Will.I.Am Understands What Luxury Cars Should Be
His custom AMG build represents human aspiration instead of stat-sheet justification, just as classic luxury cars once did.
Will.I.Am is not just a musician and producer; he also has an interest in the automotive world, and his latest creation stems from a partnership with Mercedes-AMG. Together, the two have built a one-off luxury coupe, known as The Flip. It's a departure from his previous car design exercises, which have been significantly more... gaudy, and in my opinion, those early cars represent someone still finding their sea legs in the relatively difficult language of car design.
His newest vehicular styling exercise is a complete departure from previous cars he's commissioned, however. And while it's not just stylistically better, I believe it showcases what luxury cars should be in a verifiable way.
This is The Flip. It's a heavily modified Mercedes-Benz AMG GT 4-Door Coupe built by West Coast Customs with the face of a G-Wagen, reverse-hinged doors, and branding for Will.I.Am's newest clothing line known as Bear Witness in place of the traditional tri-pointed star badge. It's attractively designed; the body lines of a coupe actually do work better with two doors (who knew), and overall The Flip looks like it's pulled straight from the futuristic music video for "T.H.E." Even if you hate the end product, the styling is almost entirely irrelevant to my point: the Will.I.AMG creation is here to make a statement without justifying itself, and that sets it apart from most of the modern world's take on wealth and opulence.
For comparison, the modern wealthy usually buy cars that make a case for themselves on some semi-rational plane of thought. For example, the two cars that Will.I.Am largely pulls parts from, the AMG GT 4-Door and the G-Wagen, both have clear purposes. The AMG GT 4-Door is one of the most capable high-performance sedans ever built, with the S 4Matic+ variant lapping the famed Nurburgring circuit at a blistering pace of 7:23:01, making it the fastest four-door ever around the Green Hell and a full four seconds faster on the German circuit than the Ferrari 812 Superfast. Is it necessary to own the world's fastest sports sedan to commute down the 101 at an average speed of 15 miles per hour? No, of course not. But the statistics can prove that you made a rational purchase.
The G-Wagen has a similar mentality. For a six-figure sum, suburbanites can boast nine and a half inches of ground clearance in an urban tank with a zero-to-60 in the four-second range and almost 600 horsepower. Most owners, if my time spent bopping around Los Angeles taught me anything, will never use either of these features to their fullest, but the spec sheet proves to doubting bystanders who scoff at its decent-two-bedroom-condo pricing that it's a top-tier choice.
And that stands in direct opposition to the opulence of bygone eras, where luxury cars were as much about declaring the owner's status as they were to provide any unique performance or comfort to their owners. And here's where The Flip shines: It's inherently lavish and attention-grabbing without any real focus on its spec sheet. Yes, it bears the same AMG-derived drivetrain as the four-door platform it's built on, but the focus of the car is its style—and by extension, its owner's style—more than any bragging rights its powerplant earns. The lengthy hood and squared jaw hearken back to classic Lincolns and Cadillacs of yore, when the massive hood arrived at its destination long before the driver doors did; the reverse-hinged doors are engineered not for ease of ingress but the pure style of egress. In short, it's a car for arriving to the red carpet in, justification be damned.
And this isn't just my interpretation of Will.I.Am's creation; he says as much in his own words. In the original press release for the car, he states, "I grew up with hip hop. I watched legendary hip hop artist[s] rap about Mercedes, so it was always a dream to own a Mercedes. For a lot of inner-city kids, owning a Mercedes is a symbol of progress and advancing out of struggle." The choice of a Benz platform was intentionally focused on aspirational goals guided by culture with personal meaning, rather than hard data in a spec box.
In an interview with Hypebeast, he expounded further upon this concept: "I come from The Projects, I lived in Boyle Heights for 27 years. My mom grew up in The Projects and she was there for 50 years. Yes, I had a headstart because the music was my entry point into building, because of my music success, but what it tells them is that most of the people who built the car are Black and Brown. Our predicament and configuration, the way it’s told, does not mean it has to be that way forever... Lewis Hamilton is proof—he joined a profession that Black people weren’t in, and dominated it."
The fact the car was built for auction, with the proceeds going to help impoverished students access better, more future-forward education, only drives home his point further. This car is meant to represent the imagery of success that was seemingly out of reach.
The ethos of The Flip, in light of this, is as much a vindication of the owner's efforts rather than as a triumph of engineering superlatives. The aspirational influence of the Will.I.AMG echos the spirit of classic Cadillacs purchased by Black Americans as defiant symbols of accomplishment in an era where dealers expressly limited sales to white buyers. Whether the massive Cadillac 472 cubic-inch V8s of the '70s were the most powerful big blocks on the street did not matter; what did was that in spite of societal roadblocks, owners still had one, and the prestige was theirs to keep. With all of this in mind, I truly think Will.I.Am is finally hitting his car-design stride. The final product may not be universally beloved, but its purpose is clear and I believe his execution follows through on it. It's a luxury car driven by human aspiration—and broadening who can aspire—rather than any mechanical pursuit.