Beyond its role as a luxurious mode of travel, the limousine is a potent form of expression. Both its architecture and its image connote power, prestige, glamour, style and much, much more. It might even be considered art in the popular sense, a sort of rolling sculpture, in that it provokes the same gasps of awe in the general populace as great art accomplishes before an audience of connoisseurs.
In a time when cars are being downsized, limousines stand as a statement-on-wheels for the grandeur that reigned before the unctuous “era of limits.”
It is in this vein that Paul Tamraz has initiated a project to create a limousine from what he describes as "the finest car built today" —Mercedes Benz. As president of Motorwerks, a Mercedes Benz and BMW dealership in Barrington, Illinois, Tamraz has contracted with Moloney Coachbuilders to produce and distributes Mercedes Benz SEL limousines, stretched 40 inches.
Earle Moloney, president of Moloney Coachbuilders, based in Schaumburg, Illinois, calls the Mercedes Benz limousine built by his company "the supreme combination of American craftsmanship and German engineering."
Besides the notion of creating a beautiful car, however, Tamraz explained that there was some definite economic justification for his decision. The basic law of supply-and-demand is tipped in his favor, Tamraz believes, because Mercedes Benz ceased its shipments of factory-built limousines to North America in the early 1970s. That event occurred because of laws pertaining to mileage restrictions, he said. Nevertheless, there exists a market of people who still desire a limousine with the quality and distinction that comes with a Mercedes Benz, said Tamraz.
"In my opinion, it's the finest automobile in the industry. First of all, the engineering qualities that go into the car are second to none. The structure of the car is magnificent It's a handcrafted automobile.
"As a limousine, I believe the car is going to hold up much better than would any domestic-made car," Tamraz said "The base car is just far superior to anything else that's out there.
"It's a limousine for those people who can treat themselves to it because they've reached a certain stage in life where they feel that they've arrived. They are successful and they don't want to drive themselves down the freeways anymore because they've got better things to do, like reading or dictating correspondence. And they want to do it in the finest luxury in which they can. They are people who can say, "I've earned this."
The first Mercedes Benz limousine required five months to complete. The standard features that each Mercedes Benz limousine contains include a roomy passenger compartment, rear and front-facing seating to accommodate four face to-face guests, a powered chauffeur divider, a burl oak center console housing a complete sound system and a Sony color television and VMS tape player, an ice storage compartment, Baccarat crystal, and power sun roof.
Communications between passenger and chauffeur are maintained by intercom and there are separate front and rear heating and air-conditioning climate controls.
Virtually any optional amenity can be added to the vehicle upon a client's request, including any Mercedes body paint and matching leather interior. All paints and leathers used on the vehicles are imported from Germany to comply with the exact standards of Mercedes.
Tamraz said the SEL model used for the limousine is “the flagship of the Mercedes line.” So few are sent to this country that demand for them cannot be met and all of them are pre-sold by the time they reach a dealer's inventory, he said.
There have been other coachbuilders who have done conversions of Mercedes, but I don't think they have done it to the extent that we have. Naturally, I'm prejudiced toward the quality and design of our product," said Tamraz.
"For example, I wanted to keep Mercedes Benz lines throughout the car and in order to do that, I elected to go with a steel top to the car. You do not see Mercedes Benz cars with padded vinyl roofs. The reason that limousine converters put the padded top on the car is so they can hide all the steel work that's under it. So, to make it a state-of-the-art type of car required a good deal of fine craftsmanship.
"We also had to move the sun roof from the front (where it is a standard feature on the base car) to the rear for the passenger compartment.
“Everything with a few exceptions is Mercedes. The hides are Mercedes. Everything that has been put into the car is a Mercedes component with the exception of the Baccarat crystal, the Sony television, and video tape player and the intercom switch. Those are the only items on the car that are not authentic Mercedes Benz parts,” stressed Tamraz
“It takes a lot longer and requires better craftsmanship to work with those components, but when the finished product comes out, you can say, "There's a Mercedes Benz limousine.”
“We elected to go with the 40 inches as the length of the stretch after we brought in consulting engineers to make sure we would not disturb the quality and driveability of the car," Tamraz explained. "The car is magnificently powered. You wouldn't believe how well this car rides for a limousine. You'd think that you were just operating a regular car. It does not have any rear sway to it like you get in most limousines of other makes.”
