Automotive History: Paul Bracq – Neither A Knife Nor A Potato; Part One

Very few individuals in automotive history have been the primary hand in shaping the entire passenger car range for a major manufacturer. Paul Bracq managed to accomplish this, not once but twice.

In this two-part series we take a look at his career, focusing on a number of his more famous shapes as well as shedding light on some of his lesser-known work.

Jacques Saoutchik needed help.

His famed coachbuilding firm had fallen on hard times since its pre-war heights. He himself was ailing and had transfered leadership of the business to his son. Compounding the misfortune was their work for the Spanish firm of Pegaso.

Pegaso had recently engaged Wilfred Ricart to produce a V8 engine. This motor would prove to be a genuine competitor to the Ferrari, and with it a range of sportcars were put to market. Some rather bland in-house bodies were produced, and Saoutchik was to provide the more premium creations. Unfortunately, these – such as the leopardine creature above – were rendered in an extravagant style reflective of Saoutchik’s gloried past. Ricart was dissatisfied with these bodies and had engaged Touring Superleggera of Milan.

Unable to match Touring’s fresher shapes himself, Saoutchik sought out Philippe Charbonneaux.

Since 1946, Charbonneaux had been making a name for himself designing for Delahaye and Rosengart, and had even spent six months at General Motors in Detroit. In the early 1950s, he started his own styling bureau and was soon flush with commissions for the distinctive advertising trucks used for the Tour de France, among other things.

Charbonneaux turned to his new assistant, Paul Bracq.

Born in Bordeaux, Bracq had learned the craft of wood sculpture at the École Boulle in Paris. But cars were his real passion. While he attended the Boulle from 1950-52, he also took a correspondence course with the Chambre Syndicale de la Carrosserie – the coachbuilders guild – studying technical draftsmanship.

In 1953, he had his work published in L’Automobile magazine. This study based on the Lancia Aurelia displayed a marked maturity in Bracq’s capabilities, working to the Italian style and resulting in a shape that could well have emanated from one of the carrozzerie. His work caught the eye of Charbonneaux, resulting in an offer to join his fledgling studio.

For the Saoutchik job, Bracq provided a superb debut. He produced a shape both rakish and fully-volumed. Two models of similar body were hewn and finished in differing colour schemes. The Pegaso face was retained, and the uninterrupted flanks flowed comfortably into forward-canted razor fins at the rear. The turret was tight, yet sat atop the body most naturally.

As those bejewelled headlights demonstrate, these 1/10th scale models were no internal study. They themselves were displayed by Saoutchik at the 1953 Paris Salon on their own rotating plinth. But alas they went no further than that.

Bracq would place a similar fixed head on Charbonneaux’s Salmson roadster concept. But nothing could overcome that grotesque face and this proposal too never proceeded.

Another task from this invloved assisting Charbonneaux on a spectacular creation – the high-speed articulated broadcast truck commissioned by Pathé Marconi. When Charbonneaux bought this truck back years later, Bracq would assist him again in its restoration.

And there Paul Bracq might have stayed had it not been for the National Service.

In 1954, Bracq was drafted into the French Air Force and stationed at Lahr in Germany, where – thanks to his recent employ – he was assigned to motoring duties. His specific task was to attend to his general’s Mercedes-Benz staff cars, and on one occasion had to drive to Daimler-Benz when one of the cars needed work. Bracq took the opportunity to enquire at the marketing department in pursuit of some grand prix posters, and a conversation with executive Prince von Urach led to a meeting with head of body and engineering Karl Wilfert.

Among the pieces Bracq showed Wilfert were these studies on the Mercedes-Benz sports and racing cars. That nose on the 300 models in the top row would prove remarkably prescient, finding its way onto the 2003 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and its 2004 SLK sibling. Wilfert was suitably impressed.

The crises at the Suez and in Algeria extended the Bracq’s service by another year, but Wilfert was prepared to wait. Bracq took advantage of this delay to improve his fluency with the German language.

Finally, on the 1st of March 1957, Paul Bracq commenced as a stylist for Daimler-Benz on a monthly salary of 500 DM.

