Maybach: Mercedes' Mistake

Creating a prestige brand for Mercedes-Benz placed a fake jewel in its crown. Maybach was ill-advised and it is no use blaming its failure on 2008 And All That. It was a vanity project invented when BMW and Volkswagen outflanked Dainler-Benz AG in 1994.
Mercedes-Benz had made a bid to supply engine technology to Rolls-Royce, strapped for cash to replace its old V8. The proposals were well received but BMW enjoyed backing from Rolls-Royce’s owner, Vickers, in view of a joint aero engine project. By the end of the year Rolls-Royce’s board was in bed with BMW.

More bordello than boudoir, interiors were tasteless.
Autocar asked Vickers chairman Sir Colin Chandler: “Why select BMW ahead of Mercedes?” He claimed it boiled down to price. BMW offered a more competitive deal. Vickers exploited the competition between the German firms to get the best. “In the end we got what we wanted for less and didn’t give away any equity in Rolls-Royce.” Chandler claimed they went a long way towards drafting a deal with Mercedes-Benz, but “They took the loss philosophically.”

In January 1995 Peter Ward resigned the Rolls-Royce chairmanship, having favoured the Mercedes-Benz engine option, disagreed with the BMW contract and the measure of control given up to secure it, but had been over-ruled. Bernd Pischetsrieder of BMW arranged for more BMW involvement, drafting in suppliers for suspensions, air conditioning and electronics, with the aim of making the relationship secure. BMW drew up a long term contract for the supply of engines for the Silver Seraph and Arnage.

Fine craftsmanship but poor judgement of the market.
In the end it didn’t work. VW got Bentley, BMW Rolls-Royce, and Mercedes-Benz far from being philosophical about it, decided it wanted its own upper-class title and revived Maybach. Driven by pique, it appropriated a marque that hadn’t made a car since 1941.

There were two Maybachs, Wilhelm (1846-1929) partner of Gottlieb Daimler, and Karl Wilhelm (1879-1960) who set up the car factory in the 1920s with his father. The younger Maybach was principally an engine designer, responsible for power units in Count Zeppelin’s airships, a V12 diesel that sped the 1933 Fliegende Hamburger along the tracks at 112mph, and a mighty petrol V12 for the Königstiger tank of 1944.

Maybach cars were for ambassadors, such as Joachim von Ribbentrop, who wanted something more upper-crust than Horch or Mercedes. Only a Grosser Mercedes cost more and the Maybach boasted an overdrive transmission, providing eight gears and known as the Doppelschnellgang. The 1935 model was the SW35 (for Schwingachse 3.5 litre). Maybach made about 25 cars a year, perhaps over 2000 in all of which maybe 135 survive. The Reichsminister of Transport Dr Dorpmüller had a Maybach cabriolet with a voluptuous body by Erdmann & Rossi.

Maybach survived the war as an engine-maker MTU Friedrichshafen and was bought by Daimler-Benz in 1960. It was thus able to reinstate the Maybach name although still had to spend €1billion recreating its reputation. The cars were big, brash, exclusive and beautifully made but never got near the 1000 a year expected. Last year only about 200 Maybachs were sold, making some 3000 since the resuscitation of 2002. Rolls-Royce sold 2711 in 2010, Bentley just over 5,000. There was talk of Aston Martin producing a new generation of Maybachs on Mercedes’ behalf, but now Dieter Zetsche has said sales will end in 2013 and the S-Class widened from three to six to compensate, or save face depending how you look at it.

Mercedes-Benz is awash with gems. It didn’t need an ersatz Rolls-Royce.

Goodbye Maybach

Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen

Resurfaced roads in Spain convinced journalists of the superior ride and handling of Mercedes-Benz SLs. In an era when Spain’s roads were iffy at best, before all Europe shelled money out to improve them, Mercedes-Benz paid to have them smoothed-off for car launches. Or so it was once supposed. A publicity event for a new kind of Geländewagen was set up in Scotland and as this Sunday Times column of 2 December 1990 relates, I drove one across a grouse moor and waded it up a stream. Click column to enlarge It splashed obediently through a good deal more than the recommended 60cm of water, picked its way over wet boulders, then up a steep bank on to dry land. It was quite compelling. The G-Wagen was more accomplished than the Vauxhall Calibra, with which it coincided. I praised the Vauxhall carefully although faintly. Colin Dryden was kinder to the Land Rover Discovery V8 he drove in the desert. It was an era of extravagant car launches and with fuel at only 60p a gallon in Dubai he could happily recommend it for holidays.

Press launches could be memorable for the wrong reasons. Even though Mercedes-Benz planned its’ with more than usual care, they could take an unexpected turn. The Highland river test of the G-Wagen included driving through strongly flowing water, over a course marked by tall sticks. We were warned to keep between the sticks because of adjacent deep pools. One G-Wagen was more luxuriously appointed than the rest. It had air conditioning and leather upholstery, thick carpets and, it was said, was in the Highlands to be loaned for appraisal to a member of the royal family. Mercedes-Benz allocated it to a journalist more important than mere writing hacks.

Tom Ross was editor of Top Gear. The programme had been going since 1977, as a BBC Pebble Mill production with presenters Noel Edmonds, William Woollard and Angela Rippon. Contributors included Sue Baker, Frank Page, Tony Mason and Chris Goffey. It went on to BBC2 and the affable easy-going Ross was editor until 1991. Unfortunately, like many TV people, he not only thought he could walk on water, he was also sure he could drive on it.

He elected not to steer between the sticks Mercedes-Benz had provided.

