What can you say about the mighty Maybachs?
Were they an underappreciated work of genius that gave the Rolls-Royce Phantom a run for its money, or a misguided venture that failed to understand what truly attracts people to modern luxury cars?
Regardless, despite their size, their features, their comfort and their price, the Maybach 57 and 62 were monumental failures, and today have disappeared into the obscure life of luxury hotel shuttles on the streets of London’s West End; all while their Phantom rival continues to live the high life as a plaything for the 1%.
So where did the Maybach come from, and why did it fail?
To understand these cars you need to understand the Maybach marque itself.
Maybach takes its name from pioneering car designer Wilhelm Maybach, who, in partnership with Gottlieb Daimler, helped to spread the influence of the automobile across Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries thanks to innovative designs that saw huge success.
Maybach, who had risen to the rank of technical director in the Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG), formed the Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH company in 1909 after clashing with DMG’s chairmen. The Maybach company initially specialised in aircraft and car engines, but eventually started building cars in 1919 with the Maybach W1 prototype. Two years later, the W3 was launched as the company’s first production model; an opulent machine built to rival the likes of the original Rolls-Royce Phantom.
The company’s repertoire for building luxury machines, while not as influential as Rolls-Royce, Daimler or Mercedes Benz, was world renowned, and throughout the roaring twenties and into the thirties the manufacturer produced dozens of ultra luxury models that were an equal to their competitors.
Eventually, World War II forced the company to build engines for Panzer tanks and half-tracks, but Germany’s eventual defeat in 1945 saw production come to a halt. The original Maybach company never built another car, instead occupying their time for the remainder of the 40’s and 50’s building engines under the MTU brand.
In 1960, the company was bought by Daimler-Benz, and its name would appear on ultra-luxury editions of the Mercedes-Benz W108 and W116 saloon cars; hand-built machines that were the pinnacle of luxury, but were still badged as Mercedes products. After the W116 finished production in 1980, the Maybach brand fell dormant, although Daimler-Benz still controlled the intellectual rights to the marque. It was feared this legendary name in automotive history would never see the light of day again, but that all changed in 1998 when BMW bought the company’s mortal enemy, Rolls-Royce.
Following a controversial deal between BMW and Volkswagen to purchase the ailing Rolls-Royce and Bentley brands, respectively, the most luxury marque in the motoring world was now in the hands of Daimler’s fellow German rival. It was immediately apparent that BMW’s influence on the company had breathed new life into the British marque, which had stagnated after years of neglect and long outdated models such as the Silver Spirit and Silver Spur. While the company’s first product, the Silver Seraph, was not a phenomenal success, it was clear that BMW had big things planned for the company, and if so then Daimler-Benz would be ready.
At the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz brought forward the revived Maybach brand on a car called the Mercedes Maybach. This new Maybach was the absolute ultimate in luxury appointment, with individual rear seats which could be reclined, two-tone paintwork, refined interior materials including cream coloured leather, select wood, high-grade trim and all the features you could imagine for the late 90’s. It had a bar with hot and cold drinks, a humidor for cigars, three telephones with a full broadband connection, and a fully loaded infotainment system featuring a 20 inch flatscreen TV, surround sound stereo system and a CD and minidisc player; all of which were controlled by 6 inch touchscreen monitors on the left and right side of the passenger compartment.
The body was built from a lightweight construction which was formed through a hybrid of fibre composites, aluminium and magnesium; making the car incredibly strong but highly efficient. Power came from a 6.0L V12 engine which was later used in the 1998 S-Class. With a 62 inch wheelbase, the car was 40cm longer than the Mercedes S-Class, while also being 6cm taller and wider.
When this concept arrived in Tokyo, all eyes were fixed on this plutocrat’s chariot; a car that made the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph look like a Fiat Panda by comparison. The car was a piece of art, and the positive reception at the show gave Mercedes the impetus to put it into full production.
After five years of development, the Maybach burst onto the scene on June 26th, 2002, with a Maybach 62 enclosed in a glass case aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth II as it undertook a transatlantic crossing from Southampton to New York. After seven days at sea, the car was lifted from the ship by helicopter, before being driven to the prestigious Regent Hotel in Wall Street; a perfect place to end a nearly 4,000 mile journey aboard the most famous ship on the water.
