By on August 10, 2012

Let’s be clear about one thing: racism sucks.  Be it the recent, tragic temple shooting or some BS you experienced when doing/not doing what your culture demands, this is a fact of life. That said, geo-cultural influences are everywhere, including the car design biz.  Take my time at CCS: one of my classmates was a South Korean lawyer who wanted to style cars for Hyundai. His work was unique amongst all studio creations, reflecting a culture that’s borderline impossible to understand by the uninitiated. Which is damn near every college kid.

This person’s work reminded me how culture influences design, and how people can negatively react to it. Which leads us to a flagship Mercedes heavily(?) influenced by a Mercedes design studio in Japan. Yes, Japan.  So let’s get to it.


Massive. Imposing.  Ugly?  Unlike the utterly fantastic Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Maybach just never had the presence of a proper flagship machine. The headlights are just awful in both shape and size/proportion relative to the rest of the vehicle.  Even worse is the massively generic chrome grille, whose front face looks undoubtedly…Asian.

This grille had little (no?) connection to the original Maybach, plus it was horribly bland and uninspiring.  That said, the massive hood contours complement the grille and headlights nicely.  Add the somewhat posh logo on the hood ornament, and you know this is a large-and-in-charge type of machine.


Here’s another Maybach I shot, giving you a better look at the absolutely silly shape of the headlights.  Googly-eyed lenses on a car that costs…how much? Combine the headlight’s shape with their grille-fighting size says one thing: Greed may be Good, but excess has its limits.


The fussy details on the bumper don’t help.  I’m certain they are meant to complement the LED marker lights at the bottom, but none of this screams “cream of the crop” luxury.  These bumper bulges are better suited to…well…something Korean on the scale of a Hyundai Azera.


Look at all the wasted real estate!  Make all the non-functional chrome go away so this beast can actually look luxurious!


The upside is that first impressions can go away, when you see the rest of the Maybach.  The extra cost over an S-class Benzo becomes clear in the length of that hood, the space between the dash and front axle, and the very subtle yet expansive use of chrome. The big problem–aside from the headlights–is the hard edges making up the hood’s power bulge. It works with the grille, but the rest of the car is so voluptuous that the front end’s design is just flat-out incorrect.


I do like how wheels get more restrained as you move up the automotive food chain.  But let’s hope you (or your driver) don’t scrape up those upwardly bending spokes at your nearest (so to speak) parallel parking curb in Beverly Hills.


No DLO fail, as hoped.  But WTF is up with the two different cut lines for the A-pillar and the door?  Massive(?) engineering undertaking aside, the Maybach would look so much more luxurious if the door’s cut line extended to the same point where the A-pillar meets the hood.

On a more ironic note: economy of lines regularly equates to a more expensive product.  Look at any late-model Aston Martin.  Or any Mac vs. PC debate.  The Maybach screwed the pooch.


I do like the shape of these mirrors and their proportion relative to the rest of this beast.  This proves why we need smaller mirrors in more normal sedans.


Organic and fluid, even in this “short” wheelbase configuration.  The classic pre-war lines that always influence modern executive sedans are here, but softened up.  Perhaps a little too much, as the Mercedes S-class references are not without foundation. The biggest problem to the Maybach’s lack of top dollar snooty factor? An S-class fast roofline.  A similar mistake was made by the original Lincoln Versailles, before a hasty re-do formaled up the rig.  Hmm, perhaps there are more apt Versailles references for the Maybach. Ouch.


There is excellent use of chrome throughout. While luxury cars (that mere mortals can buy) have plenty of spizzarkle around the glass and maybe the door handle area, who has the balls to chrome things below the belt line?  The filthy rich, that’s who!


S-class or Maybach?  It’s such a lovely door curve, with such an elegant roof. Too bad it was never the right move for Maybach. Plus, can’t I get those door handles on an E-class? Pish-posh!


This is a classic Mercedes door.  Adding the curtains is another excellent touch.  With the extra chrome above the door handles making a break in the sheetmetal’s wake, the Maybach’s W116 S-class roots are showing very, very well here.


Oh dear, that roofline is just all wrong for this car. Where’s the formal? But kudos for the tumblehome!


The monster rear moonroof is more than a little cool.  It promises a rear seating cabin that trumps everything. From what I’ve experienced, that’s no lie.


The full width taillight promises more luxury than an S-class and the decklid verges on being pre-war “bustle back” cool.  But without a more formal roof, the promise is watered down to the point of lying.


Here’s a factory photo, showing how the rear end has that classic Bustle Back look, but it can’t be accentuated to the point of ostentatiousness with a sporty roof line messing it up from the beginning. Too bad about that.

Also note how a two-tone paint scheme really adds some “pop” to the package.  Thank goodness for chrome trimmings on the bodyside!

These taillights are great, until the W220 S-class got the same fine-tooth backup lense treatment in 2003. Damn that S-class!!!

That said, the taillights have the same problem as the headlights.  They stick too far into the quarter panel, making the rear look artificially fat. Paper thin lights leading to a wide full length treatment at the bottom would be nice.  And the rounded shape of the trunk’s side might look better if it was as flat as the top. It would also help justify that looney grille up front.

