The Story of the Maybach Exelero

Sit back and enjoy reading about how this magnificent land-yacht came to be...

2y ago

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When you build a car to go really fast, part of the design process includes testing some seriously tough rubber in a tyre-torture chamber. As vital as this stage is, the thought of testing tyres is enough to send me into a coma of sheer boredom. 

But before I drop off while envisioning such experiments, I must acknowledge that there is a much more interesting way of testing tyres. And that way is called the Maybach Exelero.

While the Exelero might give the appearance of a vehicle designed to adorn a peculiar corner at Pebble Beach, or crawl at a snail's pace through an obnoxious rapper's "music" video, you can think of it more accurately as a mobile tyre testing device.

While that description still doesn't evoke much enthusiasm, the way in which this car tests tyres is enough to set every petrol head's hair on fire. For this satanic looking car is truly unlike anything that's ever been made before or since. And this is the story behind it.

The Exelero project came to life in 2003 at the behest of Fulda Tyres – the German division of Goodyear – who were developing a high performance tyre called the Fulda Carat Exelero. You can think of the car then not only as Fulda's way of testing their tyres – but also as a way of promoting them; partly because of the eponymous link between the tyres and the car, but also because of the extreme nature of the test Fulda specified.

Their requirements to Maybach were simple: build a car that can take our 315mm inch-thick tyres to 350kph (217mph). Oh, and don't worry about making the car light. After all, a heavy car will put more strain on the tyres, further proving their credentials.

The Excelero doesn't mark the first time Fulda have requested a car for the job of testing a performance tyre. All the way back in 1938, a vehicle called the W38 Stromlinienfahrzeug was the car entrusted with doing the Exelero's job - nearly 70 years before it came to be. 

For the W38 however, Fulda didn't initially approach Maybach themselves. Instead, they went to coachbuilders Dorr & Schreck, and requested they build a car that could maintain a speed of 200kph (124mph) for the purposes of testing high performance tyres. D&S accepted the challenge; after which, they chose to collaborate with Maybach Motorenbau (as they were known back then), and aerodynamicist Freiherr Reinhard Koenig Fachsenfeld. What a shame that his name wasn't as streamlined as his car turned out to be!

When you look at the old W38 and compare its profile with the newer Exelero, their sleekness radiates a family resemblance. And that's just one of a couple of similarities between the way the two cars were developed. 

It was critical to Maybach for the Exelero to have an aesthetic tie to the W38 in honour of their history with Fulda. Rather bravely, they gave the responsibility of the styling to just 4 students from the Pforzheim Design Academy. And 9 months later, a design from one of those 4 students – Fredrik Burchhardt – was chosen.  

The main effort with bringing the Exelero to life was in sketching those vampiric aesthetics. Much like the old W38 was a smooth body on a Maybach SW38 chassis, the Exelero was a Coupe body on the chassis of a Maybach 57 limo. Due to the fact that it had to be built specifically around the tyres it was designed to test, the Exelero ended up being 6.3 inches wider than the 57 – making it just over 7 feet wide! Also, to engrain a coupe-feel into the Exelero, the cabin sits nearly 16 inches further back than it does on the 57.  

The 57 also gave its suspension, 5-speed automatic gearbox, and steering column to the Exelero. It even donated its V12 heart – but only after it'd been pumped with a suitable dose of steroids.  

The standard 57's 5.5L Twin-Turbo V12 produced 543bhp and 664lb-ft of torque, which is without question very healthy. But in order to achieve the speeds that Fulda required, the engine was going to need some performance modifications. For a start, the displacement was increased to 5.9 litres. Then, larger turbos were fitted, along with a larger radiator, and larger intercoolers. The result was 691bhp and 752lb-ft of torque – but only when run on 110 octane race fuel.  

The Exelero was going to need every single one of those horses if it were going to crack the 217mph target Fulda specified. The quoted dry weight for the car is 5864lbs (2660kg) - but, as keen readers amongst you will've noticed, that is merely the "dry" weight. Full of fluids and with a driver on board, the Exelero weighed close to 2.9 tonnes. Or in other words, slightly more than Kilimanjaro. 

Despite being obese, the Exelero was still capable of hurling its lard from 0-60mph in 4.3 seconds. Just think about that for a moment. It's easy to get lost in the outrageous world of launch control and scoff at any 0-60mph time that doesn't start with a 2. But for a car that weighs more than most Icebergs to be able to hurl itself to 60mph faster than a base Porsche 911 can today, it's hugely impressive.