Daimler-Benz had been relying on individuals such as Friedrich Geiger, Walter Hacker and Herman Ahrens for their recent road car designs, but this was the pre-war generation who were now moving up the ranks. Wilfert was determined to create a styling department that could meet the rapidly evolving modern aesthetic, and Bracq was effectively its first new employee. Initially installed under Hacker, by 1959 Bracq was reporting to the quiet and considered Geiger in the newly-formed Advanced Styling studio.

Bracq’s contract also called for him to produce images for the company’s marketing collateral. Despite his facility in sculpting, he was also highly skilled in the art of rendering. Here he has produced artwork depicting the current range for an advertising campaign celebrating their 75th anniversary in 1961.

His most significant contribution to Daimler-Benz was in shaping their passenger cars of the 1960s. As with the output of his then-contemporary, John Blatchley at Rolls-Royce, the personality of the hand that created these shapes was almost imperceptible. Bracq took the established identity and extrapolated it effortlessly into the various ranges. Each model was marked by a cleanness of line and volume, sustaining the dignitas of the marque with perhaps a little more chic than its British rival.

In truth, all of these sedans and coupes owed an immeasurable debt to the heckflosse first seen in 1959. Shaped by Friedrich Geiger, these cars introduced Daimler-Benz to the principles of the clean, straight-through body sides and airy, squared-off greenhouse. Its most distinctive contribution had been in that face; an amalagm of the upright saloon grille with the ‘Lichteinheit’ ovoid composite headlights from the 300 SL roadster.

Bracq’s most substantive input was in plucking the heckflosse’s tail.

His first Mercedes-Benz shapes were the W111/112 coupe and cabriolet launched in 1961. The c-pillar from the heckflosse was retained, but the trailing-edge bend redrawn at a less acute angle. More importantly, the slightly raised wing line and reverse-cant fins were gone, replaced with a gently sloping line and forward-cant end.

These shapes were a sensation, and would define the Mercedes-Benz rear for the 1960s as much as the hecklosse would define the front.

The fins had marked a period at Daimler-Benz where the US automotive shape was playing a significant influence, and early renderings for the W100 600-series reflect this in no uncertain terms. This model was to replace the stately Adenauer sedans and limousines at the top of the Daimler-Benz saloon hierachy, and planned to be as large as the larger US examples, with a 6.3 V8 engine to match.

The European manufacturers were looking zealously to the ever-expanding market across the Atlantic and Bracq was clearly tasked with appealing to that idiom as it stood in the late 1950s.

Fortunately, sanity prevailed and the shape that would emerge in 1963 was better befitting a head-of-state. It featured a more adroit translation of the heckflosse language and coupe rear, and introduced a much cleaner c-pillar into the mix.

The shape was a bit arch in its telling, and Bracq was not pleased with the decision to reduce the overhang at the front. But the car became an icon; the mark of wealth and prestige for rockstars and despots alike, as well as for its more discrete clientele.

For the W108/109 saloons of 1965 everything came together flawlessly. In retrospect Bracq’s best-looking sedan seems like a fait accompli. And so it was, but one shaped by expert hands and guided by ageless wisdom.

It was not just about aesthetics. Daimler-Benz was foremost a highly-disciplined engineering firm and much attention was paid beyond mere styling – upon safety in particular. This fascinating diagram prepared by Bracq considers the sightlines of a left-hand-side driver down to the road surface.

Bracq adhered to four self-established principles in car design; well-balanced proportions, a continuous line stem to stern along the flanks to emphasise length, wheels that fit within their well so as to appear flush with the body and a low-set waistline with deep glazed greenhouse above.

At top is another Bracq marketing illustration, not sure about the one below. Neither shape was his, however. The 300SL gullwing and roadster were the work of Friedrich Geiger, and the 190SL from a team led by Walter Hacker.

By the late 1950s, it had been decided to combine these two ranges into a new single model designated W113.

This Bracq sketch from 1958 depicts a sportscar to be powered by the 6.3 V8. Its flared nostril face bears no marque allegience and this was likely only an exploratory study not to have gone any farther than the drawing board. It does, however, represent a stylistic stepping-off point for the W113 project.

This drawing from June 1958 is the earliest I can find of the W113. Still in the sway of the US influence, it sets the proportions for the new model albeit with overly-complicated detailing. Most curious is the accent line along the flanks, which would appear to split the headlight arrangement into upper and lower halves.

