The world of car design at Mercedes-Benz.

30 April 2020

What goes into designing a Mercedes-Benz? We take a look at the process and call out some of the brand’s key designers and automobiles.  


The world of car design at Mercedes-Benz.

30 April 2020

What goes into designing a Mercedes-Benz? We take a look at the process and call out some of the brand’s key designers and automobiles.  

A man smiling and sitting in an office chair

Gorden Wagener is the current Chief Design Officer at Mercedes-Benz. Image: Daimler.

Think about automotive design and you might envisage a person poised before a sketch pad; their sweeping, confident pencil strokes resolving into a futuristic silhouette that will inspire a best-selling model years from now.

The modern automotive designer needs to be a visionary, but also so much more. They are part futurist, with an intimate understanding of how the world will operate 10 and even 20 years from now, but also a student of human emotion and basic rational needs.

A technical understanding of the disciplines of packaging, aerodynamics, engineering and sustainable manufacture are required. Comfort, safety and convenience need to be baked into the design to suit each vehicle’s purpose. The design itself – exterior and interior – must be fresh and distinctive, utilising the latest materials. And, of course, the brand’s values and rich history must also factor into each pencil stroke.

Designing the future with the VISION EQS

Take the example of the Mercedes-Benz VISION EQS, a large fully electric luxury saloon first shown at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt in 2019, providing the best view yet of the future direction of the company’s luxurious flagship models.

“In a sustainable future, our customers will want a saloon that meets their wishes in terms of comfort, design and technology,” the company declares of the jaw-dropping show car, which delighted Melbourne fans when it pulled up outside Mercedes me Store Melbourne in March in the hands of Formula 1® star, Lewis Hamilton.

The EQS is the latest expression of “modern luxury”, a brand aesthetic characterised by timeless beauty, a combination of high-grade technology and craftsmanship as well as “a reduction to what is really important”.

It also demonstrates “sensual purity”, a design idiom that has infused every Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG model since 2016, when Gorden Wagener was named the company’s chief design officer. “The aim of our design philosophy is to create clear contours and sensual surfaces that showcase high-tech while radiating emotive appeal,” he says.

Upholding the Mercedes-Benz legacy

While steadfastly gazing toward an exciting future that incorporates elements of electric propulsion, autonomous driving and fully sustainable manufacture, Wagener and his team can never overlook the legacy of men like Bruno Sacco, who was the chief designer for Mercedes-Benz from 1975 to 1999 and is regarded as one of the most important automotive designers of the twentieth century.

Under Sacco’s hand, the brand transformed from an era in the 1970s of chrome-plated opulence to world-leading designs of lightness and aerodynamic efficiency. His mantra still rings true today: “I didn’t want the new models to make their predecessors look old,” he says. “But the most important thing was always that customers had to like the cars. My maxim was that a Mercedes must look like a Mercedes.”

Perhaps the best example is the R 129, better known as the Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster (1989 to 2001). It is considered Sacco’s masterpiece, and a vehicle that helped set the template for cars, and designers, that have followed. “Form and dynamics are almost perfect in their connection here,” says Sacco fondly.

Continuing that history of connection – both within the integrity of a singular vehicle design but also to the whim of the customer – remains a cornerstone for Wagener and his team, who have also adopted a higher aim.

“At Design we have set ourselves the following standard: we are transforming ourselves from a premium manufacturer into the leading and best-loved and most coveted design brand in the world, or, in other words, ‘The most loved luxury brand’.”

At this, some might argue that Wagener and his team have already succeeded.

Five of the most beloved Mercedes-Benz designs

300 SL ‘Gullwing’

A gullwing car with doors extended

The ‘50s-era 300 SL ‘Gullwing’ was unlike anything else of its time. Image: Daimler.

If there’s one thing almost all fans of Mercedes-Benz agree on, it’s the position of the iconic ‘50s-era ‘Gullwing’ at the top of the tree. Its purposeful stance was unlike anything else of its time, the jaw-dropping top-hinged doors could stop traffic, and it had performance in spades to back it all up.


The original Gelandewagen was designed to fulfill a military contract before being put into production in 1979. Its unorthodox looks and tough basic structure have made it a cult favourite ever since.

540K Spezial Roadster

Built in limited quantities from 1936 to 1940, the Friedrich Geiger-designed 540K is regarded as one of the most classic designs of the era, and the few still in existence today command seven-figure sums at auction.

300 SEL 6.3

A car parked on the side of the road

Released in 1968, the 300 SEL 6.3 was the forerunner to the modern S-Class. Image: Daimler.

The forerunner to the modern S-Class released in 1968 combined a long wheelbase and extreme luxury with sporty design and a 6.3-litre V8 originally fitted as a private project by a Mercedes engineer. The company was so impressed that it put the 300 SEL into production.

SL Class (R 129 onwards)

A red car on display

Although it had been in production since 1954, the SL received a modern reboot in 1989 courtesy of then-chief designer Bruno Sacco. Image: Daimler.

The SL has been in virtually continuous production since the 1954-era 300 SL was launched, but received a modern reboot in 1989 courtesy of Bruno Sacco’s design team, adding a design ethic and stance still evident in modern day examples.

By Steve Colquhoun