Mercedes’ first modern car returns as a sleek concept after 118 years

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex is a concept car that the German company introduced at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show. The show car pays homage to the iconic Mercedes 35 HP race car from 1901, an automobile that previewed the Mercedes Simplex, a production road car the German firm built from 1902 to 1909. A retro-inspired two-seater, the Vision Simplex brings the 35 HP into the future through a sleeker look, modern technology, and state-of-the-art craftsmanship.

The Vision Simplex joins a long list of Vision-branded concept cars that started with the Vision SLA in 2000 and includes the AMG Vision Gran Turismo coined in 2013. The Vision Simplex follows the Vision Van of 2016 and the Vision EQS of 2019, the latter being a preview of an all-electric S-Class sedan. Will the Vision Simplex spawn a production model? Definitely not, but it’s one of the coolest concepts around. Let’s have a closer look.

A Tribute to the "first modern car"

2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept
- image 863776
The 35 HP had a never-before-seen architecture with a flat design and an engine installed low in the frame

The vehicle that inspired the Vision Simplex, the Mercedes 35 HP (or PS in German), is often described as the first modern car. Shown at Race Week in Nice, France, in 1901, the 35 HP made waves thanks to its modern design. While automobiles from the era were still closely related to carriages, the 35 HP had a never-before-seen architecture with a flat design, an engine installed low in the frame, and a radiator integrated into the front. This layout went on to become the norm for decades to come.

Developed at the suggestion of visionary Emil Jelinek and named after his daughter Mercedes, the 35 HP dominated the Race Week and inspired all major producers to adopt a similar design. Now regarded as the first modern car, the 35 HP featured a 5.9-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 35 horsepower and a five-speed transmission. The race car spawned the Simplex road car in 1902. Produced until 1909, the Simplex originally featured a 5.3-liter four-cylinder engine that generated up to 40 horsepower. A 9.2-liter four-banger with 60 horses was added to the lineup in 1903. The Mercedes Simplex laid the foundation to the luxury segment, as it arrived before Rolls-Royce launched its first car in 1904.

Exterior

  • Inspired by 35 HP race car
  • Simple and clean
  • No headlamps
  • No windshield
  • Rose Gold grille frame
  • Closed-off wheels
  • Transparent rims
  • No doors
  • Slim taillights
  • Leather "trunk" bag
2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept
- image 862170
As the Simplex name suggests, the concept's design is clean and straightforward

Mercedes’ previous Vision concept cars are famous for their highly futuristic design, but the Vision Simplex is a bit different. Granted, it still looks that it came from the future, but it combines design elements from one of the company’s most iconic early vehicles. Specifically, this concept is a tribute to a vehicle from 1901. This is an approach you don’t see every day.

As the Simplex name suggests, the concept’s design is clean and straight-forward. There are no complicated line, no acute angles, no scallops, and no dents. Just like the race car that inspired it, this concept shines through simplicity combined with modern, yet clean styling cues.

The fact that the Vision Simplex is heavily based on the Mercedes 35 HP is quite obvious at first glance. Just like its ancestor, this modern concept is pretty much a chassis with a wraparound hood placed on the engine and a small rear section to support the seats. In this case, the seat back actually forms the rear section of the body, an exotic take from a car from any era. And while the Mercedes 35 HP had the tail formed by the seats placed on the chassis, the Vision Simplex’s is actually integrated into the monocoque structure.

2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept
- image 862172
Just like its ancestor, this modern concept is pretty much a chassis with a wraparound hood placed on the engine

The concept’s front fascia is just a grille. There are no lights and no bumpers, just steering arms that extend from the hood to hold the wheels. This design was used by every automaker out there in the early days of the automobile until the first vehicles with integrated fenders appeared in the 1930s. Due to its lack of headlamps, bumper, and tiny fenders over the wheels, the Vision Simplex looks like a hot-rod. And that’s pretty cool. What’s more, the grille is far from usual.

The frame is finished in Rose Gold, a color inspired by the bronze radiator of the original car, while the center section is a large, lens-shaped 3D display. It features old-school "Mercedes" lettering just like on the original car and blue tri-star badges. It also includes animations that "provide information on the vehicle status," but the German firm didn’t elaborate on that. It probably means that it displays information on whether the vehicle is stopping or steering right or left in order to warn pedestrians.

Another thing to notice here is the white front section and the matching mounting arms for the front wheels. These add a strong contrast to the dark grille, the black steering arms, and the black tires.

2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept
- image 862175
The Vision Simplex retains the two-tone design of its ancestor with a white front section and a black rear end

Move to the sides and you’ll notice more similarities to the Mercedes 35 HP, including the two-piece body, the way the wheels are mounted at the outer points and the closed-off rims. The Vision Simplex also retains the two-tone design of its ancestor with a white front section and a black mid and rear section. Also, the front wheels are white, while the rear ones are black. Interestingly enough, the closed-off rims are actually semi transparent. The closed-off design was obviously selected for enhanced efficiency.

Like most early race cars, the Vision Simplex doesn’t have a windscreen, which generates a seamless transition from the hood to the instrument panel and gives the car a sporty character. It doesn’t have doors either, a feature also common on vehicles from the early 1900s. While simple and clean, the profile showcases a few fine touches, like the thin grille on the hood, the Rose Gold buckles on the belts that seal the hood, Rose Gold lip on the rims, and matching trim on the center of the wheels.

2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept
- image 862171
Mercedes-Benz added a classy leather bag below the rear fascia, a tribute to vintage car trunks

The rear end is just as simple, with a tail that becomes narrower toward the back. Slim stop lights that also act as reversing lamps are integrated into the rear section. They act like trim pieces too, as they are placed at the same height as the front hood, creating an imaginary belt line. The center of the fascia features a vertical Rose Gold insert with the Mercedes tri-star at the top.

