Louwman Museum III : The Pebble Beach Boys

Back at the Louwman Museum, we ask how far is too far.

I’ve always liked the Mercedes 500K and 540K cars despite the fact that they seem tainted, through no real fault of their own, by association with high-ranking Nazis. In 2 seater form, it’s one of those cars of inordinate length that accommodates just a couple of people. Were all cars like this, our roads would have become gridlocked many years ago, but there’s a harmless decadence to it in my eyes. The Louman’s 500K is one of those fairytale barn-find stories. A Spezial model, one of just 25, it was first purchased in the UK and spent 30 years stored behind a butcher’s shop in Walsall. Discovered and auctioned late in the 1980s, it was beautifully restored in Germany and was a prizewinner at Pebble Beach in 1994. Continue reading “Louwman Museum III : The Pebble Beach Boys”

Theme: Brochures – Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star…

A sober brochure for a distinctly sober car – the 1982 Mercedes-Benz 190-series.

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Daimler-Benz were not in the business of hyperbole when they presented the W201-series in 1982. Instead, they were offering a purity of an entirely different order.  “The new Mercedes models will set the standards for the engineering and the styling of compact cars for years to come”, they said. Prescient words. The 190 was a benchmark car, arguably the apogee of a once-dominant, now deceased engineering-led Swabian modus. Continue reading “Theme: Brochures – Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star…”

New Realities

I hope there is a central committee of car journalists who can hand down a decree or decision to use the term ‘prestige’ more selectively in future.

Image: carbuyer

Among the best-selling cars in the UK we find the Audi A3 and Mercedes C-class. Admittedly they are at nine and ten yet they are exactly as mainstream or volume as Vauxhalls, Fords and VWs. All the usual suspects, the ones called ‘mainstream’ linger somewhere below this. The committee for car journalism terms needs to redefine the word prestige so as prevent anyone imagining that the C-Class is more prestigious and exclusive than the equivalent vehicles it comfortably outsells these days. I suggest Ford and Opel add 33% to their large car’s prices and advertise this point. Also, try only building to order and interview prospective buyers to see if they are the right people for such cars.

No, I Don’t Think So

Taking the unveiling of the facelifted Golf as the starting point Autocar thinks all car makers should aspire to evolutionary design. DTW disagrees.

2017 VW Golf: source
2017 VW Golf: source

“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

Continue reading “No, I Don’t Think So”

“A Tangible Experience of Modern Beauty”

Mercedes presented the X-class yesterday. It’s a pick-up. Launched in Stockholm, no-one knows why. Anyone?

2017 Mercedes X-class: source
2017 Mercedes X-class: source

The relevant facts are these: the Nissan NP300/Navara and Renault Alaskan will be pinned under using the same underpinnings. The X-class is not a concept though they talk about it as if it is and as if it’s not. It might not be sold in N. America. Apart from South Africa it won’t be sold in Africa. And not Japan either. Or. Continue reading ““A Tangible Experience of Modern Beauty””

A Picture and Some Questions

A while back I alleged that, if nothing else, the mainstream saloon had more visual variety than that found among C-class family hatches.

Top selling saloons and others
Top selling saloons and others

A recent bit of news concerning Volkswagen’s Phideon saloon led me to put that in with seven other medium sized cars. See how many you can identify. How different are they? And which one stands out? Doesn’t the Phideon look a lot like a BMW 5-series proposal? Can you tell which one is the Phideon?

[Photo sources: Autocar, caranddriver, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota, Ford, Renault]

Economies of Scale

These usually mean big numbers. In Volvo’s case that means only 20,000 annual sales for the S90.

2017 Volvo S90: caranddriver.com
2017 Volvo S90: caranddriver.com

Automotive News mentioned this figure yesterday. There are another 40,000 units annually for the V90. Still, that’s quite modest really. The reviews so far have been good and my static inspection revealed a pleasingly high quality product. Is a figure of 60,000 enough for a firm without multiple brands to

Continue reading “Economies of Scale”

Point, Counterpoint II

By coincidence there parked side by side an example of Bruno Sacco’s era and that of Gorden Wagener.

Can you name the model?
Can you name the model?

To be fair, Sacco had nothing like the rules to follow that today’s designers do. Wagener’s team have CAD and rapid prototyping to speed the iterations and so work through the options. If only the shut-line around the grille didn’t dog-leg at the lamp the newer might be acceptable. Continue reading “Point, Counterpoint II”

Theme: Materials – Decay II (1995 Mercedes W210)

During a conference on ugliness, the participants wondered if something could be ugly and still worth a further look.

1995 Mercedes W210 in a state of advanced decay.
1995 Mercedes W210 in a state of advanced decay.

I didn’t mention this car but I could have done. We’ve discussed here the marked difference between this and the predecessor; this example exemplifies Mercedes’ dropped standards of material quality and diligence of assembly. Even when tatty, the W-126 retains dignity, like an old tweed coat with a few patches. The W-210, in contrast, never looked good new and when the polycarbonate lenses become clouded and the MB star has fallen off, it becomes even worse. Continue reading “Theme: Materials – Decay II (1995 Mercedes W210)”

Theme: Material – Decay

Cars start decaying the moment they are built. Some manage to accumulate character while most don’t. What do you do?

Rust.
Rust.

One response is obsessive polishing and maintenance. The other is stoic acceptance. For many the response is to oscillate in between the two, starting with careful stewardship of the new possession. Why do people fight physics? And why is it that cars don’t last longer? Continue reading “Theme: Material – Decay”

Received Wisdom

The received wisdom is that large cars don’t look good in bright colours. I think the truth is that some people like bright colours and some people don’t.

