(first posted 6/24/2015) “The who what?” you may ask. And even those of you who know that Ssangyong is a South Korean manufacturer of pickups and SUVs might not have even heard of the Chairman, a large executive sedan based on the Mercedes-Benz W124 and first launched in 1997. I can’t blame you: it doesn’t get much more obscure than this. Sold in only a handful of markets outside South Korea, the Chairman was launched in Australia in 2005 and disappeared quietly in 2008. I can confirm at least one was sold in my city, and I’m almost certain that this is the very same Chairman that taunted me a few years back, always getting too far away before I could get a photo. It didn’t get away this time, although it did park in some light that was terrible for photographs!
Ssangyong has peddled its wares in Australia for well over a decade now, and has enjoyed some niche success. Its first offerings were the Musso and Korando SUVs, powered by diesel engines sourced from Mercedes-Benz. They briefly became Daewoos before the Ssangyong nameplate reappeared, affixed to challengingly-styled SUVs like the Actyon, Kyron and Rexton. The troubled company later had a majority share bought by the Chinese SAIC, before being purchased by Indian Mahindra.
Better Aussie photos courtesy of Jeremy G
So: niche automaker; not much of a brand image; making headway in SUV markets; no passenger cars offered. What does Ssangyong do next? They import their first passenger car, an AUD$56,990 luxury sedan! Sensible idea!
Powered by a 3.2 six-cylinder with 217hp and 228 ft-lbs, with a five-speed automatic, the Chairman actually launched with a higher list price than the base Ford Fairlane and Holden Statesman! Yes, it was fully-loaded with leather and power heated seats, among other luxury goodies, but at almost $60k who were they kidding?
Photo courtesy of City Toyota
The interior was luxurious, roomy and utterly dated. The exterior styling looked vaguely reminiscent of its Mercedes ancestor, but also looked like it could have been one of the Mercedes’ contemporaries. And dynamically, the ride/handling compromise was what you would expect from a luxury sedan used to shuttle around executives in South Korea. Still, there was some basic Mercedes goodness still there, even if it was now a bit old.
This generation of Chairman was sold all the way up until 2014 as the Chairman H, even though a new Chairman W (pictured) was launched in 2008. Riding atop an all-new, Ssangyong-designed platform, the Chairman W features a 3.6 V6 or a grunty 5.0 V8 with Mercedes’ 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission and optional all-wheel-drive. It is also sold in China as the Roewe 850, alongside an old Rover 75 (Roewe 750) and a redesigned Buick LaCrosse (Roewe 950).
As for the old Chairman H, I have absolutely no clue who they were aiming at when they launched it in Australia. Whoever they targeted, they didn’t succeed: around 100 were sold over four years of sale. Those people who wanted maximum bang for their buck probably would have saved around $10k and bought a Hyundai Grandeur (Azera). But the Chairman is fascinating purely as a conversation piece. It’s a zombie Mercedes brought back to life, and if you’re prepared to deal with the potential drama of parts and maintenance, you can probably find a Chairman for dirt cheap.
Would you buy a used Chairman?
Looks like the result of a tryst between an S-Class Benz (which one exactly, I’m undecided) and a Cadillac Deville, with some 7-Series BMW in the rear.
To me, I see S-Class and Lexus LS400 (2nd generation). With a splash of Mitsubishi Diamante.
The first city I lived at in Korea had a nearby Ssangyong factory. One of the things Koreans do well is strike. 500 riot police tried to enter the factory to remove striking employees and the police used full body shields to fend off projectiles. Ssangyong employees built tools that went under the body shield and they started breaking ankles. They took over the factory for a few days and Ssangyong changed their mind about firing so many employees. Even auto workers from competitors joined in the strike
In South Korea, striking workers continue to collect their full pay.
Incidents like the one you describe are the reason Korean companies are moving more and more production to China.
SSongyong is owned by India. It will get worse until we globally reach rock bottom and then it’ll improve for the working man. That’s the secret of why we need to give our money to the rich until they can make it easier for us.
that was an especially bad strike. the chinese manufacturer saic bought a controlling interest in ssangyong and after exporting korean taxpayer funded technology to china, intentionally ran the korean company into the ground. the workers felt betrayed by the new management and the strike turned violent. mahindra & mahindra bought the company after the resulting bankruptcy.
