The Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept Is a Hypermodern Throwback

Inspired by an early 20th century race car, this Vision nevertheless looks like it comes from the future.

Open a new automotive design center, release a concept car to celebrate—it makes sense to us. In this case, the company in question is Mercedes; the design center is in Nice, France; and the car is the Vision Simplex, which also serves to honor the man who named the brand more than a century ago.

That fellow would be Emil Jellinek, who was based in Nice and was among the earliest distributors of Daimler's cars. He eventually renamed the products for his daughter Mercedes, his sales success earning him the exclusive rights to sell them in France, Austria, Hungary, Belgium, and the U.S. Among his more famous exploits occurred in 1901, when he raced a Mercedes 35 HP Simplex near Nice to great success—which is where the new concept comes in.

Spearheaded by global Daimler design chief Gorden Wagener, work on the car was started last December as a bit of a skunkworks project in Mercedes' California center. The car was ultimately approved to move from the digital space to the physical one; the entire process took approximately nine months. We attended the first public unveiling of the Vision Simplex as part of the initial group of journalists invited to the Nice design center, which opened just a couple of weeks prior to our arrival.

When the sheet was pulled, our first impression was that we were looking at perhaps a sexy tractor or maybe the world's fastest art nouveau sofa. It took a moment for the whole to come together visually, but once it does, it's clearly a playful thing full of fun, carefully crafted, and clever details. These include the luxurious leather cargo duffel/trunk attached to the back, myriad rose-gold trim elements—it's a color Mercedes' designers seem to be enamored with of late—the Simplex-style Mercedes script digitally displayed behind a transparent panel up front, and tire treads formed from hundreds of three-pointed stars. The blue upholstery was inspired by the waters of the Côte d'Azur near the new design center, as well.

The interior is essentially the entire rear of the car, and the open cabin is outfitted with minimal ornamentation or controls. There are four chassis-mode selectors, a near-horizontally mounted steering wheel, gorgeous pedals with debossed Mercedes stars, and a small dynamically changing readout that displays speed, vehicle info, or navigation directions—and that's pretty much it, although the instrument panel itself can also display additional info when needed. The Vision's interior stands in stark contrast to the complicated and mechanical cockpit of the original Simplexes (a racer is pictured above), which featured five pedals, all manner of switches and levers, ignition and spark timing controls, oiling cylinders, and the like.

The simplicity carries over to the exterior design, where the tires rotate around fixed inner fairings, the fronts outfitted with aerodynamic wings that extend toward the rear. The two-tone paint scheme is inspired by the look of Jellinek's original racer, but it's also intended to emphasize the separation of the interior from the rest of the car. While we don't have any output figures for the Vision Simplex—it can in reality only move itself around at 5 mph or so—in theory, power comes from four in-hub motors located by an exquisite suspension crafted from carbon fiber.

The Vision Simplex is impressive in the way it successfully modernizes the sort of tall, gawky proportions that fell out fashion more than a century ago, and we love that it's a joyful, whimsical concept car created just because—a rarity in an era that too often emphasizes ROI and production viability over creativity. Part European aristosled and part electric space chariot, we wouldn't turn down a turn in the driver's seat. Wagener and his team say they want to transform Mercedes luxury to include more love and more joy. If this sort of whimsy is how they intend to do it, we can't wait to see what comes next.

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