The Maybach initially came in two variants, the 57 and the 62; the numbers stating each car’s wheelbase. The 57 was the ‘base’ model, while the 62 included optional extras for 18-way power rear seats (as opposed to the regular 14-way), power side sunshades, cooled rear seats, wireless headphones, electrochromic power panoramic sunroof (replacing power sunroof), and steering wheel mounted navigation controls. But that doesn’t mean the 57 was a spartan husk by comparison.
As standard, the car included a navigation system with voice recognition; air conditioning with four-zone climate controls; power rear sunshade; rear-seat DVD entertainment system; interior air filter; front and rear seat massage; 21-speaker Bose premium sound system; power tilt/telescopic heated wood/leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio and climate controls; power trunk open/close; voice-activated AM/FM radio with 6-disc CD changer; keyless start; heated front and rear seats; cooled front seats; adaptive cruise control; premium leather upholstery; 18-way power front seats; 14-way power rear seats; heated cupholders; rearview camera; iPod adaptor; wireless cell phone link; outside-temperature indicator; and a universal garage door opener.
Both the 57 and 62 were powered by a specifically built Mercedes-Benz M285 5.5L twin-turbocharged V12 engine producing 543hp; whisking these titanic cars to a top speed that was electronically limited to 171mph (though it’s likely that it could potentially have reached 200mph if pushed) with a 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds. These two models were joined by the Maybach 57S and 62S, which featured tuned versions of the M285 engine that saw the 0-60 time reduced to just 4.8 seconds on the 57S, and 4.5 seconds on the 62S. By comparison, the Rolls-Royce Phantom of 2003 could do 0-60 in 5.8 seconds and go on to 155mph; while the Bentley Continental GT could do 0-60 in 4.3 seconds and go on to 202mph.
The top of the range version was the Maybach Landaulet, a semi-convertible version of the 62S which tuned the engine and included all the optional extras as standard. The Landaulet was fitted with a 633hp version of the 5.5L V12, with a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds being recorded.
While these cars were nothing but exuberant with regard to performance, their price tags were truly something else. The base model 57 would set you back $366,934, while the 62 was $431,055, and the range-topping Landaulet started at $1,350,000.
Truly this was the most luxurious car ever built, and Mercedes were convinced that it would wipe the floor with its Rolls-Royce competition.
Except it didn’t.
In its first year, the Maybach only sold 166 units against a forecast 2,000 units per annum; a comparative dribble next to the 300 Phantoms and 1,000 Bentley Continental GT’s sold the same year. While sales peaked in 2004 with 244 units sold, the car was still failing to sell in the same numbers as its ultra-luxury rivals. In 2008, the worst economic recession since 1929 struck, and sales for perhaps the most expensive car in the world collapsed. From 119 units sold in 2008, 2009 only saw 66 units, and 2010 only 63.
Desperate to rescue their baby, the company attempted a tie up with Aston Martin to develop a next generation of Maybach models while also supporting the revival of the long dormant Lagonda marque, but this failed to come to fruition.
Instead, Daimler announced on November 25th, 2011, that production of all Maybach models would cease in 2013; the company having made a loss of €330,000 for each car they sold. After only 3,000 units and with a total accumulated loss of €990,000,000, the Maybach slipped silently off the production line; replaced by the Mercedes-Benz Pullman.
So, why did the Maybach fail when it was supposedly so good?
The truth of the matter came down to three major factors; brand recognition, the economic recession, and a driver-friendly experience.
In terms of brand recognition, the Maybach hadn’t been prominent in the world of motoring since at least 1939, so, as Top Gear so aptly put it, “nobody under the age of 90 outside Stuttgart” would remember it. This wasn’t helped by the car’s styling, which was essentially just a scaled up version of the contemporary S-Class, as well as the fact that Maybach’s were built alongside and came down the same production lines as the S-Class; another blow to its supposedly exclusivity. The Rolls-Royce Phantom and the Bentley Continental GT are unique machines that have their own charm and image. The Maybach on the other hand could easily be lost among a crowd of Mercedes products; not helped by the fact that many parts were sourced from the S-Class which didn’t help to give the car a purpose-built feel.