Capitalists make convenient villains for Korean TV writers, as in the West. Their remake of “City Hunter” portrays a strike-breaking corrupt chaebol executive.
Sounds like the good old days of British Leyland!
Good find though, but I’d still take a W-140 S-Class any day.
I would imagine getting parts for this car would be a nightmare, not to mention finding someone willing (and qualified) to repair it. Not a bad looking car, especially from the rear. The headlamps are a little strange looking to me.
The styling has the same problem as a full-size 1968 Chrysler: it looked dated when new, but eventually people will just perceive it as a cool old car (if any are left).
I like it, mostly. If it weren’t for the sad-frog Ford Scorpio headlights, it would be a big generically classy sedan with an (apparently) high-quality interior and good powertrain. Knowing almost nothing else about it, I’m intrigued.
There is a Brabus version of one of these running around West Auckland in New Zealand… used to see it quite often, they look kinda similar to a W140 Merc S class if you’re not concentrating.
“Chairman” makes me think of a VIP car for China. It would be a nice bit of irony, for Mao opposed going down the “Capitalist Road.” His ’60s Cultural Revolution didn’t last; ours did.
I guess they can call this one a “Capitalist Roadster!”
I like it but only in a WTF is that kind of way.
Only way I could see buying this is for a Lemons Racing Class C Index, Index of Effluency contender.
There are a few of these in New Zealand, a friend of mine nearly bought one (used). They had about as much sales success here as they did in Australia, i.e. not much and mostly sold to patriotic expat Koreans living here (we have a substantial immigrant population in Auckland from Korea and China)
When I was in Korea, the Koreans wanted Japanese cars. They liked the Japanese quality control and bitched that the worst Korean cars were sold to Koreans.
Koreans in New Zealand must be different from those in the United States. Everyone that I have seen buys Japanese cars until they have “made it,” then nothing but a Mercedes, BMW or Lexus will do. Ironically, the only places in the U.S. where I have never seen a Korean car are the parking lots of Korean churches.
I wouldn’t say its exclusively a Korean thing. Many Americans look down on American cars. When I was in Germany, some Germans found a Corvette more desirable than a 911. Some Japanese prefer a Chevy Astro over a Toyota.
I don’t really understand the thinking behind this.
Didn’t Ssangyong also make the Rodius? The Odious Rodius…
You really can’t go wrong sharing mechanical parts with Mercedes. I would buy one for the novelty factor alone. It really looks like the mating of an S Class and an early Lexus LS400. You could do worse.
Built in Korea under licence not actual Mercedes parts.
Well, that changes everything, as far as thinking your Korean turd would be as reliable as a Benz.
Ouch!! Reality check!
It would be kinda like what a Benz turns into when it gets old and the owner decides to save a few bucks by using cheap knockoff asian replacement parts instead of proper MB approved parts.
looks like a cheap knockoff of a Lexus LS430, in its defense the Chairman is less hideous than the Ssangyong Rodius, but then so is almost every car except the Mitsuoka Orochi.
Somehow I’m reminded of iPhone knock-offs, imitations and alternatives. Or a better example is when someone asked me why I didn’t pick a Hyundai instead of my Honda Accord. Sure Hyundai has improved a lot but I wasn’t interested in a Hyundai. I also couldn’t see myself spending that kind of money on an alternative of the actual car that I wanted. Likewise I’d rather endure the cost and headache of owning a real Mercedes than an imitation of one.
I’ve always found it interesting that Mercedes has formal ties with such an oddball Korean manufacturer. I mean, looking at this Chairman, it wasn’t going to cannibalize any of their sales. But I wonder what M-B gets out of the deal, other than potentially licensing fees or royalties?
I was going to ask who would buy one of these, but it strikes me that it would probably the same people who bought 1st-gen Kia Amantis (another unabashed Benz wannabe) but with slightly fatter pocketbooks.
Very true about the Amanti. It always screamed Mercedes E-Class rip-off to me. I don’t think many were fooled. Never saw many when new, and hardly any at all now.
I think Mercedes gets more money out of their design and tooling investments by selling them on.. They reused old Mercedes platforms for Chrysler products in much the same way
Sounds like Daimler’s game plan when they owned Chrysler.
