Designing a New SL
Computers and Clay Create New SLs
When Mercedes presented the 2003 SL500 to the world – a design I feel is the most beautiful SL since the original 300SL roadster – there was no turning back; no fiddling with an overly fussy crease on the doors or revising the shape of the headlights. The design was frozen and had to stand on its own in the increasingly competitive premium luxury convertible class. Consumers would speak by either embracing the design and purchasing the car or seeking an alternative.
The market has spoken, and the R230 series SL will likely become one of the top-selling SL ranges to date. But what MIGHT that SL have looked like? What were the possibilities agonized over by the designers before settling on the final production design? Over $250B in potential sales was at stake with this new car.
Clay and the “Cave”
The supercomputer in the “CAVE” (Computer Aided Virtual Environment) was able to create full-size images of selected designs, using its five projectors and allowing designers to inspect every inch of every surface rendered. Parallel to the virtual process, the twelve scale models were scrutinized as well, with four standouts chosen to be created in full-size mockups. This evolution of the scale models occurred alongside the development of the interior design.
Freezing a design
The evolution of the design stopped when the design team saw the shape of an SL that not only embodied the range’s long heritage, but would gracefully carry it forward for up to a decade. This massive creative process culminated with the new SL being presented to the Board of Management for final approval on June 16 1997. The creative process stopped for the time being, while attention turned to the production side to ensure the new car would carry forward the world class build quality at the core of the Mercedes-Benz brand.
Roy Spencer, editor MercedesHeritage.com
Photography from Mercedes-Benz