Influential fashion designer and LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) creative director Virgil Abloh passed away on Sunday after a two-year battle with cancer. Before his death, Abloh had been working on a concept Mercedes-Benz alongside the automaker’s design chief, Gorden Wagener. That car was called the Project Maybach. Following Abloh’s death, the manufacturer brought the car’s debut forward; visitors can see it today only at Miami’s Rubell Museum.
Project Maybach wasn’t Abloh’s only collaboration with Mercedes. The two joined forces on the rallycross-inspired Project Geländewagen in 2020. But Abloh’s take on a Maybach is assuredly more daring, inasmuch as it mashes the marque’s opulence with off-roading culture in an almost 20-foot-long sedan. It’s a mess of contradictions that shouldn’t work in your head but results in something unexpectedly, undeniably cool — like the best fashion often does.
The Project Maybach is imposing from just about any angle, though in different ways. The front is festooned with repeating circular LEDs, a lightbar and a prominent nonfunctioning grille. (The concept is theoretically electric, as you’d likely guess.) There are more holes in the brush guard. Including those and the lights atop the windshield, I count a sum total of 19 circles viewable from the front of the car.
That’s a lot of shapes, but they all vanish when you appreciate the Project Maybach in profile. From the side, it’s just one, monolithic latte-colored brick, playing against the soft arc of a coupe roofline shoved nearly as far back as possible. There are no distractions, which really makes those color-matched steelies and titanic all-terrain tires stand out from the bulging, bolted-on fenders.
I’ve never been a fan of whatever uber-luxury class the Maybach and similar makes fall into, but I love this concept. The moment I saw it for the first time, it immediately reminded me of the Quartz Regalia, a car that appears often in Final Fantasy XV. At the start of that game, the Regalia is an epically-long four-seat convertible. Eventually the player can modify it into a monster truck — decidedly more absurd than Abloh and Wagener’s work here, though the combination of luxo-barge and off-roader is a similarity of character I can’t help but draw.
Inside, the Project Maybach evokes the upright, chunky dash of a Lamborghini LM002, first-gen Range Rover or something else from a similar era, with appropriately far better fit and finish and interesting material choices. I love the grid motif that runs throughout, from the minimalist door cards to the glossy plastic stamped rectangles that flank the seats and play off beautifully against the matte leather tube inserts. I also appreciate the copious areas of storage inside the cabin — the pockets at the bottom of the doors, the clampable containers that nestle into the edges of the dash.
The considerations for practicality are especially amusing in such an impractical machine. I mean, this thing has solar panels on its hood and a beefy overhead cargo rack, but it also only has two seats despite being 20 feet long. Granted, you can lean the backs flat into another padded area for your head, making some kind of extra-long cot. At least those two very special individuals would be exceedingly comfortable.
I commend Abloh for recontextualizing stodgy, exclusionary luxury in this Maybach, in a way that I imagine will excite scores more people than an ordinary Maybach would. But then, he always had a knack for that sort of thing.