Those headlights mimic the golden arches in the background. Both leave me feeling a bit queasy.
What a great find. I actually like the headlamps.
Love these finds. Love the Korean soaps and the cars you see in the background. A character in one series drove a Daewoo Aveo well before it was ever sold here as a Chevrolet.
It doesn’t look anything like a Mercedes… maybe a very poor imitator. The top pic, resembles a 2000+ Cadillac Deville.
That car looks more like, two generations of Infiniti Q45(which is by no means a bad thing), the 2nd and 3rd generations, respectively. That car’s styling cries altered Nissan Cima.
I’ve always considered a Kia Amanti as a Jaguar wannabe. Toss the “egg crate” grille and replace it with vertical bars….
Many names for Korean cars sound like the scientific names for obscure bugs, and some of the cars look bug-like. Except for the Ssangyong Musso which sounds like a fancy dessert.
This car? Puts me in mind of those 50s and 60s Russian limousines that “borrow” many styling cues from post-war Packards.
I always thought that the Musso sounded like it was intended to appeal to Italian neo-Fascists.
I’ve always thought of the Amanti as a Studebaker wannabe!
Ouch!! –those headlights are visual rape!
A poignant reminder of how Korean design aesthetics do not work in the West. Hyundai/Kia was smart to invest in a design team based in Southern California, headed up initially by that Peter Schreyer guy they poached from Audi–I believe their first effort resulted in Kia Soul–which has been a smash hit. Ever notice the design similarity between the first gen Kia Forte and gen 1Audi A6? Audi/Schreyer DNA is obviously shared in those designs.
I’d say Schreyer has been absolutely responsible for Kia’s attractive recent/current designs. He was hired in 2006, and subsequent models all seemed to go from bland (or occasionally unattractive) to visually appealing. Since 2012 he has been Chief Design Officer for both Kia and Hyundai.
You coud be tempted for an executive hire limo or something until you figure a used Mercedes with a vanity plate will be so much better ,somehow.
But respect for trying
Good write up and another mystery car explained, Ive seen a couple of these but could never work out what it was, Ssangyong have been licensing Mercedes engines like forever and it seems they kinocked off a whole car at some stage and did a home grown restyle, compared to the visual disaster that is the Rodius this isnt too bad.
i haven’t been to korea in several years but these were a common sight the last time i was there.i’m a big fan of the mb 124 so it’s no surprise that i like these alot.
ssangyong also built the musso a benz powered suv that they designed. i consider them to be the equivalent of american motors or studebaker in korea.
Nice find William. We got these new in New Zealand too, in standard and long wheelbase; and a number have arrived as used cars ex-Singapore. Considering the title of this article, the personalised number plate on one that’s for sale here (http://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/used-cars/ssangyong/auction-865770744.htm) is somewhat appropriate! –
And there’s also one of the NZ-new LWB versions for sale here: http://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/used-cars/ssangyong/auction-823323214.htm Having seen a few Chairmans (Chairmen? Chairfolk??) in person, they look okay on first glance, but upon closer inspection the exterior styling just doesn’t quite gel. I’ve never been able to put my finger on why not – they’re perfectly bland and inoffensive, but something just seems slightly off. Mercedeslite perhaps. The interiors are, as you say, utterly dated – on the ones I’ve seen the wood trim looks absolutely awful, as fake as fake can be to the power of ten, and then some…
“Would you buy a used Chairman?”
Why? you can find a LS400 on the cheap too down here. Or a proper Benz for that matter.
A Caprice/Stateman would have better resale value and be cheap as chips to fix too.
Roewe dealerships must be very special, and slightly strange, places: an old Rover, an old Mercedes, and an old Buick. Now, there’s a range of cars that hangs together…!
W124? I am pretty sure this is W140-based.
W124-based. Styled to look like a W140, though.
I owned a cm 500s when I lived in NZ.
I absolutely loved that car, so comfortable to drive.
It uses Mercedes engine parts not that anything broke down.
I really loved that car and have fond memories of it.
After the total fail of the latest Ford Scorpio many car designers around the world tried hard to prove it wasn’t because its controversial front style replicating the same style in many other cars, even at Ford they tried it again in the Five Hundred and now we know another one. In the end it looks funny and cute, but far from looking like a luxury car…