In terms of luxury, there’s not much than can top the last of the mighty Maybachs, the stylish and structurally unsound 57 and the even larger 62 being what all car manufacturers aspire to build. Now, while many consider these cars for being failures in their own right of not being able to appeal to a market outside of business executives and company vehicles, I wouldn’t consider them pseudonyms for bad cars, if anything they’re incredibly well built, and the attention to every single detail is astounding, even giving the well established Rolls Royce and Bentley a run for their money!
The Maybach company was founded in 1909 by Wilhelm Maybach, one of the founding fathers of the original motor car back in the late 1800’s. For a period the company created a selection of admirable but often forgotten creations that were meant to rival the luxury and premise of their Anglican rivals, Rolls Royce and Bentley. The first Maybach to be built was in 1921, this being the W3. Not much is known about these early pre-war Maybachs, but for the few that have managed to survive the years in museums or private collections have been noted for their esteemed luxury. However, World War II dealt a bitter blow to the Maybach brand, which although had been able to produce engines for the German Army’s Panzer II and Panzer III tanks, the company never restarted production and for the next 20 years lay dormant until it was bought up by Daimler-Benz in 1960, with the engine division being renamed MTU.
However, in the mid to late 1990s a sudden interest in large luxury cars such as contemporary Rolls Royces and Bentleys gave parent company Daimler AG (parent company of Mercedes-Benz) the incentive to create their own superluxury car, only this one was going to be so lavish and chocked full of so many luxury items that it would simply blow the British builders out of the water. The first concept cars for their new luxury brand were unveiled in 1997 at the Tokyo Motor Show, being dubbed the 57 and the 62, a representation of the car’s length in decimetres. At the time Rolls Royce and Bentley were still the same company, and competed with the brand new Rolls Royce Silver Seraph/Bentley Arnage, though it wouldn’t be until 2002 until the first of the Maybach models were introduced to the public market.
The launch of Maybach was ideal in terms of timing as in 2002, the five year contract between BMW and Volkswagen over the ownership of Rolls Royce/Bentley ceased, and the company was split. Rolls Royce was taken over by BMW and promptly ceased production of the Silver Seraph and Corniche V whilst their new range of BMW models were developed, and Bentley remained with Volkswagen, continuing to build the Arnage, the Continental of the early 1990’s and the Azure of 1995. Indeed it looked like Maybach’s new investment into the luxury car market was well placed, seeing as their closest competition was in utter dismay!
The Maybach 57 & 62’s design is derived from the Mercedes S-Class, and cars are powered by 5.5L and 6.0L V12 engines, providing the cars with 518hp in the 57 and 570hp in the 62. Performance wise it’s very impressive, with the 57 accelerating from 0-60 in 5.1 seconds, and the 62 in 4.8 seconds, not bad, considering these cars weight 6,000lbs! The asking prices for such incredible pieces of kit ranged from $366,000 for the Maybach 57 to $492,000 for the 62 S (Special), as well as the jaw-dropping $1,350,000 cost of the rare and ambiguous Landaulet convertible!
Of course when you pay for these things, you are paying for a hell of a lot of car! I remember attending an overview of the Maybach 62 a couple of years back at a car show and was actually very impressed with the number of gadgets and features the owner were lucky enough to have bestowed upon them.
Sitting inside it was like being in the first class cabin of a British Airways Boeing 747, crossed with the promenade deck of a luxury yacht! There are TV screens in the backs of the seat complete with DVD player and a hugely complicated radio/stereo system, there’s wood veneer on all the surfaces, the seats you sank into with lovely thick head cushions (in fact I nearly fell asleep they were so comfy!), a Champagne bar with silver glasses and a fridge in the centre console for the bottle of Bubbly, as well as housing a mobile phone! The door panels were a maze of buttons for seat alignments and reclining options, including also heating, cooling, massaging, tumble drying, etc. In fact the seats recline so far back that they almost turn into beds!
And just so you’re all tucked up warm at night, there’s a blind that comes across the rear window!
These weren’t cars, they were Beverley Hills Mansions on wheels! It was like driving around in Blenheim Palace, and performed just as well, seeing as they are very long and will probably mount the curb a few times on sharp city bends! For a short while Maybach had absolutely corned the market, but in 2003 Rolls Royce got its act back in gear and launched the Phantom, an equally as outrageous car in terms of luxuries provided and raw power, but not as much as the Maybach. Although I’m an avid Rolls Royce man, I will not hesitate to say that the Maybach delivers luxury in spades and contemporary Rollers don’t hold a candle to it. But I will defend the Spirit of Ecstasy by saying that these cars are by no means ‘Driver’s Cars’. In order to truly appreciate the Maybach you have to be a passenger, otherwise it’s just like driving any other car, but with the addition of it being very heavy, which makes pulling away from traffic lights a bit stunted and cornering a bit cautious because of how long these things are. A Rolls Royce on the other hand, especially the Ghost, is a more manageable car, something you can drive but at the same time still enjoy the luxuries of.
Because the Rolls Royce is a driver’s car, and the Bentley Continental and Continental GT that were launched the same year are much more agile and sporty, the Maybach began to suffer, and that’s even before we get down to the name. Probably the biggest advantage Rolls Royce and Bentley had were brand recognition, seeing as both these names have become bywords for wealth, affluence and gratuitous luxury. Maybach on the other hand had been a dormant brand since 1945, so anyone under the age of 80 had probably never heard of them and therefore didn’t know what they were getting themselves in for. In the end the Maybach’s primary market was the chauffeur driven business executive, luxury hotel transfer or company car market, and if you take a walk around London, you’ll probably find a majority of the Maybach’s you come across will be in these employs. No one could really own such a massive car for individual purposes. Indeed word-of-mouth about the Maybach’s luxury performance, as well as a few features on Top Gear, may have helped it along, but Maybach simply weren’t able to shift enough of these cars to justify the costs that went into making them, exacerbated by the 2008 economic recession.
With Maybach making a loss of 330,000 Euros on every car they sold, parent company Daimler AG decided to review the situation. Finding that the idea of buying such overly exuberant and massively expensive cars was no longer viable for the new-money, Daimler announced that they would bring an end to the Maybach brand in 2013. In the end only 2,110 cars were produced in it’s 11 year production life, a sad end to such an endearing machine, but unfortunately a misguided one. Replaced by the Mercedes S-Class Pullman, the company has now once again become dormant, with hindsight reviews of the car being mixed.
Some say that the Maybach is probably the greatest luxury car ever made, and was ranked the #1 Luxury Car in 2008 over Rolls Royce and Bentley. Others such as Top Gear, who had lauded the car upon its launch in 2002, went on to rank it as 2nd on their Top 13 worst cars of the past 20 years countdown, pointing out the fact that the car’s brand was unrecognisable for the new money, and due to it being such a large car specifically for chauffeur driven executives, it wasn’t able to rake in the market for oligarchs and celebrities who desired a ‘Driver’s Car’. The biggest problem however for the Maybach was indeed its name. Whilst Rolls Royce and Bentley both have distinguished and long lasting histories that can be traced across the last century, and have become bywords for exclusivity and luxury as well as the fact that they’re built in their own factories away from their parent companies, the Maybach had little to no recognisable history, had a name that no one outside of Germany or born since 1950 knew about, and was built on the same production lines as other Mercedes products, which made it seem a bit more run-of-the-mill.
But in any case, the Maybach 57 and 62 did show us how far luxury cars of such unbelievable variety, size and outrageous gadgetry can go, pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible for such massive luxury machines. Announcements however have been made in late 2014 to revive the Maybach brand, which means we could have more titanic luxury motors coming our way soon!
Watch this space…