And here is a similar depiction in scale-model form sitting behind Friedrich Geiger in his office, suggesting the seriousness with which Daimler-Benz were then considering these shapes.

By 1959, the shape was cleaner. The front end was a tighter version of the 300 SL ovoid headlight and wide-grille face, and the flank accent was removed from the earlier sketch. The car appears to be almost resolved, however the rear would undergo further work. Note the rear lights on the line drawing at right; they take the same flared shape from the 6.3 sportster’s front end.

I can’t find any images depicting how the W113 transitioned to its next stage, but these Bracq renders from the 600-series concurrently in development suggest what would have occurred. At top is a similar rear treatment to the previous W113 sketches with small rear light and chrome flash. In the middle the rear forms are cleaner overall and the light arrangement lower, and at the bottom the final resolution,

This full-scale body from 1961 shows the shape close to completion.

But there was one small addition still to be made.

In 1958, the head of safety engineering Béla Barényi persuaded Daimler-Benz to produce a fascinating prototype. He had named it the K-55 in reference to its ‘kompact’ footprint.

Not long after Paul Bracq had arrived at Daimler-Benz, he found himself talking with Barényi. The object of the discussion was something Barényi had been mulling for a few years. In the middle of the conversation Barényi grabbed a pen and scrawled a diagram of the vehicle he was proposing – which at that point included ‘cats ear’ fins at the rear.

Bracq went away and prepared some technical drawings, removing the fins but keeping the rest of Barényi’s conception intact including its loop bumper arrangement.

This proposal was forward-thinking and utterly pragmatic in so many aspects. The car did not exceed the footprint of the VW Beetle, and yet the passenger compartment was could hold four in the comfort of a larger sedan. A sliding door was proposed so as to further limit its required carpark footprint for passenger ingress (although this aspect was not included on the prototype). Steering, instruments and pedals could be switched from side to side with a few hand movements. The body was built to the principles of the crumple zone and safety cell Barényi had pioneered, and it was symmetrical front to rear which reduced the number of parts needed for construction.

Though I cannot find a ‘W’ designation for this project, these sketches by Bracq suggest this was considered as a Mercedes-Benz car.

Work continued on the shape through the early 1960s, but ultimately Karl Wilfert decreed the project be cancelled.

There was one aspect that was to find its way onto other Mercedes-Benz cars. In maximising its space utility, Barényi had proposed a load-bearing roof for carrying luggage or perhaps even sleeping bodies. In order to strengthen this plane, longitudinal ridges were applied to the roof’s edges.

This was an idea he had patented back in 1956, and on the K-55 was the first example of the Mercedes-Benz pagoda roof.

As the top sketches from 1960 show, this roof-form was applied to the hardtop of the W113. The ghosted drawing shows how it was applied to the upper version, but the greenhouse was still not resolved. Geiger’s sketch bottom left came to something more adroit and Bracq finished it off with a little more rake at the rear.

An instant classic. The whole car was marked by a lightness of volume, from the shallow bodysides to the tall and airy turret. It used minimal embellishment and decoration, and yet was so complete in its expression. It remained virtually enchanged for its eight year lifespan.

The kickup of the shoulderline behind the doors had been downplayed since the 1961 body mock-up, and the rear seemed to sit up a little more eagerly. Adding that piece of trim through to the rear bumper helps, as does the shallower turnunder beneath the doors. Of course the earlier mockup is set lower on its wheels which definitely affects its stance. Both are great shapes, equally deserving of classic status.

The W113 debuted at the 1963 Geneva Salon, with Bracq and Barényi in attendance. It was not long before the press dubbed this car the ‘Pagoda’ thanks to its distinctive rooftop.

Bracq now harbours misgivings about this addition. In 2009, he conveyed these to Gunter Engelen of Mercedes-Benz Classic magazine;

‘In truth the Pagoda is something of an aerodynamic disaster. The concave roof compromises the Cd figure. But it’s what Wilfert and Béla Barényi wanted. And in terms of image, that unusual roof design was to prove a godsend.’

The hardtop itself was a structural tour-de-force. Removable units from this period, including those on the previous Mercedes-Benz roadsters, used thick c-pillar/rear window frames to provide integral strength to a relatively flimsy structure. The pagoda roofline played its part in allowing the W113 such thin pillars.

