Some of the most iconic designs for German cars flowed from the pen and fertile mind of Frenchman Paul Bracq. Born in Bordeaux on 13 December 1933, from a young age, Bracq proved himself to be adroit at creating shapes. He built model cars out of wood – models both of existing cars and cars of his own design. His facility with wood working led him to attend L’ecole Boule, a school of advanced fine arts and crafts and applied arts in Paris. In his final year at Ecole Boule Bracq won First Prize in the Sculpture In Wood competition.
Upon finishing his education he was employed by Chamber of Coachbuilders Association where he was doing full size auto renderings.
From the Coachbuilders Association, Paul Bracq was hired by French Industrial Designer Philippe Charbonneaux where he served as Charbonneaux’ assistant. During this period, the studio produced the designs for the French Presidential limousine built by Citroën, and a one-off Pegaso coupe, among other work. (We’ve previously posted about the Spanish Pegaso HERE and Raffi Minasian’s design for a later-day Pegaso HERE.) Bracq left the Charbonneaux studio to begin his mandatory military service. The industrious Bracq wouldn’t let something like military service stop him from his goal of designing cars.
While serving in the French Air Force, Bracq was posted to Lahr, Germany, where – thanks to his recent employment – he was assigned to motoring duties. His specific task was to attend to his general’s Mercedes-Benz staff cars, and on one occasion had to drive to Daimler-Benz when one of the cars needed work. Bracq took the opportunity to enquire at the marketing department in pursuit of some grand prix posters, and a conversation with executive Prince von Urach led to a meeting with head of body and engineering Karl Wilfert.
Among the pieces Bracq showed Wilfert were these studies (above) on the Mercedes-Benz sports and racing cars. That nose on the 300 models in the top row would prove remarkably prescient, finding its way onto the 2003 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and its 2004 SLK sibling. Wilfert was suitably impressed.
The crises at the Suez and in Algeria extended the Bracq’s service by another year, but Wilfert was prepared to wait. Bracq took advantage of this delay to improve his fluency with the German language.
His service in the French Air Force finished, Bracq officially joined Daimler-Benz on 1 March 1957. Karl Wilfert was determined to create a styling department up to the tasks of designing for the rapidly-changing post World War II era and Bracq was, in effect, Wilfert’s first employee in the Advanced Studio.
Bracq’s most significant contribution to Daimler-Benz was in shaping their passenger cars of the 1960s. The personality of the hand that created these shapes was almost imperceptible. Bracq took the established Mercedes identity and extrapolated it effortlessly into the various ranges. Each model was marked by a cleanness of line and volume.
We now realize that this was the Golden Age for Mercedes-Benz. With Rudolph Uhlenhaut shaping the company’s engineering and Paul Bracq the design of the cars – the W113 (“Pagoda” coupes), W108 & W109 Senior sedans, the W114-W115 Junior sedans, and the W100 Grand Mercedes Limousine, Mercedes cars were at a high water mark for the company in engineering, style, elegance and build quality. Mercedes-Benz cars of this era are highly prized and much sought after today. Paul Bracq’s name is not widely associated by the general public with the Mercedes cars he designed, but Gear Heads know that he is the Frenchman who designed German cars, a fact underscored by his next career move: to BMW. We will cover that topic in a future post.
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