Mercedes just gave itself one heck of a housewarming gift. The Vision Mercedes Simplex is a modern take on the classic Mercedes 35 PS (or 35 HP) as well as an excuse to let designers stretch their muscles and have some fun. We got up close to the Simplex concept at Mercedes’ new design center in Nice, France. Here’s what you need to know.

Compare photos of the new Mercedes concept to the turn-of-the-20th-century car that inspired it in our photo gallery.

It’s Got That New Design Center Smell

When we visited earlier this month, the new European design center (officially dubbed an international design competence center) had been open for just four weeks. Mercedes plans to use the Nice complex for all kinds of design, from the ones we all instantly think of—exterior and interior—as well as a few focus areas some of us may not, like color, UX, and communication.

Our peek behind the Mercedes design curtain revealed a few fun pieces of art incorporating the Mercedes and Maybach badges, plus teams of excited staff experimenting with future-car design. We used VR to simulate walking around (and inside) two concepts and appreciated light projections on a dashboard of everything from directions to a calming nature scene. I’m not sold on this technology’s future value in practical applications, but as an advanced new form of mood lighting, it’s amazing. Keep in mind that this design center is a place of exploration, so it may take years before various projects directly or indirectly influence a future car’s design, if they ever do at all.

How the Mercedes Simplex’s Design Got Approved

Gorden Wagener, Mercedes’ chief design officer, tells us the Simplex concept was started in secret, but the executive team liked it once it saw the four-wheeled link to Mercedes’ heritage. And that’s the whole point of this concept, of course: to subtly reinforce Mercedes as a luxury brand that’s been around for well over 100 years, yet also indicate it’s looking to the future.

Mercedes Stars Are Everywhere

Play a game when you see the Simplex concept at an auto show or event: See how many Mercedes three-pointed stars you can count. From the leather-covered straps low on the body to the digital ones on the grille and on the tire treads themselves, they’re everywhere.

Mercedes isn’t the only luxury automaker to apply this design strategy; Lincoln uses emblems as part of its grille design and even incorporates them in the grippy black lining of some interior trim pieces.

Why Mercedes Is Connecting to a Nearly 120-Year-Old Car

The Mercedes 35 PS is a famous car that raced successfully in 1901 in the French Riviera on a route close to Mercedes’ new design center. As if that connection weren’t enough, the automaker took part of its name from the businessman for whom the car was built, a man who nicknamed his daughter Mercedes.

Something Old, Something New

“Everything is a symbol of transformation from the original into the future,“ said Steffen Köhl of Mercedes design about the way the Simplex concept is updated from the original. There’s no windshield, as on the classic Mercedes, and just like that car, the new one has a small info screen. It can show a map or vehicle info.

Actually, the original car’s interior is much busier than this concept’s, which can, of course, take some liberties with practicalities production cars must wrestle with.

A Little Bit of Fun

Not many concept car unveilings end with the chief design officer and international journalists getting behind the wheel for photo ops. And granted, Mercedes primed us journalists for the moment after offering photos in a Simplex model (a car from the same era as the 35 PS earlier that day). Even so, if Mercedes were brave (or foolish) enough, this white, black, and rose gold concept could be a real draw for auto show goers who want photos of their kids behind the wheel.

What’s With the Split Paint Job?

The original 35 PS had a similar paint scheme, and the Mercedes Simplex concept’s azure blue seats are said to be inspired by the colors of the French Riviera.

What Else?

For a concept whose process only took about eight months, the Mercedes Simplex concept is a charming car. The exterior was designed in the automaker’s California design center, while Europe played a greater role in the simple yet effective interior.

The concept reestablishes Mercedes as the luxury brand with significantly more heritage than most of its competitors. That shouldn’t make newer luxury brands any less attractive, and if we’re honest, some luxury customers may not care about flashy concepts like the Simplex or the impractical yet stunning Genesis Essentia; they might focus more on how a C-Class or G70 makes them feel. Nevertheless, the Mercedes concept remains a fun footnote in the automaker’s design progression that, only earlier this month, starred the sleek Vision EQS concept.

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