Down below, Mercedes-Benz added a classy leather bag that features Rose Gold badges and small tri-star inserts. This is a stylish tribute to 100-year-old cars that have wooden chests attached to their rear ends instead of modern, integrated trunks.

Overall, the Vision Simplex is a really cool tribute to the iconic Mercedes 35 HP. Making things that much more interesting is that it looks like an American hot-rod from the 1930. Definitely not something you’d expect from Mercedes-Benz.

Interior

  • As simple as it gets
  • Spartan but modern
  • Digital dashboard
  • Digital clock and control panels
  • Rose Gold trim
  • Leather and wood steering wheel
  • Azure Blue upholstery
  • Fancy bench seat
  • Storage compartments in the floor
  • Hand-made quilting
2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept
- image 862162
The Vision Simplex adds modernism and class to the spartan philosophy of the early-day automobile interior

The interior of the Vision Simplex is as simple as they get, and this isn’t surprising for a vehicle inspired by a car from the early 1900s. But simple doesn’t mean boring in this case.

An homage to the company’s iconic premium interiors and the DNA of the 35 HP race car, the Vision Simplex adds modernism and class to the spartan philosophy of the early-day automobile interior. it all begins with the seamless transition from the exterior, aided by the lack of a windshield, pillars, and doors. There’s also a flute-like transition between the engine hood and the dashboard, while the seamless look continues into the footwell from both the dash and the side panels.

The dashboard features just five simple elements. There’s a digital clock with an analog design at the top and four small control panels underneath. Both are inspired by motorcycle and nautical designs and feature Rose Gold trim. What’s not very visible but shows up when needed, the dash surface on each side of the clock is actually a display that shows vital vehicle information. It shows speed and navigation information, but it also projects vehicle info that you may need in certain situations. Unlike a regular car, it doesn’t show all data at once, keeping the layout clean. When most information isn’t needed, it projects a cool pattern of white tri-star emblems.

2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept
- image 862161
The floor and bench seats are covered in bright Azure Blue upholstery

The steering column, also inspired by nautical designs, exits from the floor, just like in vintage automobiles. But this column is obviously fancier, as it features an upscale, polished design and it is flanked by equally shiny pedals at the bottom. The steering wheel sits in an almost upright position, which is yet another feature borrowed from cars from the distant past. It features a white outer rim with a wood interior, four metal spokes, and a Rose Gold "Mercedes" emblem in the center.

The floor and bench seats are covered in bright Azure Blue upholstery, which provides a striking contrast against the white and black body panels. The bench seat is inspired by luxury furniture, but it’s far from being a conventional bench. Instead of being attached to the floor, it’s actually integrated into the chassis and the body. The seating surface looks like a step up from the footwell, while the seatbacks are integrated into the element that defines the rear fascia.

2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept
- image 862158

Two storage compartments with fabric openers are placed between the foot well and the seating surfaces, also finished in Azure Blue, just like the seat belts. Finally, the Vision Simplex concept features hand-made Chesterfield quilting that makes the bench seat look like a very expensive couch.

Needless to say, this open-air cabin looks like a very nice place to spend time in.

Drivetrain

  • No information
  • It might not have a drivetrain
  • If it does, it should be electric
  • Probably based on an existing Mercedes platform
2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept
- image 862157
Whatever may hide under the hood, it's definitely not the ancient mill in the Mercedes 35 HP

Mercedes-Benz had nothing to say about the concept’s drivetrain, so it’s safe to say that this isn’t a rolling show car. This isn’t surprising given the really compact "engine" compartment. But if this concept has a drivetrain that Mercedes-Benz didn’t bother to mention, it’s probably similar to that showcased in the Vision EQS, an electric S-Class from the future. It would probably have a much smaller batter and notably less than 469 horsepower, but this small vehicle doesn’t need much oomph to deliver good performance.

Whatever may hide under the hood, it’s definitely not the ancient mill in the Mercedes 35 HP. The old race car was unveiled with a 5.9-liter four-cylinder under the hood. This gas engine was capable of 35 horsepower (as the name suggests) and could hit a top speed of more than 53 mph. Modern electric cars are notably quicker than that, as most production models are able to surpass the 80-mph mark, while performance EVs do more than 100 mph.

Final Thoughts

2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision Simplex Concept
- image 862168

Although it doesn’t mean anything for the brand production-wise, I think that the Vision Simplex Concept is a work of art. While I’m not a fan for the original Mercedes 35 HP or the Simplex that followed, the Vision Simplex is something else, simply because it was designed with a sleeker, more compact design. And this thing would make a great limited-edition production model. Sure, it could cost millions of dollars, but people would buy it. Heck, it probably won’t be road-legal due to the design, but I bet owners wouldn’t mind driving it on the race track. There you go Mercedes, a wonderful idea for this sexy two-seater. Sadly, the Vision Simplex will remain just a concept, but it’s the coolest show car I’ve seen in years.

  • Leave it
    • No drivetrain

Further reading

2000 Mercedes Vision SLA
- image 153191

Read our full review on the 2000 Mercedes Vision SLA.

2014 Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo Racing Series Exterior Screenshots / Gameplay
- image 539943

Read our full review on the 2014 Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo Racing Series.

2016 Mercedes Vision Van High Resolution Exterior
- image 687546

Read our full review on the 2016 Mercedes Vision Van.

Does the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS Really Represent the Future of Mercedes Electric Mobility? Exterior
- image 860665

Read our full review on the 2019 Mercedes-Benz Vision EQS.

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: