While we lost the visionary designer Virgil Abloh earlier this week, we are likely to see new examples of his prolific creativity emerge for months, or even years, to come.
Case in point: Mercedes-Benz, with the blessing of Abloh’s family, has just revealed a concept car designed by Abloh alongside the company’s chief design officer Gorden Wagener. Rethought from the ground up to inspire the direction of the car industry, it’s a stunning, cohesive contradiction that questions several foundational tropes of car design. Also, I want one.
Called Project Maybach, the car reimagines the classic Mercedes Maybach—the company’s omnipresent luxury sedan—as an electric-powered, off-road coupe.
Abloh’s previous collaboration with Mercedes put NASCAR-inspired wheels and nets on a G Wagon. It was provocative, but was more akin to a reskin than a complete redesign.
For Project Maybach, Abloh demonstrated no such restraint. Its boxy silhouette, with a dauntingly long front end, sits somewhere between a 1970s muscle car and an art deco vehicle design of the 1930s. There may be no gas engine inside, but that oversized front end is one big set of solar cells to increase the car’s range, instead.
Turn to the front, and you’ll see an oversized front grill and hood ornament that harkens back to 100 years of Mercedes’s posh design. But then, Abloh and Wagner add a heavy dollop of off-road features. The car sports oversize tires that look like they were pulled off a Jeep. A combination roll cage and luggage rack sits atop the vehicle, and this metal piping protects the front bumper, too. This decision is more in line with a dune buggy or ’80s pickup truck—an aesthetic fueled further by the incorporation of round spotlights across the top of the car and below the front bumper.
As for the interior, there appears to be plenty of room for four. But the team opted for just two seats, capable of leaning all the way back as beds, in a cabin with extra lighting and shelf features that look inspired by a first-class airplane lounge. I imagine driving this Maybach too far into the wilderness, laying back, and camping out for the evening. As for the seats themselves, the exterior shell resembles a hard-pack luggage bag. But the roller surface is more like a mid-century Italian chair: Perhaps something made by Fabio Lenci, or this ’80s lounger by one of Abloh’s favorite architects, Mies van der Rohe.
All of these motifs should clash conceptually and visually, but Project Maybach works. It’s a sharp vehicle with a compelling, original identity. As such, don’t be surprised if you see some of these same ideas lifted, by Mercedes and elsewhere, in the decade of wild electric vehicle experimentation to come.