Master of SL design: Bruno Sacco

Master of SL design: Bruno Sacco
March 2012
Born on: 12 November 1933 in Udine/Italy
Bruno Sacco and Mercedes-Benz SL – this is a very special success story extending over the past few decades. For the past and, for a time, the present of SL history, from the 300 SL (W 198 series, 1954 to 1957) to the R 129 SL series (1989 to 2001), are concentrated in the person of Sacco in a way that cannot be said of anyone else at Mercedes-Benz.
Bruno Sacco worked for what was then Daimler-Benz AG from 1958 to 1999, from 1975 until his retirement as chief designer for the Mercedes-Benz brand. In the course of his work he always obeyed a single principle: “I am a designer at Mercedes-Benz not because I think ‘l’art pour l’art’ should be my motto, but because I want the cars for which I am responsible to sell successfully.” Like nobody else before him, Sacco shaped the appearance of Mercedes-Benz during his 41 years of work.
Sacco came to Mercedes-Benz through Karl Wilfert, who he got to know in Turin. Wilfert, then head of body development and therefore responsible for bodybuilding and design, invited him to the Sindelfingen plant in late 1957 – and hired the dedicated young designer shortly afterwards. On 13 January 1958 Sacco took up his work at Daimler-Benz in Sindelfingen as second stylist – after Paul Bracq, who was hired as first stylist in 1957. This was to be Sacco’s job for life. The monthly starting salary was DM 650.
Sacco’s love of automobiles was awakened by cars designed by the Frenchman Raymond Loewy. For instance, in April 1951 Sacco visited the motor show in Turin and was inspired and fascinated by a Loewy creation on display there, the Studebaker Starlight. A little later he came across the Studebaker again. For with this car and others like it, American soldiers commuted from the seaport of Trieste to occupied Austria, crossing the border at Tarvis, the city where Sacco was living with his family at the time. The Loewy-designed Studebaker was a sculpture in movement, its styling suggestive of aeroplanes combined with futuristic elements. Sacco was so fascinated by this car that the encounter showed him the way to his future. Having passed his exam as Italy’s youngest geodesist in Udine in 1951, Sacco moved with his family to Turin in 1952.
In those years Turin was a melting pot for new design ideas coming across the Atlantic from the USA to Europe, where they were combined with the Italian feeling for style and elegance to produce new creations. Pinin Farina, Nuccio Bertone, Gigi Michelotti, and Carozzeria Ghia, along with the car manufacturers Fiat and Lancia, were the prophets of new automobile design in the 1950s. Captivated by the creativity in the world of automotive styling, Sacco quickly discovered the attraction of the design studios and became a frequent visitor there. Starting in late 1955, he was able to gain experience in model making at Ghia, at a time when the company was responsible for creations such as the fantastic dream car Gilda on a Chrysler platform and the Karmann-Ghia on a Volkswagen platform – to name just two. Sacco worked together with authorities such as Giovanni Savonuzzi or Sergio Sartorelli and benefited from their experience. And with his knowledge of the German language, he had already taken up contact with Karmann by the time of the momentous meeting with Karl Wilfert described earlier.
During his time with Daimler-Benz, Bruno Sacco was closely associated with the topic SL from the outset. The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL exerted a special fascination on him. It was so great that in the mid-1960s he owned and drove the 300 SL (W 198) with the chassis number 0001 – the one presented in New York in February 1954. But in shaping the brand the focus of his work was naturally broad. By the time Sacco assumed management of the design department in 1975, he had not only headed the Sindelfingen project for the first two C 111 models but also the Experimental Safety Vehicle (ESF) project. He recognised that he now had to think and act as a project manager and not as a designer to get his creations transformed into series products.
The SL models of series W 198 and of series R 129 had a particularly formative influence on him. He once described the difference between the two and the advance this represented in the following words: “The 35 years separating the appearance of these two, so different but yet eliciting similar emotions, could not be better documented by any other ‘pairing‘ of automotive history. When I think of the muscle power that had to be expended to drive the Gullwing, when I think of the continuous effort needed to keep this stubborn beast under control (or to try to) – how relaxing and even playful the new car behaves! It is obvious that I am too an enthusiastic SL driver, and have been for many years. I notice, not just incidentally (it’s really tangible), that open-top cars can also be safe. And even without a full head of hair I appreciate the effect of our draught-stop engineers’ ingenious idea.”
Sacco worked with particular dedication on the design of the R 129 series SL that debuted in 1989. It is one of the most convincing products of his labour, a masterpiece of balanced proportions with a special claim to dynamism, a sculpture of automotive styling one does not see very often. Bruno Sacco’s confident, subtle sense of style and form is brought fully to bear in this vehicle. The R 129 series is perhaps not the only vehicle of his era to embody this, but it is the most convincing.


Bruno Sacco, former Mercedes-Benz chief designer
Bruno Sacco, former Mercedes-Benz chief designer
Bruno Sacco, former Mercedes-Benz chief designer
Bruno Sacco, former Mercedes-Benz chief designer