As to rollover safety, it was a removable unit and thus compromised from the outset.

And of course the shape was also a delight without the roof on. The W113 came with a soft top which folded under the body-coloured metal tonneau behind the occupants which makes it a three-in-one offering. You could also order a sunroof within the hardtop itself as well.

This was strictly a two-seater, although the options brochure did feature a third seat for the rear, as well as natty roofrack that plugged quite nicely into the pagoda rails. There was a short-lived attempt to add two rear seats in the rear. The ‘California Coupe’ (not pictured) was a US-only option removing the soft top completely for extra rear room into which a row of ‘seats’ with armrests were inserted. In practical terms, this was really just an enlarged parcel space with padding.

A true four-seater with extended body and fixed hardtop seems to have been a consideration, but never made it to production.

At the other end of the spectrum was the car’s competition provenance. Driver Eugen Böhringer convinced the board of directors to enter the 6,600km Spa-Sofia-Liege rally and Erich Waxenberger prepared a special version of the 230 SL, with changed gearing and rear axle, engine power boosted by 10% and the hardtop fixed to the body. The car came in first place. It would be entered in subsequent events, and though it never won again it did not disgrace itself.

In 1965, Rudolf Uhlenhaut – who would drive to work in a 300SLR, which was essentially a Formula One racer with gullwing roof – managed to fit the M100 6.3 V8 into the pagoda. As the feasibility study above shows, this required a bit of cajoling and an extra-pronounced power bulge on the hood. Despite its impressive power to weight ratio, the car proved too front-heavy and the W113/12 prototype was destroyed in accordance with Daimler-Benz procedure.

Though demonstrably capable of more, the W113 was really a boulevardier.

One reason for the W113’s relative docility had been the tragic events at Le Mans in 1955 when a Mercedes-Benz W196S racer was catapulted into the crowd, resulting in the deaths of 88 spectators. Daimler-Benz cancelled its substantial (and virtually unbeatable) racing program at the end of that year, and this seems to have influenced its roadcar product planning from that moment as well.

As a result, there was no halo sportscar for the brand as the gullwing had so desirably been the previous decade. Sometime in the early 1960s, Karl Wilfert initiated a project for a car that might be its successor.

The sketch, dated May 1962, would seem to indicate its beginnings. The W113’s shape has been retained but the car has been lengthened between front axle and dash, most naturally and impressively. A gullwing-type grille inserted in the flank behind the front wheel and the pagoda roofline retained. The title for the image, 300 SLX, is another clue as to its ambitions.

These undated images are possibly the next phase. At top is an example with split headlight motif seen on the early W113 sketch. At bottom, the flared nostril face from Bracq’s exploratory 6.3 sportster. Both shapes feature the elongated footprint of the 300 SLX sketch and the pagoda roof, though with thinner c-pillars on the top example.

Here, we again see the split headlights but the shape has taken on an entirely new configuration. This bears no similarity to the W113, and the lengthened roofline seems to have been influenced by the Ferrari 250 GTO ‘Breadvan’ that proved more aerodynamic than the prettier coupe. This may also be concept for a shooting break then in vogue, but with that tapering rear section and no suggestion of a tailgate that possibility seems unlikely. And the gullwing doors make an appearance.

The 250 GTO was the last growl for front-engined sportsracers. The mid-engine revolution was taking place, and Daimler-Benz bought themselves a box seat for the action. In the mid 1960s, a Porsche 904 was purchased for evaluation and this in turn influenced the SLX program

From hereon it seems the SLX was to be mid-engined. The influence of the 904 is most obvious at top, but overall the styling language has changed. The shapes are now marked by a clear division, dividing upper and lower sections of the body. The voluming is entirely different as well, with more curvature and tighter forms.

Though these were rendered by Bracq, this new direction is said to be the work of Giorgio Battistella.

Battistella – at left – joined Daimler-Benz as a stylist in 1964 after stints as Simca and OSI. He was placed under Bracq for the SLX project, and is credited as its primary stylist. Despite this, very few images from his own hand have emerged.

