A Niche Too Far?

Sometimes it pays to be brave. Sometimes. 

Image: motoimg

Editor’s note: A version of this piece was first published on 6 January 2014.

As the new Millennium approached, motor manufacturers, having established that engineering integrity would only take them so far in the quest for market leadership, would increasingly rely upon the spreadsheets and focus groups of their product planning departments. The key differentiator would henceforth be defined by one word: Segmentation. Departments sprang up in demographically significant hotspots such as Miami, London and Southern California, all tasked with seeking the elusive new market niche that enable them to Continue reading “A Niche Too Far?”

Pushing the Envelope

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

Image: Autoevolution.com

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on DTW on 14 June 2019.

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 permitted all members of his styling team, irrespective of discipline, to 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 alternative styles to Continue reading “Pushing the Envelope”

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.

Gran Illusion

Farewell Gran, I didn’t even know you were gone.

(c) BMW

As a younger man, I used to marvel at the enthusiasm with which my more elderly relatives would pounce upon the obituary section of their local newspapers. At the time it seemed a rather morbid pasttime to seek out those amongst one’s number who had most recently entered the spiritual realm, but as I’ve entered middle age and become a little more empathetic, (not to mention closer to time’s scythe), I’ve realised that this habit stems more from a not unreasonable concern that a neighbour or acquaintance might Continue reading “Gran Illusion”

Wherever Green Is Worn

There is something of a terrible beauty about a down at heel luxury car. 

(c) DTW

Here on Ireland’s storm-lashed rural South coast, we are routinely assailed by Atlantic weather systems, meaning that precipitation is very much a fact of daily life. (Albeit, not in the photos here appended). Hence, throughout the winter months, nothing stays pristine for long and even if it did, it would only very quickly become wet and grubby again.

Because of this, only the truly fastidious car owner endeavours to Continue reading “Wherever Green Is Worn”

Hot and Cool. (But Mostly Hot…)

With the third generation CLS, Mercedes-Benz dials down the Purity while ramping up the Sensuality. Oh Gorden!

Blessed be his name. Prof. Dr. h.c. Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer, Daimler AG. Image: mercedes-benz

Having trudged through Mercedes-Benz’s predictably hyperbole-laden press release for the new CLS, (so you don’t have to) the temptation to point both barrels feels overwhelming, but the author nevertheless promises to do his best. Instead, I’d like to reflect upon whether nu-CLS embodies a return to form for a model which perhaps did more to Continue reading “Hot and Cool. (But Mostly Hot…)”

Paradise Lost

“Two doors good, four doors bad” George Orwell (well sort of)

1977 Ford Granada 2-door: source
1977 Ford Granada 2-door: source

It’s a sad inescapable fact. The days of two and three door cars are coming to an end. It is manifest that a two door car will look far better than it’s overdoored relative, I mean the rear wheel arch is clearly no place for a shut line. Slowly but surely though the life is being inexorably squeezed from these cleaner more rakish looking cars yet simultaneously we are told that there is more and more choice available. Continue reading “Paradise Lost”

Crossroads for the Four Door Coupé

Is the four-door coupé already out of road, or is it just crossing over?

2436x1552_A7_SB_Rear_light
The shape we’re in now. Image: Audi UK

Automotive niches interest me because they represent the closest thing manufacturers come to risk taking. Take the four-door coupé segment for example. I’ve puzzled over this sector’s viability ever since Mercedes-Benz introduced the CLS-Class a decade ago. After all, it hasn’t necessarily set the automotive world alight, has it? Apart from Mercedes, who have we got? Audi has the A7, BMW the 6-Series Gran coupé, Porsche offers the Panamera and VW the CC. That’s pretty much your lot. Common strand? Yes, they all hail from German manufacturers, which does add up to a somewhat one-dimensional bandwagon. Continue reading “Crossroads for the Four Door Coupé”

Theme : Evolution – The Missing Links 2

The Four Door Coupe

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The Mercedes CLS is rightly cited as the direct production inspiration for today’s coupe saloons, but can we look back to the Rover P5 as being the first car to offer the option of less headroom for more money? Today, I agree it looks quite good but, at the time, as a rather dogmatic kid, I found it rather illogical. It’s not as if the high-sided P5 was ever svelte, but I suppose its appeal is a slight one of menace, more akin to that of a chopped Mercury. Continue reading “Theme : Evolution – The Missing Links 2”

Theme: Evolution – Refining a Theme

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.

Designer, Murat Gunak - photo via Stern.de
Designer, Murat Gunak – photo: Stern.de

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”