I was sorry to hear of the death of Brabus founder Bodo Buschmann recently. He was, in every sense, a giant of the tuning business and a man who successfully bridged the gap between aftermarket customisation and mainstream car manufacturers.
That’s the serious side. What he was really about was making outrageously powerful modified Mercedes with engine displacements and power outputs that pushed the limits of what’s socially acceptable or mechanically sensible. Really silly stuff, done with very German rigour and discipline.
For 40 years generations of increasingly ridiculous hopped-up Mercedes emerged from his Bottrop headquarters as he expertly nurtured the increasingly wild tastes of cash-rich car modders. Basically if you wanted a 900bhp Mercedes with all the personalised leather and carbon trimmings you could dream of or a V12-powered E-Class estate capable of blitzing hypercars, Buschmann was your man. And with his son stepping into his shoes it seems as though the business is in safe hands.
What fascinates me about Brabus and cars in general is how human character traits can be expressed in machines. A collection of mechanical parts can’t in itself have a personality. But that of the person who designed and built it can be very clearly expressed through them.
At our level that might just extend as far as a bumper sticker or painting components in a stupid colour in an attempt to stand out from the crowd, said the man with bright orange wheels on his Mazda MX-5. In Buschmann’s case he started a company and eventually became a manufacturer in his own right.
Although I didn’t know him personally I have visited Bottrop, enjoyed his products and seeing him on the Brabus stand at motor shows. Because man and machine really were one and the same. Brabus products are imposing, unapologetic and built to dominate the room. And Buschmann was the same. He was a big guy. Really big. He didn’t need wacky glasses to stand out but wore them anyway and he commanded respect from anyone in the vicinity without having to throw his considerable weight around. Put it this way, he had presence. Much in the way one of his tuned up 6x6 G-Wagens has when surrounded by normal cars at a motor show.
The last time I saw him was at an event celebrating Brabus’s long-standing and successful partnership with Smart, where the firm has in effect become what AMG has to Mercedes. Did he squeeze himself into a ForTwo for the occasion? Did he hell – he turned up in an 850bhp, V12-powered GLS. And after a short presentation, launch-controlled it out of the car park to get back to Bottrop as quickly as possible. I doubt he’ll have had any bother with people dawdling in the fast lane on the Autobahn in front of him either.
The way the personalities of the people who build cars creep into the machines they create is what makes them interesting too. Take Porsche GT boss Andreas Preuninger for instance. He’s a nice bloke and great company, but he’ll not waste his time on you if he thinks you’re not at his level, and the cars he builds are just the same. A GT3 makes no allowances and is built to reward those capable of doing it justice. If the new GT3 RS could talk…it would sound like Preuninger.
There are plenty of other examples too. Enzo Ferrari is long gone but his famously domineering and imperious character remains at the core of the brand, likewise that of his ambitious and disgruntled former customer Ferruccio Lamborghini. Bruce McLaren is no longer with us either but when you meet the focused, studious and quietly passionate folk who work for the company that carries his name, you’ll instantly understand a lot more about why the cars drive the way they do.
To some people cars are just appliances. That’s fine but they’re missing out. The overlap between these machines and the personalities of the people behind them is, for me, endlessly fascinating. And that’s as applicable to a hot hatch DIY modded on someone’s driveway as it is a mega-horsepower S-Class rolling on 22-inch rims and trimmed in quilted ostrich hide.
So RIP Bodo and thanks for all the crazy Mercs – your spirit lives on in four-wheeled form!