Next was the economic recession. While even the base-model 57 was a massively expensive machine, as long as there are nutty playboys with more money than sense in the world, you can guarantee at least one of them will buy it. However, the crash of 2008 meant that even the richest people in the world had to be austere, so the idea of buying a massive, $330,000 car suddenly seemed deeply unattractive.
Finally, there’s the driver appeal. The idea of a luxury car is to be just as much fun in the front as it is in the back. Despite their size, ultra-luxury car owners still want to be able to drive their exuberant machines in a manner that is generally reminiscent of regular cars. At the same time, the general consensus on modern luxury machines is an emphasis on performance, with tight handling and speed to help impress the ladies. The Rolls-Royce Phantom perfectly encapsulates this, being a car that can be fun to drive but just as fun to ride in.
The Maybach, on the other hand, was entirely a chauffeur’s car regardless of what the company said. While they claimed the 57 was meant to be the equivalent of the Phantom, being a primarily driver orientated car, the resulting machine was still too big and too troublesome to drive easily. The incredible wheelbase of the car made it torture to navigate through the narrow city streets of London and New York, essentially turning what was meant to be an enjoyable evening jaunt into a crash course in bus driving!
While the luxury of these cars was initially complimented, motoring critics have since lambasted the Maybach 57 and 62 for their failure, with Top Gear magazine listing it as one of the Top 13 worst cars of the past 20 years. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a Maybach that is under some kind of private ownership, with most having been snatched up by hotels such as the Dorchester and The Park Tower in London; now used for luxury airport transfers.
As for the Maybach brand itself, it has now returned on the Mercedes-Maybach, an advanced luxury version of the contemporary S-Class; apparently a return to form for a brand that has spent more of its history on other people’s cars than its own.
Either way, you can’t deny what the Maybach did in terms of setting the benchmark for exuberant amounts of luxury. The car truly did show the world how many features and gadgets can be crammed into a single automobile. But while it won the battle against the Phantom for absolute luxury, it lost the war overall as it didn’t have the driver-appeal of its Rolls-Royce rival.
Driving a Maybach is like driving a stretched limousine, it may be crammed full of goodies and can seat 35, but actually being the driver is an onerous task; so much so you’d wonder if you needed a commercial vehicles license to do it!
Still, while I personally appreciate the Maybach for all its incredible features, I can’t recommend it to a private motorist who actually wants to drive it. If you’ve got the money to buy the car in the first place, then you’ll definitely have the money to hire a chauffeur; otherwise, buy yourself a Phantom.
- Looks – 5/10 – While not ugly, the fact that the car had no stylistic identity when compared to other cars of its class was a major sin against it
- Comfort – 10/10 – Unbeatable
- Practicality – 10/10 – Huge bootspace, massive seats, it’s all you’d ever want in a luxury car
- Features – 8/10 – While some of its features are quite dated by 2010’s standards, it’s still a magnificently well-equipped machine
- Reliability – 3/10 – There’s a lot to go wrong with this car, and replacement parts are expensive to buy
- Efficiency – 1/10 – 10mpg
- Quality – 8/10 – A hand crafted thing of beauty, but there are a few cheap looking parts obviously carried over from other Merc products
- Speed – 8/10 – 0-60 comes in 5 seconds and its limited to 171mph
- Handling – 3/10 – While grippy, the car wallows in corners and negotiating city streets will have you trembling with fear
- Price – 1/10 – Despite their massive depreciation, Maybach’s still cost no less than £50,000
- Value – 5/10 – A bit of a predicament. While initial depreciation of the brand saw first-time buyers losing upward of £250,000 on their investment, the fall seems to have come to a stop for the time being around the £50,000 to £100,000 mark. I don’t expect the prices of these cars to rise substantially, but at the same time I can’t say they’ll fall again; only time will tell.
- Total – 59/110 – Possibly the most luxurious car ever built, but while it could cosset you from start to finish in the back, in the front it’s another story entirely.