Sunday, 11 November 2012

Mercedes-Benz World:- Corporate Might (have been)

I perform a tiny, insignificant role at the very bottom of the ladder for a massive, multinational company and, every now and again, I'm called up for a fresh intake of indoctrination.

The venue for this is either the Milton Keynes headquarters, a bleak, '70s monolith of indistinction where corporate drones toil away doing mysterious activities for either a tiny or a massive amount of money depending on hierarchical standing.

Or it's here, at Mercedes-Benz World, in Weybridge, Surrey.

This showcase of industrial confidence, a rhapsody in shiny, pointy aluminium, concrete and glass, serves as a showcase for Mercedes and everything they stand for, and as such is stuffed full of shiny, expensive machinery, the likes of which we've seen millions of times before in every classic car magazine or motoring documentary that's ever been put together.

Thus: The 1954 Mercedes 300SL Roadster.

Then there's the Pagoda SL of the '60s and early '70s...

... and the 190SL, the 300's pretty little sister.


What on earth's going on with those tail-lights? Can't be original, surely?

More interesting is the 3.5 litre 280SE Convertible. The SLs are all very nice and all, but the SE is somehow infinitely more interesting. Aside from the Americans there was barely anybody else in the world building a big, open-top five-seat car with a decent turn of speed. Add the styling which is so agonisingly close to plain and ugly; yet is somehow anything but.

And then it's all over. Suddenly Mercedes-Benz World runs out of interesting things to show me.

There's three storeys of display space on which virtually every one of their current-day offerings is picked out in halogen clarity, with gangs of marauding salespeople ready to ask lifestyle questions to anybody who cocks an admiring glance in the right direction.

Yet, aside from the cars above which are all parked around a "We're Mercedes-Benz, this is how good we've been" display in the central core of the building (below Europes longest single-span escalator, don't you know), there's precious little to link Mercedes from the glory days of the 50s and 60s with the products they peddle today.

What of the R107 SL, the car that kept Mercedes in the limelight for sixteen long years? What of the W126 SEC, that glorious barge of a car that somehow combined elegance with obesity and led directly to todays CL uber-coupe?

Nein. For representation of anything other than the established, hundred-grand plus, blue-chip classics, I had to console myself with photos of model cars.

Mind you, that 190E is a corker.