Thursday, February 9, 2017

February 9

Boys with books:

With a side of underwear:

Car Porn: A Remembrance of Herr Maybach

Ok, so I’m a classic car nut. On my trip to south Florida last month, I took a break from sun and sand to spend half a day at the Packard Museum in Ft. Lauderdale. In addition to the cars, there were displays of 2,000 dashboard cigarette lighters and case after case of hood ornaments (check out Pontiac radiator caps, if you get a chance). My father owned a 1934 Packard cabriolet that he used to enter in car shows, so I spent a lot of my youth tagging along. That’s how I know my Tuckers from my LaSalles.

1933 Maybach Zeppelin DS8 Cabriolet (above)
Note the divided windscreen, rear-hinged doors and those fenders!

Anyway, February 9 is the birth date of Wilhelm Maybach (February 9, 1846), and I’m sure that means more to me than you. Those madcap Germans – Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler – strapped their 4-stroke engine onto a bicycle in 1885 and came up with the first motorcycle. When they attached their engine to a carriage, they had a primitive automobile. After Daimler died, Maybach went into business with Karl Daimler, Gottlieb’s son. They called the car they introduced at the 1921 Berlin Auto Show the Maybach W3. The partners reached their pinnacle of fame with the Maybach Zeppelin (1930-1937), powered by an 8-liter V12 engine (not a typo). Restored examples cost millions today.

Maybach, who became technical director and chief designer for the Daimler Motor Company, was commissioned by auto racer and car dealer Emil Jellinek to produce a luxury car to sell to his rich clients on the French Riviera. His daughter’s name was  Mércèdes*, and the rest is history. Daimler-Benz decided to keep the name Mércèdes for all of the company’s future production units.

Mercedes resurrected the Maybach marque as an ultra-luxury vehicle in 2002, but so few were sold (157 in 2010, and only 63 of those went to the U.S.) that the marque was discontinued in 2012. They had been wildly optimistic, geared up to sell 2,000 a year. As if they didn’t learn their lesson, in 2015 Mercedes decided to bring back the Maybach as an ultra-exclusive sub-brand of the Mercedes S-class, with the S500 Maybach models being built in India. The stretched Maybach S600 Pullman (below), built in Sindelfingen alongside other S-class vehicles, is priced at around 500,000 Euros, but you get heated armrests and an extra side window. My bet is that ultra-luxury hotels will be their target market, for use as house cars for VIP guests. A private citizen blowing that amount of money wants to see a Spirit of Ecstasy pop up out of the grill -- know what I mean?

But Happy Birthday, Wilhelm!

*Her grandfather Adolf Jellinek was the former chief rabbi of Vienna, Austria.

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