Yup, the decklid needs to be a little flatter to help accentuate the Maybach’s overall size in other places.  Like a modest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, sometimes you have to be small to really be big.


If that didn’t make sense with the last photo, perhaps this shot helps.  The Maybach’s rear is too round and ponderous.  The people have spoken: and they all speak to the Phantom. Well, except for Rick Ross…but it’s all good.


I know a break in the taillight saves a huge wad of cash both in R&D and real world ownership costs, but on this car?  The Maybach needs a one-piece lamp assembly.


This bizarre kink in the glass is brought to you by…well, who knows!


And on that note, soak this in.  The Maybach looks suitably posh in a high-contrast, two-tone paintjob.  It’s a huge step forward.  Now imagine it with a formal roof and smaller headlights. And now, finally, you have a vision of how the Maybach could have beaten extinction. Better luck next time.

Thank you for reading, have a wonderful weekend.

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40 Comments on “Vellum Venom: 2012 Maybach 57...”

  • avatar

    My former pastor had one of these before him and his wife went to prison. When he asked me about what I thought of it, I told him I always thought it was ugly as sin, so he went and got a Phantom. With the congregations money I might add… I always thought it looked way too much like a W221, even though it had been in development since the W140 was still sailing the streets. I still think Mercedes hasn’t made a good looking large car since the W140 anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not going to ask what your religion is, but did/does your church members control the purse strings through direct vote and/or church council? In our church, everyone that is a member gets sent the budget of what $s go where. The books also get audited every year. We give ours a parsonage to live in and we know what his salary is. If our guy showed up in a Lexus we would go “hmmmm” let alona a Maybach.

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        Sounds like an independent, non-denominational church where the senior pastor is the founder and has little or no oversight from the congregation.

        I am a United Methodist pastor and our system has numerous checks and ballances on the purse strings. A church’s budget and the pastor’s salary are set by the congregation with the approval of a District Superintendent who must sign off on everything. I drive a base-model Honda Odyssey and my peers own an assortment of Fords, Chevys, Toyotas, Hondas, etc.

      • 0 avatar

        Joe you hit the nail right on the head, things were done in the dark at our church before our pastors trial. Now, everything is voted on by the congregation and a church board.If you get a chance google Anthony L. Jinwright for more insight into what happened.

      • 0 avatar

        Joe McKenney
        > A church’s budget and the pastor’s salary are set by the congregation with the approval of a District Superintendent who must sign off on everything.

        Translation for the non-churched: In most churches, the pastor serves the same function as the CEO of a company, who acts as the executive of the deacon board, which is analogous to a board of directors. Deacon boards are in turn elected by the congregation at what amounts to a shareholder’s meeting. The superintendent is is sort of like the SEC.

  • avatar

    Thanks, Sajeev. I’ve always considered this to be a heinous poseur-mobile, but wasn’t entirely sure exactly *why* before this article. Your eye and run-down points out subtle (and not so subtle) reasons that buying this over an S-Class is folly.

  • avatar

    Obviously not in the same league at all as the Maybach–but I would rather be toted around in a Chrysler 300 extended wheel-base, it seems they quit making them, which is too bad…

  • avatar

    Great write up, Sajeev.

  • avatar

    Very nice analysis of what makes the Maybach so damn ugly.

    As an experiment (and an aside), you should let JB stick his name on one of your write ups, just to see if the masses seethe and the interwebs strain to keep up with the vitriol.

  • avatar

    The Maybach is only ugly because the S550 completely made it look dated. The Maybach is a super-S500 and it’s a shame Maybach never updated the exterior. The car’s interior is the best I’ve ever felt in a car all the way up to the recliners and tray tables. This car has hummingbird feathers in the pillows man.

    I’m disappointed that the new replacement for my S-class isn’t looking very different than what I’ve got now. I really wish Mercedes had made the “Ocean Drive” concept. In fact, they coulda made that into a new Maybach. Thing is, it will only sell to the luxury limo companies and they are allready up to their necks in S-classes, 7-series and Audi A8’s.

    I really expected the Equus to do better in the limo market, but I see far more Chrysler 300’s being used.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow yo’we got a benz S-class?! That is one awesome car, you should try to bring up that subject more often on this site as we all would like to know more about your S-class and the fact that you own a s-class.

  • avatar

    I agree with the Korean reference from the front. Makes me think of what the XG350 would look like if it was the current flagship of Korea.

  • avatar

    Another great vellum venom article — this made my Friday morning. Thanks for the excellent design analysis, Sajeev!

  • avatar

    This is the first time I’ve heard of Maybach’s Japan connection. No wonder there’s some Mitsuoka in its styling.

    • 0 avatar

      That got me wondering.

      Was this an Olivier Boulay project?

      I can’t recall liking anything he’s touched, including in retrospect, the 2nd gen Subaru Legacy.

  • avatar

    The font of the Maybach emblem reminds very much of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Coincidence?

