Now it is time to look at the nation that helped invent the motor car.
The present gets in the way of the past. Today Germany stands on an equal footing with Japan and the US as a powerhouse of car engineering, design and manufacturing. If we go back a hundred years the story would not have seemed so clear. Each car-building nation had a deluge of manufacturers and a certain sameness attached to all of them as they ploughed a vast array of technical furrows, hopeful minnows. Germany’s clever engineers and industrious entrepreneurs offered a wide range of types of car in the search to find something that matched German values and German conditions. Things became clearer in the 20s as most of the small makers died off. The Second World War acted as another selector. Mercedes managed to Continue reading “Theme: Values – Germany”
The car that would come to be defined as the quintessential S-class was in fact, a deeply conservative vanguard of modern engineering. However, its legacy would not last.
A blackened wreck with a blown-off bonnet and deflated tyres lying across a cordoned-off street. This is how most Germans of a certain generation remember the Mercedes W126, the S-class model of the 1980s.
In the autumn of 1989, Alfred Herrhausen, chairman of Deutsche Bank, as well as head of Daimler-Benz AG’s supervisory board, was killed on his way to work by the blast of a roadside bomb. Herrhausen had been one of the most influential economic leaders of West Germany, and certainly the most charismatic among them. A proponent of challenging concepts, he advocated the need for global corporate expansion, as well as debt relief for Third World countries. Continue reading “First of Its Kind : Last of Its Kind”
Driven to Write concludes its meditation on the definitive latter-day Mercedes, the W126 S-Class.
Viewed with disinterest, it is surprisingly easy to come to this conclusion when judging the W126. Visually, it is far from stunning. Its vertical affinity, horizontal homogeneity-influenced styling (or rather: design) means it could easily be shrugged off as “just some Mercedes”. In terms of engineering, its focus on safety, solidity and efficiency also means it has never been at the forefront of performance data bragging contests, due to the lack of a V12 engine or an engine of almost ridiculous capacity at the top of the range. The W126 asks either for a conservative stance in the traditional sense of the word or an understanding of subtleties to be appreciated. Continue reading “First Of Its Kind/Last Of Its Kind: The Mercedes W126 – Part Four”
As the eighties progressed and those who could preferred to flaunt it, the W126 began to fall out of favour and, for the very first time, began to feel threatened.
The nature of the market during the late 1970s and early ‘80s played a crucial role in the unique process that lead to the W126’s creation. It is, for example, very hard to believe today’s clientele would accept a flagship modell with significantly reduced output figures compared with its predecessor – yet after a decade of fears of fuel shortages, even the most wealthy and conspicuously consuming of customers were willing to accept a certain amount of modesty.
The car that would come to be defined as the quintessential S-class actually was a deeply conservative vanguard of modern engineering. However, its legacy was not to last.
A black wreckage with blown-off bonnet and deflated tyres, lying across a cordoned-off street. This is how most Germans of a certain generation remember the Mercedes W126, the S-class model of the 1980s.
In the autumn of 1989, Alfred Herrhausen, chairman of Deutsche Bank, as well as head of Daimler-Benz AG’s supervisory board, was killed on his way to work by the blast of a roadside bomb. Herrhausen had been one of the most influential economic leaders of West Germany, and certainly the most charismatic among them. A proponent of challenging concepts, he advocated the need for global corporate expansion, as well as debt relief for Third World countries. Continue reading “First Of Its Kind/Last Of Its Kind: The Mercedes W126 – Part One”
Some collected, if slightly disconnected thoughts on this month’s theme gives us an opportunity for a little gratuitous Mercedes-bashing.
So much is known and quantified, be it politics, cuisine, architecture or indeed recognising a decent pasodoble when we see one. It’s all out there to be discovered, downloaded and co-opted into our lives and dinner party conversations: we’re all experts now. Continue reading “Theme: Shutlines – Mind The Gap”
What do the Mercedes CLS, VW Passat CC and a forgotten 1982 rendering have in common? The stylist associated with each of them – Murat Günak.
The world of the international car design is a small and frequently incestuous one. Take the career of Turkish car designer, Murat Günak. Having studied design at the Royal College of Art during the 1980’s under Patrick Le Quement and Claude Lobo, he worked for Mercedes-Benz under then Styling Director, Bruno Sacco. During his time at Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, he was credited with the styling for the W202 C-Class and R170 SLK. With time came greater responsibility, so while the 2004 W219 Mercedes CLS body style was the work of American, Michael Fink, the project came under the supervision of Günak, reporting to Styling Director Peter Pffifer. Continue reading “Theme: Evolution – Refining a Theme”
Driven To Write descends into facelift hell. Pray for us.
Today’s foray into facelift hades stems from recent past. The original 2003 R230 SL series was a good 65% less attractive than its far more accomplished (R129) forebear. Nevertheless, amongst the less than stellar offerings emerging from Sindelfingen under design chief, Professor Peter Pfeiffer during the post-Sacco era, R230 in its original form was at least broadly cohesive.
In the fond past such matters would have been beneath them – largely because the design would have been sufficiently well judged in the first place. In the old Vertical Affinity, Horizontal Homogeneity days Mercedes-Benz were never in the habit of carrying out anything but the most perfunctory of facelifts, but by 2008 Sindelfingen was well and truly in the fashion business. Continue reading “Theme : Facelifts – New Adventures in Rhinoplasty”