Virgil Abloh Helped Create a Crazy G-Wagen Concept
“What happens if I press the big red button?” I ask. I’m talking about the massive plunger between the seats of the Project Geländewagen concept, co-designed by Virgil Abloh, men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton and founder of Off-White, and Gorden Wagener, the chief designer of Mercedes-Benz. The button looks like it’ll fire off a nuclear arsenal—or at the very least, blow the doors and roof off this baby blue lizard-low G-Wagen in a one-time-only pyrotechnic celebration of smashing unmarked buttons.
“The ignition starts,” says G-Wagen designer G. Wagener. Fine then. At least everything else about Project Geländewagen is wonderfully batshit, from the three weeks spent choosing the paint, down to the story Abloh tells of Drake starting a friendly pissing match over who has the better Mercedes-Benz plug. (We’ll get there.)
Project Geländewagen was born as an exercise in what-if. A couple years ago, Wagener and Abloh connected and started flinging around ideas about how they could collaborate. The duo landed on a vehicle they’ve both owned and loved: the G-Wagen, the brutally utilitarian SUV with a 41-year history of U.N. work, Pope transportation, and rap shout-outs. “The G-Wagen, to me, is one of my most favorite objects of design, period,” said Abloh. “It sits up there next to the iPhone by Steve Jobs. It's timeless.”
Their game plan: make an AMG G63 a whole hell of a lot less useful by making it as fast as possible—which meant finding a way to get more extreme than a 577 horsepower street-legal apartment building that hits 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. On the Project Geländewagen moodboard was the Jordan 1 Abloh made as part of “The Ten” collection for Nike in 2017, a prime example of Ablohvian deconstruction. “I'd never seen a deconstructed car on the road, except for on the racetrack,” he says. “You see that in a drag race car, or a NASCAR.” Which explains the nets in place of windows.
Abloh and Wagener continued gutting the cabin. What’s left, more or less: a couple race seats, that big start button, X-ed out air vents, a roll cage, and the starfighter-esque steering wheel borrowed from Mercedes-AMG’s upcoming $2.72 million Project ONE hypercar.
The track-ready (but not street-legal) Project Geländewagen sits wincingly low, a speedbump away from being totaled, wrapped in a thick body kit. It’s hard to tell from photos, but the baby blue paint has been hand-sanded to give it a variegated tonal effect. “I was interested in natural textures like marble, wood, Venetian plasters,” says Abloh. “And this paint finish has a historical context within racing, of reducing the weight of cars by shaving off paint. It aligned with our ethos of speed, but also that it's hand finished, and to me, the sight of a human hand, it means value to me.” The whole thing sits on cartoonishly large 25-inch versions of AMG’s iconic Monoblocs.
“To me, that's the wheel,” says Abloh. “When I think of Jay Z, I think of that wheel. I remember the first time I saw a Mercedes in a rap video, growing up outside of Chicago, being like, ‘I want to be in that world.’ Those are signifiers in my culture that-
Heads-up, this is where Drake comes in.
Wagener: “Oh, by the way Virgil, did you see our Vision Mercedes Maybach concept in Drake's video?”
Abloh: “Yeah. He texted me right before. He's like, ‘I know you have a car coming, but you don't have these.’”
Wagener: “He took his private jet to pick them up.”
Abloh: “I was like, that's why the jet. I did the wrap for the outside design of that jet. So every time it flies around, I get a message in my Instagram, being like, ‘The plane is in Portland.’ When you have a jet that big, you can move cars around.”
Wagener: “This is pretty cool, I have to admit.”
In an alternate timeline, Abloh and Wagener might have liked to borrow Drake’s plane for the Project Geländewagen launch. The concept was meant to debut IRL, maybe at a fashion show. Abloh had even sketched a temple for it to appear from, or drive through, “like an art performance, possibly with models around,” says Wagener. More than looking cool and going fast, the concept comes with an artist’s manifesto from the design duo: they speak about it as a rolling meditation on “new luxury.” One marked not so much by fancy materials, but by a very streetwear mix of unexpectedness and near-unobtainability. (To wit, the Project Geländewagen concept will be auctioned off at some point to support “international creative communities” according to Mercedes-Benz.)
From Supreme drops to stunning one-off special-order Aston Martins, Abloh and Wagener’s new-luxury math, where rarity is the prize, has been in play for decades, even centuries. What’s freshest here is also what’s most disconcerting: creating a race car G-Wagen is a vicious rejection of the thing it’s intended to be. It makes no sense, especially when the intention is to tear off that speedy new context, and show it driving out of a literal temple to fashion. What’s it for? Why do I want it? (I want it.)
That fashion show debut for Project Geländewagen fell apart with COVID, of course. Which is a shame, because it means we won’t get to see a hunkered down NASCAR-inspired G-Wagen slink along a runway, its monstrous V-8 grumbling. That roughed-up paint just barely catching the light. Maybe Drake sitting front row, nodding at Virgil in appreciation, plotting his next move.