  • avatar

    Smaller head/taillamps relative to the rest of the vehicle, more formal roofline, less generic grille…I can’t see a Maybach design that simultaneously works and DOESN’T 100% ape the Phantom. Maybe Geely got it right with the Geely GE. Yes, it’s a total knockoff, but it STILL has more presence than the 57:

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Something about the front end always reminded me of a Mercury , with an emblem taken from a Hyundai .

  • avatar
    Polar Bear

    Yes. The front is 2004 Hyundai Sonata. For half a million dollars.

  • avatar

    Lets be honest. Given the market (rap stars, Arabs and Chinese billionaires)good taste isn’t a requirement. Just a really really nice interior.

  • avatar

    MB tried to inject some steroids into various body panels of an S class and it failed. The Maybach didn’t succeed because its too close a resemblance to the S class.

  • avatar

    I thought the trunk style was called the flying boot. Or is that Bristish-only?

    I really like the Xenatc 57S coupe

  • avatar

    The Maybach should have been based on an updated 1963 600 Pullman.

    Timeless styling? Check
    Properly sized headlight and taillight? Check
    Formal roof line? Check

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Sajeev, congratulations on another great installment of a great series!

    The comments about the front grill being an 8/7ths XG350 are spot on . . . but you failed to comment on the little Maybach emblem in the center of the outer headlight lens, which is visible in one of the photographs. Shoot me, but I find that bit way cool!

  • avatar

    Car would look sleek and fresh if it were 1993 not 2012. Wheels look 1990’s too.

    I can’t think of a Japanese car design I like. I hate Japanese derivative copy cat designs UNTIL I actually see an innovative “real” Japanese car (think Hello Kitty). At that point, I realize indeed it is better that they just copy.

    Nissan to me has to be winning the award for most ugly cars now… Juke (wow super fugly. makes an Aztek look like a corvette), Nissan bubble top Versa, wierd new minivan, full size breadvan with giant snout on and on.

    Different cultures have different likes (think Nissan Cube etc).

    • 0 avatar

      “Car would look sleek and fresh if it were 1993 not 2012. Wheels look 1990′s too.”

      Agreed; in mid or even late 1990s; this would have been a revolutionary car. Now it looks tired and dated; reminds me of the VW Bettle with the Rolls Royce grill and “trunk cover” installed.

      Great write up, Sajeev.

      • 0 avatar

        Looking at the rear 3/4, its amazing how much it does resemble the Rover 75 (aka MG ZT/MG 7/Roewe 750), which was a luxury sedan designed in – the mid 1990s.

    • 0 avatar

      You know, I had a 97 Infiniti I30, and the wheels were VERY similar.

  • avatar

    Don’t blame this on the Japanese. I don’t see any Japanese design influence here, good or bad.

    I see Daimler using a Japanese design studio to target the Chinese market (in itself a bit clueless and racist), and then limiting the Japanese designers’ hard points and design options so much that only a car that looks like a bloated S-class knock off could be designed.

    This car was also a complete branding and marketing mess. It is obviously designed to be like a new Mercedes-Benz 600, in terms of its shared Mercedes-Benz design features and target market (livery transport for executives and political figures, not a prized possession for entrepreneurs and entertainers like a Rolls-Royce). But instead of being branded as a Mercedes the Maybach brand was dug up, creating huge confusion in terms of why a supposedly Rolls-Royce level brand was being used to market something that looks exactly like a Mercedes.

    The only people that like this car seem to like it for how subdued it is. Mercedes could have made the car even more subdued, saved a the huge cost of introducing a brand and probably gotten more customers by badging this as a Mercedes. The pricing could have stayed the same.

    Given how poorly developed the Maybach specific features like the grille are I wonder if it was a last minute decision not to badge it as a Mercedes.

  • avatar

    The design, especially the lights is so awful, but I am a sucker for a 2 tone paint job.

    If designing a car is so difficult why don’t they just license or buy another auto maker that makes a decent looking car and go off that?

    Like these guys;
    Mitsuoka Galue or the himiko are both nicer that the may blech.

    or go on the cheap and buy up bristol.

    Or killer car which is just totally a dream car (could develop a sedan):

    Why design and spend money on a brand that, even if popular will not make money or garner prestige?
    May blech is a terrible idea, and they have always been butt ugly.

  • avatar

    As a Mercedes Tech, I can tell you that you can get those led foglamps, mirrors, and door handles on a 40k c-class. The leds/mirrors are close to the ones on c-classes, but those handles are the same from c to e to s classes to maybach.

  • avatar

    Maybach is phased out so there will be no new 2013 Maybach models.

  • avatar


    P.S. I thought Maybach went the way of Pontiac in 2010 MY?

  • avatar

    Great point about the C-pillar being too fast to convey “luxury.” That’s my problem with the new Lexus LS also – it no longer looks luxurious or distinctive because it has the same roofline as a Hyundai. Now, whenever I see an LS I think it’s an ES. What happened to formal rooflines, as per RR and Bentley?

    Before I knew this car was based on the S-class, I recognized that they had to be the same car. Even after all the changes, it still manages to look like a badge-engineered Mercedes (which I guess it is :).

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