Three-Pointed Stars: the significance of Mercedes in Bond films
The important roles that nobody talks about!
Of course, the 007 genre is dominated by the hero piloting whatever was new from either Lotus, BMW, or of course, Aston Martin. From the hugely famous DB5 to the tipsy Citroen 2CV, cars from Bond films tend to be remembered if the protagonist is driving it. By protagonist, we are also not missing out on Tracy's Cougar and Tiffany's Mustang Mach 1 either!
But if you're a die-hard Bond fan like myself, you might have also noticed a common theme among the antagonists throughout the past 24 films - particularly the old ones - that nobody seems to talk about: they all seem to have Mercs, don't they?
Well, if you sit back and think about it for just a minute or two, you will realise that there was quite a tonne of them!
This article aims to go through some of the best examples while at the same time, explaining why that brand was always relied on by Pinewood Studios.
The earliest example where the Mercs became significant was in Goldfinger (1964). At night when Bond is trying to escape Auric's Henchmen in Switzerland, he is deploying the toys of his DB5 on a few examples of the Ponton shape cars.
The cars in question are a W121 190 and a W128 220SE. Both came from an era when Germany was getting back on its feet and Mercedes were producing more accessible cars alongside the famous 300 SL Gullwing and Roadster.
But there is one thing that the Pontons and all the rest mentioned have in common: a little thing that I like to call sinister-ness.
This sinister aura is seen again in the 1969 film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, where an updated W111 220SE is seen in action by Blofeld's henchman. The scene is on ice and in pursuit of Bond and Tracy in a Mercury Cougar. It's black, poses presence and looks like it'll occupy people with a kill-count no shorter than 10.
But perhaps the main occurring reason why Mercs were so popular for Pinewood's filmmakers is because the brand was correlated with evil itself. This becomes clear at the end of OHMSS when an act of brutality takes place.
As you might remember, Bond and Tracy got married and as George Lazenby removes the plethora of decorations off the Olive Green DBS, Blofeld and assistant, Irma Bunt drive by in a W100 600 Grosser and the latter opens fire with a machine gun, killing Tracy and leaving Bond in tatters.
But what can be interpreted here is that the silver Benz is not just a transportation object for the villains, but also a symbol for brutal, cold-blooded evil. Which funnily enough, is what can be described to the sorts of people who owned a 600.
These majestic cars were synonymous with dictators and often controversial political leaders. This includes the likes of Lenoid Brezhnev, Kim il Sung and a number of others. Although the 600 was also quite popular with pop stars like Elvis Presley, they were usually associated with figures of a rather hard-line stance.
What's more, another 600 - a longer Pullman model this time - showed up very briefly in the 1983 film, Octopussy to transport Kamal Khan from a London auction to an airport back to his home in India. It's near the beginning of the plot, yet the audience can automatically get an impression that Khan is a harsh antagonist - simply by seeing what car he steps into!
This is something you just didn't get with other automotive marques at the time. If you had a big Benz, you meant business and were certainly not making a fool of yourself.
It's this correlation that kept Pinewood interested in using Mercedes Benz models for the antagonists.
But things become complex with the W114/115
This was the more accessible Mercedes that was available from 1968-75. It was the predecessor to the E-Class and was a lot smaller and efficient than the larger S-Classes of the same vintage.
But what's odd is that that in the 1974 film, The Man With the Golden Gun, a white example was used by Bond's aid, Hip (Soon-Taik Oh) and is correlated with companionship and morality. Yet in Roger Moore's later 1981 outing, For Your Eyes Only, a brown one is used for Locque to aim a rifle in an attempt to shoot Bond on a ski jump.
You might think the W114/115 shape Merc seems conflicted as to what character connotation is it associated with, but I believe it is down to the colours. Hip's car is white which is a colour associated with peace and serenity whereas Locque's car is brown and therefore has a more grim aura attached to it.
Locque is seen yet again in a Merc in For Your Eyes Only, only this time, with a crushing defeat (pun intended).
The W116 is a more majestic model which clearly suits the criteria of a murderous assassin. It's large, tough and makes no nonsense for itself. Like the others, it was associated with people of a stern nature within the political hierarchy. At the time, it was the epitome of quality, engineering and class. But Locque wasn't the only one to pilot a W116.
