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”

Far-Sighted, or Visually Impaired?

The 2006 R-Class was a rare commercial failure for Mercedes-Benz. Ahead of its time, or simply misconceived?

2006 Mercedes-Benz R-Class (c) honestjohn.co.uk

Over the past decade, the onslaught of SUV type vehicles has swept through the automotive market like a tsunami, pushing aside traditional formats such as the classic three-box saloon, estate and larger hatchback models. Even more recent innovations such as the monobox MPV have been rendered irrelevant by its irresistible rise. In the mainstream European market, anything larger than a B-segment vehicle now generally plays second fiddle to its SUV sibling, if it has not already been killed off by it. The premium marques’ larger saloons are still selling, albeit in reduced numbers as buyers Continue reading “Far-Sighted, or Visually Impaired?”

Making An Arse Of It

Does my bum look big in this? 

0353564-Mercedes-Benz-c-class-Sports-Coupe-C320-Sports-Coupe-2002
Mercedes C-Class SportCoupé. Image: (c) Cars Data

As a companion piece to this week’s profile of Mercedes’ W203 C-Class, we’ve chosen to re-run this article, which originally appeared as part of DTW’s Facelift theme on 2 July 2014.

As I’m sure I don’t need to point out to you, dear readers, when it comes to the subject of facelifts, not everyone cleaves to the Partonesque ideal. Because while the tuneful Tennessee songstress has clearly invested wisely upon her augmented visage, others have fallen rather messily at the wayside. They know who they are.

When it comes to the automotive variety, the spectrum too is as broad as it’s nuanced. Some facelifts attempt to Continue reading “Making An Arse Of It”

A Matter of Consequence

The Millennial Mercedes C-Class is not a car that lives in the memory. It’s far too inconsequential for that.

(c) carpixel

Like all inversions, the decline of Mercedes-Benz didn’t occur overnight. Its slide was glacial at first, before gradually and inexorably picking up speed as gravity took hold. Gravity isn’t an adjective which immediately lends itself to the model line we are retrospectively appraising today – a car which can perhaps most charitably be described as inconsequential.

Because over the four generations the C-Class has established itself in the upmarket compact saloon category, the W203 series can safely Continue reading “A Matter of Consequence”

Weekend Reissue : E is for Expressive

Ten years since ‘the car that killed sobriety’ was announced. Time for a backward glance.

(c) autoremes

The 2009 (W212) Mercedes-Benz E-Class is unlikely to go down in history as an indestructible exemplar of marque values like its W123 forebear, or indeed as a design landmark, like its W124 descendant. Indeed, it probably won’t even be remembered with the acute embarrassment which characterises the risible W210 series from the mid-’90s.

Instead, the W212 will be recalled largely for its ‘Ponton’ haunches – a piece of retro styling contrivance aimed at evoking a period when the three pointed star had nothing to prove and no awkward questions surrounding its durability in service to answer.

Is that all there is to the car? Not quite. The ‘212 is significant more for what it represented than for its abilities or its stylistic attributes, such as they were. Mercedes had a job to do, in order to Continue reading “Weekend Reissue : E is for Expressive”

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.

The Car That Killed Sobriety

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. 

E350 CDI Elegance (W212) 2008
Round is out, photo (c) Daimler AG

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”

The Mayfly

The 1998 S-Class attempted something of a rebalancing act after the critical wobbles experienced by its predecessor. Today it is as forgotten as it was forgettable.

(c) auto-agress

The German general election of 1998 was fought against the backdrop, not only of increased European integration, but growing pains on the domestic front stemming from the 1990 reunification project. With incumbent centre-right Chancellor, Helmut Kohl campaigning on a continuity mandate, the opposition Social Democrats portrayed themselves as the ‘new centre’. The results saw Europe’s strongest economy Continue reading “The Mayfly”

Fleeting Star

A commercial hit for Mercedes-Benz at launch, but Father Time has not been kind to the 1997 CLK.

Image: carinpicture

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”

Can’t, and Will Anyway

After sighting a few dark and tatty examples I saw this conveniently clean and pale W-201 yesterday. Where’s quality hiding?

Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.6 and boring Danish architecture

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 find Ms. Quality… Continue reading “Can’t, and Will Anyway”

Mind the Gap!

More shutcrimes from Sindelfingen…

photo 1
The early noughties’ S-class coupé in all but name

Far from being the worst offspring of the late Sacco/Peter Pfeiffer era at Mercedes-Benz, the CL-coupé (C215) still exhibits a very poignant reminder of what went wrong at Untertürkheim during this particular period of time. Its proportions are actually very pleasing indeed (unlike those of its immediate predecessor), yet the CL is utterly let down by its detailing. Continue reading “Mind the Gap!”

A Partial Absolution

Carl Heinz Bauer’s stylistic legacy isn’t necessarily one to shout about, but with the 2007 Mercedes W204 C-Class it could be argued he got at least one car (more or less) right.

Mercedes W204 C-Class. Image via 3dtuning
Mercedes W204 C-Class. Image: 3dtuning

It’s probably unavoidable. Over a lengthy career, every car designer worth his magic marker drops at least one absolute whopper on his CV, and frankly if the bulk of your time has been spent within Peter Pfeiffer’s dream factory, the chances of being responsible for anything even half decent is remote in the extreme.

But even by those famished standards, Carl Heinz Bauer’s portfolio stands out, having overseen the styling of the derided W212 E-Class saloon and Coupé. This alone would be reason enough to Continue reading “A Partial Absolution”

Starship Benz

“A wholly new motoring experience” said Mercedes in 2006, but the R-Class not only fell between two stools, it also fell well short of expectations.

2005 Mercedes Vision R. Image: mercedes-benz-community-weebly
2005 Mercedes Vision R. Image: mercedes-benz-community-weekly

Product planning is an unholy art, akin to sticking a wetted finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing – scientific it ‘aint. Showing a marked similarity in conceptual terms to Giugiaro’s Maserati Kubang proposal of 2003, Mercedes-Benz showed their Vision GST (Grand Sports Tourer) concept in 2004, (the work of amongst others, Steve Mattin and Gorden Wagener), a window into the Swabians’ plans to Continue reading “Starship Benz”

Theme: Shutlines – The Vanishing A-Pillar

Yesterday, Driven to Write gave you an overview of the A-pillar. Today however, we’re going a little deeper.

Mercedes W201. Image via carsguide.au
The mighty Mercedes W201. Image: carsguide.au

Since we started this month’s theme I’ve spent more time looking at shutlines and panel gaps than is either healthy or rational. Nevertheless, it’s been an absorbing study, giving rise to a number of observations about the manner in which manufacturers have managed these transitions over recent years. From a purely scientific perspective of course, we should really be limiting ourselves to those junctions where at least one of the abutting panels opens, but I’m trusting our editor will let this pass – and lets face it, we’re not about to get into all this again any time soon.

Continue reading “Theme: Shutlines – The Vanishing A-Pillar”

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”

Theme : Facelifts – New Adventures in Rhinoplasty

Driven To Write descends into facelift hell. Pray for us.

(c) lexclassics.nl

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”