Mercedes-Benz’s Gorden Wagener Talks About The Timelessness of the SLS AMG 

A retro-inspired design that stays beautiful is damned difficult to do. How did Mercedes-AMG manage it?

Gorden Wagener (42), Leiter Design Daimler AG. Schon in seiner Kindheit begeisterte sich Gorden Wagener für Autos und Malerei. Später studierte er Industriedesign und spezialisierte sich am Royal Collage of Art in London auf Autodesign. Mit 39 Jahren wurde er Chefdesigner der Daimler AG. „Das Schöne am Design ist, dass Sie sehen, was Sie tun. Erst das Modell, dann in großer Stückzahl auf der Straße. Das Auto dann zu fahren, ist immer ein ganz besonderer Moment. Das ist das Besondere in unserer Branche und daran, bei Mercedes-Benz zu arbeiten.“
Daimler AG

Those who envision the future often look to the past for cues. “Study the past,” Confucius said, “if you would define the future.” Mercedes-Benz’s designers seemed to take the Chinese philosopher’s words to heart when sculpting the sultry lines of the Mercedes-AMG’s first bespoke design: the SLS AMG.

A recent sighting of the SLS sparked The Drive’s interest in revisiting how the design came about. We wanted to know more about the design brief that launched the Mercedes-AMG into existence. Was its aim to create a modern 300 SL? An homage? How were they able to achieve a design that, even ten years on, evokes the original and still looks good? Especially when other retro designs become dated quicker than the latest Gangnam Style.

To get answers, The Drive spoke to Mercedes-Benz’s Chief Design Officer Gorden Wagener who gave us insight into the SLS AMG’s design process, what it takes to pen a timeless design, what the future of EV design holds, and whether or not our horsepower-mad hypercars affect beauty. 

Daimler AG

The Drive: What was the SLS AMG’s original design brief? Was it to create a modern 300 SL, a reinterpreted car, or an homage?

Gorden Wagener: Second is right. The SLS AMG is a modern interpretation of the “sports car of the century”—our 300 SL and is nothing short of a masterpiece by Mercedes-AMG. As the first independently developed vehicle, it was a highlight in the company's more than 50-year history. We wanted to quote our history and the legacy of our brand, and create a stand-alone icon. I think we were quite successful: used SLS realize new car prices! Hopefully, we could repeat this success with our AMG GT.

 TD: When designing something like the SLS AMG, what part of the car do you pay extra attention to when considering the longevity of design?

GW: We pay the same intense attention to all sides, parts, and details of each car. We designers are responsible for the company style and of course, every Mercedes is recognizable as one of its kind at once. That is why we created our design philosophy Sensual Purity to have guidance within the process of creation for all design disciplines. We even pay attention to the perspective of a bird´s eye view, although few customers ever see their car from the above. In the end, that´s what makes the difference and differs Mercedes-Benz from the crowd.

 TD: Do you think the original 300 SL design makes the SLS AMG look equally timeless, or is it something you worked hard to reinterpret?

GW: Both cars share the same proportions and of course the sports car DNA of our brand, that’s what makes them timeless icons and familiar in their shape. Nevertheless, the SLS is designed as a unique modern sports car and we took our inspiration from the aviation world when we started the design. Mercedes-Benz is the only brand that is naturally related with gullwing doors, that is something very differentiating.

TD: More than a decade on, do you still like the SLS AMG design or are there pieces you'd change to make the car age better?

GW: Overall, I´m still a fan of the SLS design and there´s basically nothing I would change. There are some details I would modify with another decade of design experience in my life. Adding some new technology to the package, e.g. new headlights, and the SLS AMG would look fresh as ever. But in the end, as a designer, you are never 100-percent satisfied with your work. The longer you look at your work, the more your thoughts start working…

Daimler AG

TD: With EVs debuting in larger numbers, and many mechanical structures no longer needed, how do you make an EV timeless?

GW: One first glimpse into the future is the new Vision EQS you just experienced at the Frankfurt motor show. For the Vision EQS we invented a new proportion—we call “one bow” design—which shows a new silhouette and offers new design opportunities for the exterior, interior, and, of course, MBUX design teams.

TD: Do you think our current aero-focused hypercar wars will spawn something as timeless as the SLS AMG and 300 SL?

GW: We already did this sports car: the AMG ONE. This hypercar merges the ultimate technology from Mercedes-AMG with our outstanding Sensual Purity design in its purest form. Every detail of this hypercar contains pure sports car function and is shaped in awesome beauty. Maybe that is why it is already sold out…