Doug Wallace of Mercedes-Benz supervises recovery

Juan Manuel Fangio

Even Fangio found the streamliner Mercedes a handful.
Jenson Button was not the first motor racing world champion to look down the barrel of a gun. His adventure in São Paulo did not get as far as kidnapping, unlike that of Juan Manuel Fangio. A tall young man in a leather jacket approached the 46 year old, who had just won his fifth title, in the Lincoln Hotel, Havana, on 25 February 1958 with a peremptory, “You must come with me.” It was the eve of the Gran Premio de Cuba and Fangio was bundled into a car and driven off.

New York Times
February 26, 1958. p. 3.
Kidnappers Kind, Fangio Asserts
Auto Racer Declares Cuban Rebels Were Friendly
By R. Hart Phillips
Special to The New York Times
HAVANA, Feb. 25—Juan Manuel Fangio, the Argentine automobile racing champion, said today that those who kidnapped him Sunday were young men who treated him with consideration and even friendliness. The driver was released shortly after midnight.
The kidnappers told him they were members of the 26th of July Movement headed by Fidel Castro, the rebel leader, whose bands of insurgents are fighting Government troops in Oriente Province.
The kidnapping was allegedly carried out by youthful enemies of President Fulgencio Batista in an effort to embarrass the Government and if possible stop the holding of the second Gran Premio automobile race, which Señor Fangio was considered favorite to win.
However, the race was held yesterday afternoon, but it was suspended when a Cuban driver crashed into spectators. This morning the death toll had risen to six, with thirty-one injured.
Fangio Describes Captivity
Señor Fangio, appearing well-groomed and untired after having been held about twenty-six hours by his kidnappers, talked with reporters in the Argentine Embassy. The Argentine Ambassador, Rear Admiral Raul Lynch, had picked him up from a house on the outskirts of Havana not long before in response to a telephone call from the kidnappers.
“The revolutionists treated me well,” Señor Fangio said. “They tried to explain to me the reasons for my kidnapping and the aims of their organization and their attitude was even friendly. I was well fed by a woman who brought my meals.
“During the period of the kidnapping I was transferred three times to three different houses in three different automobiles. The houses were well-furnished residences and in one of them I saw a part of a film of the Gran Premio race on television.
“My captors took me to a house on the edge of town earlier tonight and told me to go inside and stay inside until someone came for me. Later the Ambassador called for me.” Señor Fangio said he planned to stay in Cuba for several days and would drive here in the next Gran Premio race if invited.
He said he held no resentment against anyone over his kidnapping.

Covering races in Brazil back at the start of Emerson Fittipaldi’s career was an exciting assignment. Picturesque circuits in that vast country were glamorous – except for Interlagos, a run-down slum of a track that made 1970s Brands Hatch look well organised and professional. I drove hundreds of miles in Brazil and loved the place. You had to look out for pickpockets on Copacabana beach. An armoured Mercedes with a driver trained in emergency techniques was the stuff of Bond books.
Met the great man at commemorative events run by Mercedes-Benz. He signed an Alan Fearnley print for me, kindly inscribing my name in response to a written prompt.


Bad vibration at the front of the Z3. Sought advice at Soper, Lincoln BMW dealer.
“I think I have a brake grabbing. One wheel is hot and the steering shakes. It is just about undriveable.”
“You can book it in sir. I can’t spare anybody to look at it.”
“I am going to the dentist and then shopping.”
“You need to book it in sir.”
“I just want to find out what’s the matter with it.”
“You need to leave it. We have two technicians off sick. Nobody can look at it just now.
“I just paid a lot of money to have it serviced here a few weeks ago.”
“You need to book it in. I can get you a lift home.”
“I don’t want to go home I have an appointment at the dentist.”
He almost sighed: “He’s got an old Z3 and it doesn’t look very clean. He’ll go away in a minute.”
I did. I recall Sir Stirling Moss. When he drove for Mercedes-Benz, he said, they thought of everything. No detail was too small. If a driver wanted something done on his car it would be done. At once. Overnight. Or Naubauer would say no we tried that in 1937 and it didn’t work. When I took the 300CE-24, I had at The Sunday Times, to the Mercedes-Benz dealer in Bath nothing was too much trouble. It was like having a car looked after by a gentleman’s gentleman.

Mercedes-Benz Simulator

It looks as though Mercedes-Benz wanted its simulator to be run-in, as it were, before inviting Ray Hutton and me to drive it. Inaugurated 25 years ago, on 10 May 1985 at the Daimler-Benz Research Centre in Berlin Marienfelde, we flew there, my diaries tell me, via Bremen, between 14 and 16 August. The Sunday Times Magazine published the feature on 10 November 1985 headed GOING FOR A SPIN, BUT ONLY THE FEEL IS REAL. The Walt Disney animation would be passé nowadays. You would get Avatar in three dimensions but it felt realistic enough at the time, when Berlin still had a wall and Checkpoint Charlie was a bit more than a sandbagged memento of a divided city. For some reason the BBC's royal correspondent Michael Cole was included among Mercedes-Benz's guests and we saw Checkpoint Charliefrom "our" side. Flight back was diverted to Bremen, where the flight crew regretfully ran out of flying hours. Mr Cole drew himself up to his full six foot three and remonstrated with BA that we, the passengers, had run out of passenger hours. We remained in Bremen overnight while Elizabeth, who knew Ray had been visiting East Berlin and had not heard from him, fretted, sure that he was somehow locked away behind an Iron Curtain. Who would have thought that 25 years later, with Ruth, Jane and Alex we would have a multi-duck dinner in the Reichstag roof. See view.