Richard Dredge
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Richard Dredge

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Richard Dredge
Author

Richard Dredge

Mercedes by Chameleon

If your Mercedes was too discreet in the eighties, Chameleon was happy to spice things up a bit. Or rather a lot

Subtlety wasn’t in during the 1980s; the less discreet your car, the cooler you were. And nowhere was this more obvious than with Chameleon, which stretched, chopped and generally did its best to remove all semblance of taste from the products of the most premium luxury brands. Chameleon's focus was generally on the Range Rover Classic as well as the Mercedes 190 E, S-Class and SEC.

As the baby in Merc's range the 190 E wasn't the obvious candidate for the full-on luxury treatment, but that didn't stop Chameleon from offering a styling package that consisted of much beefier front and rear bumpers made of kevlar, 16-inch wheels and kevlar side skirts too.

Known as the Cyclone, this 190 E-based compact saloon could also be ordered with a supercharger and overhauled suspension, while other options included a complete retrim in leather or velour, curtains, Wilton carpet, a TV and video recorder in a "centre consul", plus picnic tables and personalised luggage.

For those who had deeper pockets Chameleon also offered the 1000 SEL, based on the W126 S-Class saloon. Starting with a range-topping 500 SEL, the 1000 SEL got the same standard package as the 190 E, which meant bigger wheels and a body kit consisting of a prominent boot-mounted spoiler along with a boomerang-style TV aerial, while uprated suspension and a supercharger were optional.

Obviously, rocking up outside Harrods in a regular-wheelbase 1000 SEL would have been pretty embarrassing and Chameleon recognised this, which is why it offered a 36-inch stretch with seating for either six or seven people. Tick this box on the options list and an electric division was fitted, along with an intercom for the rear-seat passengers to bark instructions at the driver.

Quite a few companies were offering heavily upgraded Mercedes S-Classes in the 1980s, but where Chameleon stood out was for its ludicrously over-the-top conversions on the Mercedes SEC. As Mercedes' flagship model this was a car that in standard form provided effortless cruising with luxury, performance and relatively understated looks. By the time Chameleon had worked its magic those discreet lines had completely disappeared.

The most obvious thing about the 500 SEC-based Chameleon Typhoon was its extended nose, which featured a hideously disfigured kevlar bumper along with heavily blistered wings front and rear. These covered 9x15" wheels up front and 12x15" wheels at the rear, the latter wrapped in 345 35 VR15 tyres, which was the same width as the contemporary Lamborghini Countach. Subtle, the Typhoon (as its name suggested) was not.

When the £54,000 (plus taxes) Chameleon Typhoon made its UK debut at the 1983 London Earls Court show, the company's managing director Mike L'Havre was quoted as saying: "A man's car is his mistress and the more beautiful its bodywork, the more devoted to it he is likely to be". Different times, as the saying goes…

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