A new Mercedes-Benz niche vehicle will be launched in 2007 at NAIAS. The new S-Class convertible will be inspired by the 1950s Mercedes 300 four-door cabriolet. While preserving the sizes, seating capabilities and easy four-door access of the S-Class saloon, the new open vehicle will offer the pleasure of open-air cruising by featuring the biggest soft-top yet to be produced.
The new S-Class cabriolet represents the latest effort in the aggressive model diversification tactic Mercedes-Benz had deployed lately. Following other niche models such as the four-door coupe CLS-Class or the crossover R-Class, the new model is intended to anticipate client needs, and offer a vehicle with capabilities unmatched by the competition.
However, the concept is not a completely new one. Four door convertibles were wide spread in the luxury class in the first part of the 20th Century. Even Mercedes-Benz has previously offered such models, one of them being the very source of inspiration the new model: the Mercedes-Benz 300 of the ‘50s.
Unfortunately, this body variation was lost as safety requirements became more severe. There were not enough technological means forty years ago to produce a stiff, torsional stable four-door open chassis. However, the last four-door convertible to be produced was the 1967 Lincoln Continental.
The first intension of resurrecting the four-door cabriolet was brought at the 2005 North American International Auto Show by the Southgate-based auto supplier ASC Inc. Their concept called the Helios, was a modified Chrysler 300C, which became a four-door soft-top convertible. ASC seem to have all the technical details set to provide a viable 21st Century standards compliant four-door open chassis.
Rumors are that Chrysler in indeed interested in the convertible technology ASC has to offer and that the next 300C will be also offered as a four-door convertible. As Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler both belong to Daimler-Chrysler, we can guess that the new S-Class Cabriolet and the future 300C convertible will share the same ASC four-door convertible chassis.
The new Mercedes convertible will be basically aimed at the same clientele that opts for the S-Class saloon, but will try to retrieve the typical Mercedes buyer interest which is set for comfort rather than for high performance.
Due to the expected sizes of the vehicle, it will feature the longest soft top in automotive history and will be powered by the high-end 6.0L V12 engine offered for the saloon. We can only guess that the car’s interior will offer an even more opulent luxury than the S-Class saloon, getting Mercedes one-step closer to brands such as Bentley and Rolls-Royce. The S-Class cabriolet will be showcased in January 2007 as a concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Production is expected to be influenced by the public response to the concept.
The car will offer the same four adults seating capabilities as the sedan, as well as the four-door layout, providing an unprecedented easy back seats access for a modern cabriolet. Mercedes did not make any official statement about the car yet, but we know they do not usually produce concept cars unless they want to push them into production. Production could begin in late 2007 or early 2008 and the price is expected to start at around $80,000.
The only manufacturer, other than Mercedes, that is known to be interested in producing a four-door cabriolet at the moment is Chrysler. It is said that the next generation 300C will also be offered as a convertible.
A glimpse of the future car was offered by Southgate-based auto supplier ASC Inc. as the Helios four-door concept convertible at the 2005 North American International Auto Show.
With the Helios ASC took a large, current-generation hardtop sedan and completely revamped the vehicle using a full-systems approach.An all-new, production-ready, four-door convertible was created—a vehicle that goes well beyond anything currently on the market, and an engineering solution that could be applied to virtually any hardtop car on the market today, coupe or sedan.The highly engineered prototype meets and exceeds, according to ASC engineering simulations, expectations for structural integrity and rigidity, road performance and side-impact safety.In effect, according to the company, the Helios represents a highly feasible prototype that could allow any automaker to create the first production four-door convertible in almost 40 years.The last four-door convertible anywhere in the world, the Lincoln Continental Convertible, was discontinued in 1967.
This new convertible-roof system is amazing to be seen in action as it folds in on itself automatically and stores into an 18-inch space behind the rear seats. The passengers in the rear are not only provided with a substantial amount of shoulder room, but they can also partially recline the seat backs.
Although the convertible-top system affects some on the trunk space, ASC says that it still offers 80% of the original saloon luggage room. ASC has stated that this convertible-top system could also work on other large sedans, such as the Ford Five Hundred and the Toyota Avalon. That is why we guessed it will also be featured on the Mercedes S-Class cabriolet.
The main reason for which the four-door saloons were discontinued for almost forty years was their lack in chassis stiffness and failure to meet safety standards. ASC claimed to have solved all of these issues and that they can offer a cutting-edge chassis. ASC engineers installed a patent-pending cross-car steel bulkhead just behind the car’s front seats. They say the bulkhead helps to keep the sedan rigid and quiet and also transfers the force of a side-impact crash away from the passengers. The bulkhead looks slightly unsightly, but it does not interfere with the ability of the front seat backs to recline.
Four-door convertibles have been extinct since 1967, when the Lincoln Continental convertible was on the market, according to ASC.
Another premiere of the Helios concept is the patent-pending xpanse convertible-top system, that folds the nearly six-foot-long top (larger than any current production convertible) neatly into a very tight package area, between the rear seats and the deck lid—an area that is a mere 18 inches wide.Importantly, this process required no modification to the base car’s existing deck lid, trunk space was preserved to the degree that the trunk can still hold four sets of golf clubs and rear-seat room was even enhanced, as the Helios’ rear bucket seats feature five degrees of power-adjustable recline.
All this was made possible by an ingenious, inward-folding, five-bow top system that folds the front section of the Helios’ massive five-fabric-layer top in upon itself, origami-like, and then folds the entire top into the tight space behind the rear seats.Compared with bulky convertible-top systems on many, much smaller open-air cars, or with some retractable hardtop systems that eat up virtually the entire trunk of a car, it is clearly a technological vision to behold.
According to Jeff Steiner, ASC’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, “The Helios is a whole new kind of halo car aimed at affluent Baby Boomers and others who seek the freedom, reward and excitement of open-air driving, but combined with four-door room and comfort.There’s a big ‘white space’ on the entire industry’s marketing map for a car like this, and we think this type of vehicle might just be what the doctor ordered for OEMs looking for whole new emerging market segments."
The Mercedes-Benz 300 was not expected to be a commercial success, but a label through which Daimler-Benz was displaying its newborn strength. People interested in a replacement for their 540K after the World War II could find their search successful on the 1951 Frankfurt International Automobile Show. That is where Mercedes-Benz presented the brand-new 300, a definitely noble creation that was worth 23,700 German marks as a four-door convertible (300 Cabriolet D). It was a clear thing to everyone that this car would not become a bestseller. At that time a house was worth just about the same amount of money, and the average income of a worker was DM 61 in 1950. Nevertheless, this technological showcase was far more than a car, it was a clear statement the German industry and of course, especially Daimler-Benz was capable of again.
A true thing, the 300 did not have to stand back behind all the Aston Martins, Delahayes and Talbots of that age. The difference started with the exterior appearance: an imposing, but harmonious design with a large hood, encircling fenders and a descending tail. It was not the ultimate fashionable car, but distinctively elegant and with a dip of sportiveness.
The interior of the cabriolet was royal. Any surface that could be upholstered, was covered with leather, and all the remaining areas were covered with wood. The dashboard itself was probably worth as much as a small car with all the wood, leather and chromes. The gauges kept the driver updated about speed, battery charge, fuel level, time, water temperature and oil pressure. Undoubtedly, the perfect execution and the equipment with twisting seat backs, additional headlights and additional ventilations did not leave any wishes.