2016 Tesla Model T in Denmark recently.
2016 Tesla Model T in Denmark recently.

In the same way, coffee is more popular than tea. That doesn’t mean tea is “wrong”. This stridently yellow Tesla T is, in my view, rather wonderful. Let us all now wax lyrical about mustard coloured Mercedes and Mimosa Yellow and Chrome Yellow. Continue reading “Received Wisdom”

Theme: Values – Germany

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.

1960s Mercedes S-class

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”

Ashtrays: 1984-1995 Mercedes W-124

Eventually this one had to make an appearance. It’s been a long while since I sat in a W-124 too.

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Everything about the W-124 is executed to a high standard. That includes the driver’s ashtray in this quite high-spec version. That said, I recall the Renault 25 and Citroen XM’s as been deeper and wider.  Continue reading “Ashtrays: 1984-1995 Mercedes W-124”

Making It All Add Up

The challenge of car design is partly about  the harmonious integration of complex forms. What happens when the body-side crease falls into the orbit of the front wheel arch? Nothing good.

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One of the things that catches my eye on the 2004 Mercedes-Benz CLS is the very unsatisfactory way the wheel-arch lip and the body-side crease (one of two) intersect. Underlying that is the problematic way the bodyside crease runs forward and then tries to go parallel to the wheel-arch. Mercedes can’t claim original authorship for this trope. As far as I can tell, that honour goes to the 1988 Nissan Skyline. Continue reading “Making It All Add Up”

Theme: Suspension – Not As Good As It Sounds But Still An Improvement

Suspension systems are inherently reactive. One approach to managing the response of the body to road surface changes is adaptive ride suspension. Is it really any different from passive systems?

Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG (W222) 2013: autoevolution.com
Mercedes-Benz S 63 AMG (W222) 2013: autoevolution.com

In both passive and active systems, the road surface’s variations are the main input to the body and suspension system. Passive systems are designed to build in to the suspension the capacity to absorb energy so that the body movement is controlled and tyre contact to the road surface is maximized. Active suspensions involve the use of actuators to change the height of the body at each corner of the car. This additional mechanism requires the use of variable-rate shock absorbers and dampers. The active ride system needs sensors to Continue reading “Theme: Suspension – Not As Good As It Sounds But Still An Improvement”

Horror Vacui: More C-pillar Madness

Evidently the C-pillar invites useless decoration. Here are four examples of the meaningless groove.

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The first one is the 2005 Mercedes ML-class which was the first one I noticed. The aim is evidently to lead the eye from one place to another, and to draw one’s attention to the felicitous alignment of shapes. We have discussed the 2004 Ssang Yong Rodius before: the aim is hard to fathom as it gets in the way of understanding that the rear graphics are supposed to recall the essence of a luxury yacht.
Continue reading “Horror Vacui: More C-pillar Madness”

Theme : Wheels – The Three Pointed Star

Mercedes once valued their wheels. That’s just another thing they’ve forgotten.


In the 1930s, Mercedes introduced body coloured hubcaps with a central star, as seen on the 170. At the time, in fact, many manufacturers offered body-coloured wheels or hubcaps. After the War, some companies continued with this, Rolls Royce and various US brands in particular, but none did it with as much style as Mercedes. Continue reading “Theme : Wheels – The Three Pointed Star”

Alternative Paths In An Unpredictable Industry

DTW Considers The Alternative German Big Three


At the end of the 1950s, there was a sizeable group of home-owned players in the German industry, but we shall concentrate initially on three of them – Borgward, NSU and Glas. Only the first few paragraphs of this piece are fact, the rest is entirely speculation as to how things could have worked out quite differently, yet might have ended up much the same.

Borgward had been making cars since the 1920s. They were fast to restart manufacture after the War, being the first German company to put an all new car into production, the Hansa 1500. This was replaced in 1954 by the mid-sized Isabella and that was joined in 1959 by both the larger six-cylinder P100 and the smaller Arabella, featuring a flat 4 boxer that Subaru used as a reference point when developing their own engine. Continue reading “Alternative Paths In An Unpredictable Industry”

Theme : Roads – Meandering

Leisure Time

Glockner Road

The Grossglockner High Alpine Road (Großglockner-Hochalpenstraße) in Austria, referred to hereafter as The Glockner, is known as one of the great Alpine roads of Europe. Only open six months of the year and named after the local mountain, I’ve crossed it several times, in varying weather. I’ve enjoyed the experience, I’ve marvelled at the view and I’ve maybe wished that I was driving something faster and nimbler, without a passenger whose comfort I needed to consider and with less dawdling traffic around. Because it is a fine and challenging road with lots of hairpin bends, long curves and occasional straights and tunnels. Continue reading “Theme : Roads – Meandering”

Reflections On Chrome

Only a few puritans and some design dogmatists dislike chrome. However, a bit of tinsel would have made all the difference to emphasize the inherent goodness of some plain-Jane cars of recent years.

1960s Mercedes S-class

Chrome’s application on car exteriors is based on its capacity to resist corrosion, ease cleaning and increase surface hardness. It also has the pleasing ability to draw attention to the outlines of door frames, lamp housings and bumper pressings, among other features. Even at dusk, a chromed window frame shows up clearly and reveals the car’s character which would otherwise be hidden. Continue reading “Reflections On Chrome”

From Stuttgart to Eternity

What happens to old cars when they die, Mummy?

MB Recycling

Whilst trying to find a download of a W211 Owners Manual for a friend’s ten year old E Class, I came across the above (full text below). Now, although the US website did finally provide the manual, Mercedes’ UK site appears to provide no such service. Despite the fact that it would only cost them a tiny sum to make electronic manuals for older cars available to owners, it’s telling that MB UK don’t see this as a priority.

Continue reading “From Stuttgart to Eternity”