Much of the quality that Tamraz discusses is a result of the work of Moloney Coachbuilders (featured at length in the April, 1983, issue of Limousine & Chauffeur. "I believe Moloney has the best reputation in the industry and I think they've earned that reputation," said Tarnraz. "They've been at this limousine conversion business for many years. They're a proven entity. They've done business all over the world and maintained an impeccable reputation while doing so. They have a facility of 1 00,000 square feet under roof that is very, very impressive."
Both Tamraz and Moloney agreed that the best way to begin selling the limousines was with a selection immediately available, rather than waiting to build the cars strictly upon a customer's order. "My thought was that we should make a commitment to having a selection available," said Tamraz. "Rather than talking about a car that we would build, we decided to go ahead and speculate with several of them.We should have them available for people to touch and drive and see I think that's how Moloney and I hit it off so well. He's a manufacturer and he realizes that availability is sellability.
“It was a gutsy move but I have confidence in the venture I don’t know precisely what the total limousine market is, in terms of number of units, but I think there are a sufficient number of limousine owners in this big country of ours who would like something of the finest quality and something that’s unique. That's exactly what we have.”
There are currently three Mercedes Benz limousines that have already been converted by Moloney and are available for sale. One has an authentic gray exterior with a gray leather interior, another has a champagne metallic exterior with a brown leather interior, while the third has a black exterior with a palomino leather interior.
The car sells for $135,000, said Tamraz. While the price runs a good deal higher than the average car in a livery service, Tamraz said he does not consider it at all exorbitant. "I've seen different things done to SELs, most of it in the form of 'gingerbread.' It may be gold-plated in different spots or have mink floormats or Persian carpeting or other gimmicks that have been put into the car. And I've seen where $150,000 will be asked for such a car. What we've done is crafted a Mercedes Benz limousine. We've left all the gingerbread off and made it a beautiful vehicle."
Still, the owner of a limousine service must consider the potential benefits of purchasing such a limousine and weigh them against the price Tamraz believes that adding a Mercedes Benz limousine to the livery fleet will increase a company's financial status in several ways.
"First of all, I think the car will hold value better than any other type of limousine. Secondly, the limousine service knows that they will be putting one of these cars out for rental for an entire evening, not just to shuttle a client to an airport It's going to be a very special kind of user; like a celebrity or an overseas dignitary or someone of similar importance. The Mercedes Benz limousine is going to command a much bigger price, but if someone wants to show up at a special occasion, they're certainly going to be more noticed in this car than they are in a Cadillac or a Lincoln," said Tamraz.
In other words, Tamraz believes that a Mercedes Benz limousine could provide an extra marketing edge to a full-service limousine agency. A Mercedes Benz limousine offers an opportunity to provide something that others in the same metropolitan area may not have.
This can be helpful in two ways. First, it may give the customer an extra measure of confidence in the limousine service simply because it has gone an extra step in purchasing a Mercedes Benz limousine for its clients. It tends to say something positive about the company and the lengths it is willing to go in order to provide complete service.
Second, the Mercedes Benz limousine may bring new customers who are either interested in the Mercedes Benz limousine for either regular use or just for special occasions.
"I think that a lot of people who use limousine services are concerned when they make the initial call," said Tamraz. "They like to be sure that they won't end up in a car that has tears in the upholstery or dents or other problems that some limousine services, unfortunately, don't take care of. But the company that buys one of these is certainly going to take care of it and I think that would be very clear to the public. It's a $135,000 piece of machinery. That separates the men from the boys, so to speak."
Tamraz came to the automobile industry from an advertising background approximately 10 years ago. He was basically in the business of creating customer traffic for the automobile industry and liked the automotive field so much that he decided to establish his own dealership Tamraz' standards of operation are high.
"Motorwerks is a good, good company. We were just named the recipient of an award give by Mercedes Benz for being the number one service operation in a 13-state area," explained Tamraz. "We're pretty proud of the fact that we enjoy a very good service reputation.
"We make a very concerted effort to do everything the right way," he said.
When the first limousine rolled out of the Moloney Coachbuilders plant, Tamraz held a party at his dealership for roughly 1200 invited guests.
"It was wonderful to sit back and hear the comments. The oooooohs and aaaaaahs. It was just tremendous," said Tamraz "I was very proud and very excited.
"I think we've got something that's unique I think we've got something that's wanted. And I think we're going to be very successful with it."