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Mercedes-Benz taps into its heritage to build an electric sci-fi hot rod

Mercedes-Benz took retro design to new heights by unveiling a forward-thinking interpretation of the Simplex made from 1902 to 1909. Presented as a sculpture, the design study honors the company’s past while shedding light on its future in a creative, head-turning way. The Vision Simplex blurs the line between a car and a work of art fit for the Louvre.

The original Simplex pelted Mercedes-Benz into the modern era of car design because it didn’t look like a carriage without a horse. It was the first car made by the German firm that met the commonly accepted definition of a car in the 1900s. The Simplex had a last influence on the Mercedes-Benz design center, and now it’s back to point the way forward.

The 2019 Simplex honors its predecessor with a pure, basic design. Like the original, it has no doors, no windshield, and only two seats. Unlike the original, however, it loses the round headlights, and gains a 3D display where the radiator grille should be. It flashes messages and animations that provide information about what the vehicle is doing. The bucket-shaped body ends right after the seats, so a leather bag installed in the space between the wheels replaces the trunk.

The interior might not look high-tech at first glance, and that’s intentional. Mercedes-Benz packed the Vision Simplex with digital features, but hid them out of the way to keep the look period-correct. The MBUX-based infotainment system knows what information the driver needs at any given time, and shows it only when it’s needed. The passenger takes in the view while sitting on a bench inspired by the world of furniture, while the driver steers the front wheels via a wood-rimmed wheel.

Well, steering is theoretical at this point. Mercedes-Benz billed the Vision Simplex as a sculpture, not as a concept car, and there is little indication that it actually moves under its own power. Technical specifications haven’t been released, either, though we’d bet the cost of an original Simplex that it was envisioned with something electric in mind. Do you see an exhaust pipe anywhere? Neither do we, and it’d be difficult to hide on a car like the Simplex.

With that in mind, don’t expect to walk into a Mercedes-Benz showroom in 2022 and drive off in a hot rod-esque car like the Vision Simplex. It demonstrates what the company’s designers play around with in their free time, and what they’re capable of creating when they don’t need to worry about safety regulations. It’s just a sculpture, and a gorgeous one at that.

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