These are the only two Battisella renderings related to the SLX I could find. At top is a 2+2 with similar rear to the scale model in the previous image, dated 20 December 1965. On the rear parcel shelf is the callout ‘(indistinct)30 COUPE’. Its passenger arrangement would preclude the mid-engined format, and this could be a diffusion product based on the pure-performance SLX.

Beneath it is an extraordinary creation, dated 1 October 1965. It is almost impractically underslung and I can’t imagine how the driver would have seen over the wheel arches. More extraordinary are the eight flutes sitting behind the driving compartment, which would suggest a transverse engine. This image was rendered a month before the bare Miura chassis was unveiled at that year’s Turin Auto Show.

It’s not clear what was to power the car. This assignment seems to have been primarily about finding the next shape as iconic as the gullwing. From the looks of these sketches, it was clearly anticipated that this car would find use on the racetrack, as well as being a road customer offering. We might assume the new smaller V8 in development was mooted for this car, as well as the rotary technology Daimler-Benz was then developing.

The SLX was in no way related to the C111 program.

The first prototype shown at right was built in 1969. Named Tin Box by the development team, the roughness of this makeshift body demonstrates the vehicle was designed from the inside out. In 1961, Daimler-Benz had licenced use of Felix Wankel’s rotary engine and a team of engineers based in Untertürkheim were tasked with developing this technology. They had even produced a 1:5 scale model from within their own ranks for presentation to Wilfert, which became the basis for the Tin Box.

Bracq, based at Sindelfingen, played no part in the C111, nor does the SLX seem to have been a consideration. In fact, the first Mercedes-Benz to be fitted with the rotary was a W113 in 1968 as a test mule before it was determined a smaller, lighter body would be necessary.

The end of the SLX project came about with a changing of the guard at Daimler-Benz. Fritz Nallinger, who effectively sat at the top of the technical hierachy, was to retire at the end of 1965 with Hans Scherenberg replacing him. As a result of this transition, projects were suspended pending Scherenberg’s approval. That the board of directors were not impressed with the SLX would have added considerably to the project’s cancellation.

Things had gotten as far as a fullscale mockup produced out of wood.

There is not much information about the SLX out there, and my account of its progression within the styling phase is largely speculative. There doesn’t even seem to be an official name or designation for the program. In my research, I have encountered X, SL X, SL-X, 700 SL and C101/111. Surprisingly, Daimler-Benz seems to have had so little idea about this project themselves, when they exhibited the mockup in 2010 they called it the Sacco Study.

Bruno Sacco joined Daimler-Benz as a stylist in 1958, just a year after Paul Bracq started. By Sacco’s own account, Bracq was stylist number one and he was stylist number two. In 1965, he left Geiger’s department and joined Barenyi to work on safety development. At a guess, this is probably because he felt he was going nowhere with Bracq as number one. He would, in time, prove just as influential as Paul Bracq on the Mercedes-Benz look – perhaps more so.

Sacco was involved with the SLX, but not directly in its styling – he had been appointed development engineer working alongside Bracq and Battistella. However, he led the C111 styling effort, and it would seem for this reason Daimler-Benz had retroactively credited him with the SLX.

Though Bruno Sacco contributed to the W100 and W113 projects, his hand on these shapes is not so evident. The only renderings of his I can find from that period would be these two. They have been credited to Bracq, but for a number of reasons I’m more convinced they came from Sacco. Their file names suggest they were associated with the rotary program, and it’s certainly possible exploratory studies were initiated within Daimler-Benz for a small rotary-powered sedan.

But they may be something else; possibly a part of the W118/119 program.

In 1959, Daimler-Benz had taken full control of the Auto Union entity that included the DKW marque and its attendant two-stroke engine technology. Karl Wilfert was interested in an entry-level model and project W118 was commenced to develop the junior DKW. Engineer Ludwig Kraus was tasked with updating the front wheel drive platform to include four-stroke power and a prototype body was built by 1960. I can find no direct credit for this shape and I sense Sacco’s hand as well as Bracq’s.

It is clearly based on the W113 pre-pagoda prototype, but with all the elements reproportioned. The hood contours are more pronounced and simpler headlights used, but that roofline, grille shape and rear end are familiar. Notable is the rear-wheel placement, set farther back in the body than was conventional at the time. With no rear differential, the opportunity was taken to maximise the cabin space. The prototype was two-sided for four doors and two.

