Merc SLS: British design success story

* British designer won Mercedes competition * SLS supercar started from 'doodle' * 'Purest' design kicked off 160,000 SLS...

Author Avatar
What Car? Staff
15 September 2010

Merc SLS: British design success story

The British designer of Mercedes' SLS supercar, Mark Fetherston, won an internal competition to design the 160,000 supercar against entries from his colleagues in Merc's German and American studios.

'We were asked to come up with ideas for a potential gullwing replacement,' he said. The legendary 300SL of 1955 was christened the gullwing because of its upward-opening doors.

'One day my boss came to me and said that my design had been chosen and to get on with it,' he said. 'It's incredible to think that from a doodle I did a company was prepared to spend millions and millions developing it.'

Fetherston was born in Germany but grew up in Devon and went on to study at Coventry University on one of the most respected auto design courses. 'I've always loved cars and reading magazines about them,' he said, 'but it never occurred to me that people actually designed them.

'Then one day I saw an ad for the course and applied. I either wanted to be a pilot or a designer. At first I thought I'd made the wrong choice because everybody else on the course seemed to have some experience of designing cars and I'd never done one in my life.

'I remember the first one I drew and the tutor called me out to explain it to the rest of the people on the course. I rang my dad and told him I didn't think this was for me, but he told me to stick with it.'

He went straight to Mercedes-Benz after graduating from university and was soon pitched into producing design proposals for exterior of the B-Class, which he was chosen to complete. 'There's this clich that young designers only ever get to do door handles, but it's not like that,' he said.

To have something like the SLS on your CV is something else, though. 'You only get to do one car like that in your life,' he said (not strictly true because he is also responsible for the forthcoming SLS roadster).

Asked why he thinks his proposal was chosen, he says: 'I think it's because it was the purest. The finished car has stayed very faithful to the design sketch. What have changed are the proportions. It's one of the few projects I have worked on where I rarely struggled with the engineers or over costs to get what I wanted.'