As far as the handling is concerned, the Exelero can more accurately be compared to something made by Cunard than it can any other car. That is until you turn the traction control off. Then, all 752lb-ft of torque – which are ready and raring to charge at the rear wheels from just 2500rpm – light up the 315mm back tyres through the first three gears. If you've ever felt the arbitrary desire to powerslide a yacht, the Exelero will help you fulfil that ambition.  

From the moment Fulda commissioned Maybach to build the car, it took just 25 months to complete. By the time it was unveiled to the world at the Tempodrom in Berlin on the 11th of May 2005, it had already completed the job it was built to do. 

On the 1st of May 2005, Maybach took the Exelero to the Nardo Ring. While it wouldn't be possible to reach the absolute top speed of the Exelero around the Ring, due to the fact that it's essentially 1 constant corner, they had their sights aimed firmly on their 217mph target.  

Behind the wheel was racing driver Klaus Ludwig – a suitably villainous sounding name for such a nefarious looking car. His mission was simply to plant his foot on the loud peddle and keep it there until the car stopped accelerating, while guiding nearly 3 tonnes of metal around the hypnotic curvature of Nardo.  

In the end, the Exelero ran out of puff at 218mph – just exceeding their target. On the run, the car averaged 2.4mpg, which means that every 7.8 mile lap of Nardo drained the 110 litre fuel tank of 14.8 litres of 110 octane. At the current UK price of 110 octane race fuel, that works out to £9.11 per mile!  

Once the car had served its purpose, Maybach proceeded to put it up for sale. Never intending on producing the Exelero, they relied on its uniqueness to give it value. Indeed, they set the asking price at €5,000,000. And it was immediately snapped up by diamond industrialist Andre Action Diakite Jackson. I'm not making that up – that IS his real name. Complete with a rhyme that even a rapper would approve of. Speaking of rappers... 

The Exelero was then lent to Jay-Z to feature in a talking video for the spoken-song "Lost One". After this, it was then purchased for an undisclosed sum by European Entrepreneur Arnaud Massartic. And then, in 2011, the Exelero found itself on the market once again with a price tag of $8,000,000. Now, who would want to buy an 8-million-dollar car that's 7 feet wide, 20 feet long, and is a symbol of such preposterous vulgarity that it allows the driver to look down on the rest of a world as a series of poorer people than them? Oww, I know: a rapper! 

It was through the medium of Twitter that US rapper Birdman announced he was buying the $8million Exelero – putting special emphasis on the price. But, a couple of months after saying he was buying the car, Arnaud Massartic announced that he had not paid for it.  

Since then, the Exelero has fallen off the radar somewhat. Information is scarce, but from what I can tell, it is currently owned by Frank Rickert, the founder of Mercedes-Benz tuner, Mechatronik.  

While the Exelero was built to execute a seemingly mundane task, the sheer extravagance that bursts out of its every molecule means that testing-tyres are the last thing on peoples' minds when they see it. It will forever be considered as what has to be the most imposing land-yacht ever made. A car fit for Count Dracula; a rolling reflection of one's bank balance. While it may be as indecent as cars can possibly be, it's also rather fantastic. 

Written by: Angelo Uccello

Twitter: @AngeloUccello 

Tribe: Speed Machines 

Facebook: Speed Machines – DriveTribe

Photo Credits: Maybach

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Comments (15)

  • well done mate, i've always have been intrigued by this car, now i know a lot more about it, thanks!

      2 years ago
  • The pics of another maybach a soft top were on Facebook a few days ago, much nicer

      2 years ago
  • I met a Polish race team driver that drifted one of these on a frozen lake. That was a strange lunch meet.

      2 years ago
    • Please read the article again. They only made ONE piece... And I can't imagine someone, owning a 8 Million car, weighing nearly three tons, drifting it on a frozen lake... Even Jeremy Clarkson wouldn't do that...

        2 years ago
    • In Polnd is few race drivers who colud drive this car but I never heard nothing about. And as I belive non of them even want to try to drift this car.

        2 years ago
  • Great story and well written. Small suggestion on the name of the W38 which was Stromlinienfahrzeug, literally “[Air] stream lines vehicle”

      2 years ago
  • Nice....

      2 years ago
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