Back in the 50s, the only advertising a gullwinged Mercedes needed was a Mexican vulture through the windshield. Fifty years later, the bird has been replaced by a Bavarian bombshell styled like an avian robot of doom.
It’s not like photographer Nick Knight and fashion designer Gareth Pugh have not tried. Tasked with producing a campaign for Mercedes’s new hypercar—which we test-drove in November—the team have gone for a frightening yet enticing look with a bar brawl’s worth of glass shards behind German model Julia Stegner, the new face of Mercedes.
But their effort is a perfect if perhaps not conscious parallel with the car that begot the SLS AMG: the 1952 300SL race car, whose gull-winged doors were dictated not by misty-eyed reverie but were a consequence of the way Rudolf Uhlenhaut designed the chassis. Its hundreds of thin tubes, which formed a latticework of steel running along the doorsills, made installation of normal doors impossible.
Three years later, the 300SL became a proper rock and roll road car, gaining direct fuel injection in the process, the cold fusion of its time. But not before it won the most gruelling road race in its first year, the 1952 Carrera Panamericana, held on 2000 miles of Mexican motorway.
During the race, driver Karl Kling and navigator Hans Klenk scrambled up a flock of vultures with their unsilenced Stuttgart racer and smashed into one at 120 MPH. Klenk then displayed uncanny German cool and instructed Kling to drive on at race speed, sitting for another 40 miles in a suddenly very drafty cockpit decorated with glass, blood and giblets. German cool then gave way to German thoroughness and the pair continued the race with impromptu vulture bars macgyvered across the windshield.
That was then, of course, and the SLS is now, a product instead of a demonstration of perseverence produced a mere seven years after a catastrophic war. Yet while the SLS may never become a legend, while it may be nothing more than a fast grand tourer with a fabulous soundtrack and a painfully retro way to open the doors, Mercedes still have the chutzpah required: Julia Stegner, the face of all Mercedes advertising, was plucked straight from München, the very headquarters of archrival BMW.