Donsdorf, Germany - Although this family business was founded in 1983, the Hofele story and its connection to Daimler goes back to 1915 when Carl Hofele began his apprenticeship at Karl Benz & Cie in Mannheim-Waldorf.
Carl’s engineering interests and talent went beyond just cars. He was also at the leading edge of the aviation world in his era, designing and building his first glider in 1928 with help from Wolf Hirth, the Stuttgart-born pioneer of gliding in Germany. In fact, so enamoured was Carl with gliders that he founded a local flying club; Fliegergruppe 1928 Donzdorf e.V. that still exists to this day at a nearby airfield, which it owns.
Carl’s son, Bruno, studied mechanical engineering, doing his apprenticeship with Böhringer in nearby Göppingen. He subsequently worked in their R & D department and had a hand in the development of the revolutionary Daimler-Benz-engined Unimog that Böhringer began manufacturing in 1948.
Today only Unimog enthusiasts remember that this legendary all-terrain utility vehicle was originally designed and made by Böhringer with Daimler-Benz only taking over production in 1951, after which it was sold as a Mercedes-Benz.
After this Bruno began developing innovative products for the automotive leisure industry, such as his patented roof mounted Ski Box of 1977. Hofele has been supplying these to Mercedes since 1978.
Bruno’s sons, Martin and Michael came into the family business by way of their shared passion for motor sport, as well as tuning their own and friends’ road cars.
Martin started Hofele Design in 1983 using their father’s garage at home. His younger brother Michael joined him four years later, at which time they moved the fledgling business to proper office and warehouse premises.
The business steadily grew and in 2000 they acquired their present facility about 1.4km away. Over the years they have produced accessories and show cars for marques as diverse as Audi, Mercedes and Porsche. In 2018 Hofele Design became an official contract partner of Daimler AG, which supplies them with vehicles for their aftermarket tuning and personalisation activities.
The ‘Design’ part of the company’s name is there for a reason. The Hofele family have always been lovers of fine art, as evidenced by the large and colourful paintings that grace the walls of their showroom and offices.
“We find art both calming and inspirational,” says Martin, who looks after the technical development, production and interior trim part of the business, with design, marketing and the administrative side of Hofele Design being Michael’s remit. Carlo may be 93 years old this year but he is still hale and healthy, and enthusiastic enough to come in for three hours each day to help with the book keeping.
Hofele Ultimate S
Mercedes themselves recognise that not everyone needs a 600hp V12-powered uber-limousine, least of all the urban-based, chauffeur-driven high net worth individuals who sign the cheques for this type of car.
Refusal to pay the high local taxes out of principle even though they could afford the V8 or V12 models without blinking, means that the entry-level six-cylinder Mercedes-Maybach is the best-selling model with the ultra-wealthy in China.
Elsewhere however, not everyone necessarily wants or needs a car as large as the Mercedes-Maybach, or for that matter a chauffeur. So between these clearly defined lines, Hofele Design has identified a niche for an S-Class with a more distinguished appearance and a level of interior appointments to match the sumptuous luxury of a Mercedes-Maybach.
On that score the Hofele Ultimate S based on the W/V222 S-Class simply oozes class and individuality, its two-tone paint finish, distinctive Maybach style front grille, and unique multi-spoke wheels catching your eye in a good way.
This is a car that eschews the overtly sporty flavour of an AMG or Brabus model on the one hand, while avoiding the ‘plutocrat’ image of a chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Maybach on the other. Those old enough to remember cars like the Vanden Plas Princess 4.0 litre R and Daimler 250 of the 1960s will immediately clock the raison d’etre and position in the pecking order of the Hofele S-Class Ultimate.
Enjoying a three generation association with Mercedes-Benz through their family business, Hofele Design GmbH is recognised as a vehicle manufacturer by the KBA (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt or German Transport Authority), and is thus allowed to apply their own VIN numbers to the vehicles they build. Their manufacturer status is also recognised by SAE International, which makes it easier for their dealers to market their cars in territories such as China, Russia and the Middle East.
Headquartered in Donzdorf, a 40-minute drive east from Stuttgart, Hofele Design sits in the ‘automotive valley’ of Baden-Württemberg, the German equivalent to the hinterlands of Silverstone Circuit and Modena in the UK and Italy respectively.
Hofele’s alloy wheel supplier is just down the road on the same industrial estate, while other nearby specialist sub-contractors who make mechanical components and interior trim materials for them also supply the likes of Mercedes and Porsche.
The fact that Hofele brothers, Martin and Michael, are into fine art and have an eye for colour, tone and texture goes a long way towards explaining the subtle and tasteful exterior and upgrades I saw on their cars during my visit. The attention to detail that follows from this is also manifest in every service and part they offer their clients, from the small upgrade styling kits for the current C-Class and previous generation G-Class to the ultra-luxurious S-Class-based Ultimate S.
In line with the subtle taste of their clients Hofele recognises that their upgraded cars need to embody the Mercedes-Benz design ethos. Thus, the facelift conversion they offer for the previous generation G-Class facelifts turns it into a doppelgänger for the latest model. This 2018-on styling conversion looks especially good on the SWB two-door version that was discontinued in 2013.
Similarly the C-Class styling kit uses the latest AMG Panamericana style front grille for maximum visual impact, along with new front and rear bumper inserts with four-pipe look exhaust trim.
However, the car we had come to see was the Hofele Ultimate S, the S-Class-based ultra-luxury concept that first caught our eye at the Shanghai Auto Show last year. A bespoke car that deftly fills the niche between the factory S-Class and Mercedes-Maybach models, the Hofele Ultimate S looks even better in the metal.
With its styling cues a blend of S-Class and Mercedes-Maybach design elements, the Hofele Ultimate S uses its bespoke front treatment, distinctive 8.5J or 9.5J x 20-inch ‘Mythos’ multi-spoke alloy wheels, and two-tone paintwork to greatly enhance its visual presence and gravitas.
The fine two-tone leather and other unique Hofele elements in the plush cabin add to the individuality of a car for someone who considers owning a one-of-a-kind car a priority. And of course even busy people find personal enjoyment, perhaps even fulfilment in the kind of conception process that is the automotive equivalent of commissioning a bespoke tailored Savile Row suit.
As required of all the aftermarket companies that Daimler AG supplies cars to under its official partner agreements, all the Mercedes badges and stars are removed, with Hofele badges and the distinctive ‘H’ logo appearing in their place. That means everywhere from the embossing on the headrests above the diamond cross-stitched interior leatherwork to the chromed emblem that proudly replaces the three-pointed star above the bonnet.
As gorgeous as this car was in the showroom it was only when we saw it in its natural habitat in front of a local chateau that the true elegance of the Ultimate S conversion truly hit home.
We have always opined that the W222 S-Class is the best-balanced design in the current Mercedes range, and it is the only model with no awkward angles at all.
The Hofele Ultimate S only amplifies the inherent strengths of this masterful design in the best possible way, delivering the quiet, laid back sophistication that attracted us to it in Shanghai, and set the stage for our visit to Hofele Design.