The shape is clean and pragmatic but not overly utilitarian. Despite the fact that it is unmistakeably a Mercedes-Benz, it offers a new slant to the marque identity.

When the DKW F102 was launched in 1963, it would appear as an interpretation of the W118 by Auto Union’s own people. The overall shape is retained, but all the details have been changed including placement of the rear wheels.

With the F102 a sales dud and Daimler-Benz having priorities elsewhere, in early 1965 Auto Union was transferred to Volkswagen. Later that year an updated F102 appeared as the F103 under the name of a resuscitated marque, Audi.

Daimler-Benz’ quest for a bespoke junior model had gained a lot of momentum back in the mid 1950s. For the W122 program, a number of stylists including Geiger, Ahrens and even Wilfert himself produced fullscale body proposals in competition with each other. Some of these would prove to be quite attractive in the conventional RWD sedan idiom. Late in the day, the program was cancelled.

Instead the decision was taken to use a shortened version of the middle-range heckflosse body because of its pioneering crumple-zone and safety-cell engineering, which the W122 lacked. The W110 junior was put to market in 1961.

In 1964, automotive magazine Mot published these speculative images of a new Mercedes-Benz junior. As far as its general proportioning goes they weren’t far off, but in detail they seem to have completely missed the mark. What they anticipated was the pagoda writ as four door sedan. Literally. From the grille and headlights through the body curvature and creasing to the rear end.

That lower kink in the c-pillar does give me pause for thought though.

These Bracq sketches from two years earlier for the W114/115 program show the shape in a different light. The upper image dated February 1962 has a squared off interpretation of the W108/109 lower body with larger rear lights. That greenhouse is very attractive if a little impractical. Evidence enough though that Daimler-Benz were in the thrall of the pagoda roof.

The image below from June of that year has a more daring bodyside. Note that is captioned W115, which was the four-cylinder variant (W114 being the six). Its small round headlight suggests there was going to be strong differentiation between the senior junior and the junior junior models, which would ultimately manifest as variations in bumper treatment.

Most telling is the kink in the lower c-pillar, not seen on a Mercedes-Benz car hitherto – which makes me think the Mot drawings were based on a diversionary sneak-peak of much earlier and out-of-date Daimler-Benz renders.

The shape that emerged in 1968 was effectively a combination of the previous two images; a squared-off lower body and conventional thick c-pillar greenhouse. That kink would disappear, but the shape would introduce its own subtle flavours into the Mercedes-Benz mix.

Bracq felt the final shape was actually too squared-off. For those familiar with this model, the lower image might appear a bit weird. The headlights on that mock-up are actually softer and more rounded, and it changes the whole tenor of the car. That bumper being slightly higher up doesn’t help either, and its a great example of how millimetres here and there can affect the overall impression.

I have to disagree with Mr. Bracq; this was a very accomplished shape in its squarish idiom. It manages to project the senior saloon language without any element appearing out of proportion. A testament to both Paul Bracq and the heckflosse.

I’m not as impressed with the coupe. It scored a lower roofline and introduced a new c-pillar shape to the coupe range but has always struck me as a bit push-me-pull-you. It seems too symmetrical in profile and comes across more as a two-door sedan than a true coupe.

It would be the second body to enter production with the pagoda roof.

Bracq’s preferred version sits at top. He wanted horizontal headlights on the car, but that was nixed by Wilfert. Again, I would disagree with Mr. Bracq. The rest of the car spoke heckflosse, and these headlights needed more than just squared-off volumes around them.

Beneath is a sketch from 1963 by Friedrich Geiger. Despite his being from the previous generation of styling, his mindset still sat within the contemporary. He too seems to have been a fan of the horiziontal, along with most of the car world since the late 1950s. Worth noting here is his own interpretation of the pagoda ridge, almost Renault 16-like.

Though not a hard and fast rule, in the automotive world it was wiser back then to trickle down than to push up. On the one hand, you have the leeway to be more experimental on a junior model – such as the 1960 Corvair – but on the other, deriving the language from the senior models would capitalise on marque identity and brand equity – 1960 Falcon. The decision to clothe the W114/115 as per its seniors was conservative, but correct.