Going back to Octopussy, Kamal Khan and Gobinda have one to escape a circus in West Germany. Like the 600 that appeared earlier on in the film, it represents the villainous nature of its occupants and although it seemed to stay clear of the atomic bomb set to go off, Bond glamorously slides in an Alfa GTV6 and successfully deactivates it.
In the same film, Bond also steals General Orlov's W108 250S to pursue the train transporting the bomb to the circus.
After getting off the rails (another pun intended!) the car ends up in a lake with a stash of diamonds in the boot. But nevertheless, the flags with the black paint finish draw an image of a character that shouldn't be messed with. With that said, Orlov had no choice but to rely on a GAZ 24 Volga after the much-loved Merc is taken.
Apart from a brief encounter with a stretched W114 in The Living Daylights (1987), there seems to be a break where Mercs aren't considered for the antagonists for a few films. They only really make a return in pursuit of Piers Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997); whereby Bond's missile-packed BMW 750iL is chased around a car park by a set of W126 S-Classes.
Based on appearances of the cars alone, it is easy to depict the hero from the villain - even if nobody told you who was who. The gleaming silver Beemer is a car correlated with a thriving businessman and has the presence of a positive, athletic person that is light on its toes. The Mercs on the other hand behave with more of a majestic wallow and sit on the road like a genuine set of henchmen.
As mentioned before, a sinister person would never pilot a limousine from BMW. There was only one brand that generally suited that character: it just had to be a Mercedes.
As far as it can be observed however, Tomorrow Never Dies would be the last Bond film where the antagonists had Mercs as their steed. Because as the century turned, things began to change.
Where have they gone?
Image: Mercedes Benz.
It's a strange, but not completely impossible scenario to explain. Suddenly, the bad guys weren't in Mercs anymore, but rather Jaguars (Die Another Day and Casino Royale in particular) or Alfa Romeos (Quantum of Solace, 2008). So, why has this happened?
It would be easy enough to theorise that the producers and technical advisors at Pinewood aren't that enthusiastic about cars and just chose generic saloons to occupy the villains and henchmen, but I believe the reasons lay a little bit deeper.
You see, come the turn of the new millennium, Mercedes was no longer synonymous with overly-excessive quality. With the rise of Japanese marques gaining sales in the U.S with more affordable luxury cars, Mercedes had to respond and become more competitive. This of course meant, less money went towards product quality... a lot less.
This meant the image of Mercedes Benz was now affected by reliability issues, bits falling off and cheaper materials than before. It's fair to say they simply weren't as robust as before and this meant rivals could now easily make better-quality cars than the 3-pointed star.
But if the filmmakers didn't care about that, then perhaps a theory can be raised that the design language of Mercs from the late-1990s simply weren't as beastly or majestic as before.
With imposing boxy lines now replaced by flowy, aerodynamic panels and an overall softer aura (from a design perspective), Mercs of the modern day don't hold that much presence on the road anymore. This means it is harder to use them as villainous machines because they now give off the impression of Meryl Streep rather than Telly Savalas.
The only notable instance where a Merc is used in a modern Bond film is in Skyfall when Bond is gently driving in Shanghai in a W221 S-Class. A car we don't even get to see much of!
An association to never return?
Image: Mercedes Benz
On a slightly sad note, I don't see a situation where Mercs will return to Bond films. The direction that the brand is heading in gives the impression that they're too apologetic about themselves, not majestic enough, and certainly not built well enough to suit the needs of evil villains and henchmen.
What the future holds for Bond antagonists are partnerships with Jaguar-Land Rover. Certainly in No Time To Die (goodness knows when we can see that) appears to display a plethora of XFs and various Landys used by the henchmen. It is certainly interesting to see that Pinewood are favouring those over Mercs in the modern day.
But what is fascinating about some of the old Bond films is that they are time capsules in terms of what was deemed as heroic and villainous from a motoring perspective. For the protagonists, pretty much anything was on offer; from Astons to Mustangs and even a Mini Moke. But if you were to play the role of someone ready to ruin the world, you almost certainly got allocated a Mercedes Benz.
Yet despite the heavy prominence of the brand throughout most of the Bond saga, don't you find it odd that barely anyone talks about them?