The special One
The Project One, Mercedes-AMG’s first blindingly fast, technologically out-of-this-world hypercar, is poised to give other ultra-rare street rockets a run for their money… millions of it
Mercedes-AMG’s astonishing Project One leaves all other hypercars standing in its dust
it’s gauche to start with numbers, but when we're referring to a £1.95m hypercar, we’re not going to start with the colour of the seat belts, are we? (But we’ll get to that.) So let’s talk numbers: the Mercedes-AMG Project One, the carmaker’s first foray into the ultra-luxe stratosphere of insanely fast hypercars that includes the Bugatti Chiron, Aston Martin Valkyrie and Pagani Zonda, produces a planet-moving 1,000bhp. It can go from 0–124mph in less time than it takes to read this sentence. (Six seconds.) It’s powered by a 1.6-litre V6 (and four electric motors) that screeches up to 11,000rpm. (Your average Honda Civic gets up to a mere 5,500rpm. The Ferrari Superfast, 8,500.) It is a plug-in hybrid, with an all-electric range of about 15 miles.
But you want real exclusivity? Only 275 examples of what is ostensibly a street legal Formula One car — the first prototype contained the same engine Lewis Hamilton uses — will be made. Mercedes-AMG allocated 20 for Britain, and 55 to the US where all of them have been spoken for. (Just a few buyers are women, in case you were wondering which gender is still overcompensating for something.)
As is becoming the norm with hypercars, you couldn’t just write a cheque to buy the Project One. You needed to apply. MercedesBenz received around 1,100 approaches worldwide. The ultimate decision of who received the privilege to plunk down the cost of a very nice Knightsbridge pied-à-terre on a vehicle came down to AMG CEO Tobias Moers and Dietmar Exler, the president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA.
What separated one billionaire from the next? The things taken into consideration were a lot like the criteria Ford GT buyers were subject to when applying to purchase the American company’s otherworldly supercar: a large social media following helped, as did the sense that you were going to actually drive the car and display it at events as opposed to flipping it or, worse, mothballing it within your hangar of bespoke vehicles. But the initial barrier before even being considered for Club Project One? You must have owned at least 20 Mercedes-Benzes in your lifetime.
“It was a very difficult conversation to have with the customer who [had] owned 18 Mercedes,” says Heiko Schmidt, head of AMG North America.
Just had to buy that Lexus in ’03, didn’t you?
(Hypercar buyers, as one can surmise, live in a rarefied world. Schmidt says AMG poached one of its main liaisons for Project One customers from Porsche because of her experience with the clientele who purchased its pioneering hybrid hypercar, the 918.)
Much of the Project One can be customised, with the exception of the seat belts, because of safety regulations. (You’ll still be able to choose from a set of colours, however.) Deliveries aren’t until 2019; until then, the lucky 275 will be treated to custom seat fittings (the two seats are built into the carbon-fibre monocoque to save weight, but the pedals will be adjustable), get a look at their engine being hand-assembled, take rides in proper F1 cars, and receive special training in how to handle a 1,000bhp land rocket. It will be the first consumer Mercedes-Benz built in Brackley and Brixworth, England, where the cars for the company’s F1 team are manufactured.
Based on numbers alone, it’s easy to dismiss the Project One as just another billionaire’s plaything, but it’s bigger than that. For one, its appearance is more classic than the angry, angular look that seems to be the prevalent design language for many milliondollar-plus automobiles these days, as if one of Michael Bay’s Transformers were trapped halfway between car and robot. Sure, it has thin, mean eyes and a menacing shark-ish fin, but it still has curves. It still elicits that old-school, sensual feeling of yearning.
“It’s similar to Stirling Moss’s SLRs in the Fifties,” Gorden Wagener, Mercedes’ chief design officer, tells Esquire during a walk-through of the car, pointing out how the shoulder line is at wheel level on both vehicles. “We didn’t want it to look like a hypercar.”
Secondly, the technology that drives the Project One won’t simply be for the 0.0001 per cent. The goal, at least initially, is for the innovative hybrid tech that is able to squeeze out enormous amounts of power from a relatively small engine to make its way into other Mercedes-Benz sports cars. Albeit maybe more for the one per cent at first.
It makes you root for these machines, even though most of us will never drive one. For the überwealthy, hypercars present a burgeoning investment opportunity. For everyone else, and the big companies that make them, they are an investment in keeping cars exciting to drive until the day autonomous cars drive us.
Fast and curious: the Mercedes-AMG Project One emerges from a garage, eager to take to the streets of downtown Los Angeles
From left: the Mercedes-Benz star is painted on the hood to avoid air turbulence and lower the drag effect; similarly, the headlights are integrated flush into the front arch; the spare F-style driving position is stacked with high-tech monitors and controls