The search for a new visual identity would evolve over three parallel senior projects. To address this onerous task, from 1965 a number of stylists joined Daimler-Benz under Friedrich Geiger’s baton – Joseph Gallitzendörfer, Gérard Cardiet, Peter Pfeiffer, Ferdinand Hellhage, Thomas Hilpert and possibly others.

At top are Geiger’s 1963 doodles from the previous image. The smaller coupes are perhaps his own thoughts for the SLX.

Beneath, a sample of the work from the new recruits for the pagoda’s replacement all dated 1967. In fairness, it must be said that these are exploratory studies. Nevertheless they show a distinct lack of understanding as to what constitutes a Mercedes-Benz.

Paul Bracq was equally capable of such outlandishness, but he doesn’t seem to have lost sight of the marque’s essence.

The face up top seems a bit lost, but makes more sense when one considers the grilled version shown in half below it. The profiles progress recognisably from the pagoda with a lightness of form not evident on the work of the younger contingent.

The drawings up top are from November 1965. The profile undated, but clearly their corollary.

Would that the new model actually ended up looking like this.

A coupe version of the W100 600-series had been a styling assignment since at least 1963. In 1965, Daimler-Benz produced two prototypes, one of which was given to Rudolf Uhlenhaut upon his retirement. The versions built were a literal translation of the sedan.

These undated renders show a progression of sorts. At top, the same lower body as the sedan with a differing turret. Eagle eyed readers will have noticed something similar on Friedrich Geiger’s board a few frames back. In the middle, Bracq tries on the longer nose again, with similar horizontal face to the November 1965 pagoda replacement renders. As with the W114/115 body mockup, this face doesn’t work so well when simply grafted onto the lower body language of the 600 sedan.

At bottom, one of my favourite Bracqs. Even though I had to blow this image up from thumbnail, its supremacy is apparent. The body language seems largely the same, but small things make this a more natural shape. The front end is hard to discern, but appears horizontal – possibly with hideaway headlights. The rear has a faster-angled upper plane and the c-pillar/rear window have moved completely away from the W100’s rigidity. It appears to share the sedan’s wheelbase. Overly long, but so well proportioned and handsome.

I suspect this to be another 600 coupe proposal, undated but (at a guess) rendered after the late 1966 debut of the 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix. Not so evident in this Bracq image is the significant influence the US fullsizer would have on the 1970s Mercedes-Benz.

That influence would be in the bodysides.

With the US idiom moving towards fuselage, the more accentuated tumblehome and turnunder emerging in the mid 1960s would provide the key component of the next decade’s Mercedes-Benz body language.

These unlabelled designs dated May 1964 appear to be for the W116, the middle-range sedan’s replacement. Here Bracq is not beholden to any single shape, and in fact the loop bumper face pre-dates its appearance on production cars across the Atlantic. Inspired by the K-55 perhaps?

Dated June 1965 and labelled W116, we have the shape more clearly defined. With that oversized greenhouse, these might be taken as a junior model, but the nominal wheelbase (2920mm) and body height (1400mm) correspond with the production W116.

The bodysides depict a tumblehome, midriff and turnunder as an uninterrupted curve in section, and running cleanly along the entire length. There are lengthwise accents that relieve the curve without affecting its purity, particularly on the top version. Important too is that the ends are curved in a similar fashion to the sides.

Undated and a two-door, but a four-seater based on a sedan. This would appear to have been produced around the same time as the previous 1965 set; the curved side and ends is present and the features are largely the same. It’s the greenhouse/lower body proportional relationship that has changed, and this accords more with that of the production W116.

Ultimately, the task of filling in the details would fall to others.

In 1967, Paul Bracq left Daimler-Benz.

Paul Bracq; Part Two

. . .

Further Reading

My account of the SLX is based primarily on the following three articles

Article on C111 by Karl Ludvigsen at

Interview with Bruno Sacco by Susanne Roeder at

Newsletter 21 from MBMC by Bernd D. Loosen (German)

Article on the K-55 by Christof Vieweg at (German)

. . .

CC Biography of Philippe Charbonneaux by Tatra87

CC Automotive History on the 300 SL Gullwing and Roadster and 190 Roadster by Don A.

CC Automotive History on the W110/111/112 Heckflosse by Don A.

More CC articles are linked within