At the 2012 Monaco Yacht Show, naval architect Martin Francis dragged me aside and revealed that he was working on a unique boat project with some really interesting people. “You have to see it,” he whispered excitedly. Four years later, I’m driving a very expensive and very powerful Mercedes AMG s63 Cabriolet, finally about to do just that.
I was invited by the automaker to the south of France for a trio of test drives – featuring the AMG supercar, an Airbus helicopter with a Mercedes-Benz style interior and finally the boat that had animated Francis so much. For most of the approximately 100 journalists in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, the helicopter and the car are the main attractions. But the boat is all I see.
Since that secret conversation in 2012, I have followed its construction and am the only writer with behind-the-scenes access to the Arrow460-Granturismo – a collaboration between new shipyard Silver Arrows Marine and Mercedes-Benz Style, with input by Francis, designer Tommaso Spadolini and Van Oossanen Naval Architects.
In the automotive world, it is common for a project to be in development for about five years before the prototype is unveiled. In the boating world, no builder would tie up design capital that long, which makes this boat all the more intriguing.
The idea was conceived in 2009 by Gorden Wagener, vice president of design at Daimler, Mercedes’ parent company. Mercedes has many design centers, but it was the Advanced Design Center for Mercedes-Benz Style on Lake Como in Italy that developed Wagener’s idea: what if Mercedes-Benz Style designed a boat?
The company had ventured onto the water only once before – in 1888, when it designed and built a speedboat for Otto von Bismarck, fitted with Gottlieb Daimler’s first single-cylinder internal combustion engine. It burned benzene for fuel and was called Mercedes, after the daughter of one of its engineering investors.
Some 121 years later, Lake Como style gurus began drawing, borrowing liberally from Mercedes’ famous Silver Arrows racing cars of the 1930s and the iconic 1954 300 SL gullwing. Soon the band expanded to include former automotive journalist and avid yachtsman Paolo Bonaveri, as well as entrepreneurs Jacopo Spadolini and Ron Gibbs, who investigated the niche of an ultra-exclusive and innovative Med-style cruiser.
The Arrow 460-Granturismo spent four years in development
They formed British company Silver Arrows Marine to build her and brought in Tommaso Spadolini and Francis to lead the hull and engineering concepts. A full-size prototype of the open hull was built and tested in Turkey.
Mercedes began suggesting innovative features, from power windows to a disappearing swim platform and a disappearing bed and table. A retractable sedan roof and other features were added. Van Oossanen refined the ride and balance, emphasizing comfort over highway speeds.
The dayboat concept became multifunctional; they began to think of it as a great touring car, a granturismo. The name stuck. On the technical side, Swiss composite expert Carboman pushed every element, from the skin laminates to the 3D engineering of the systems. With an overall length of just 14.2m, the R&D per centimeter is staggering.
The Arrow 460-Granturismo prototype made its public debut at the 2016 Monaco Yacht Show
My first impression when arriving at the dock in the small French port is that the boat looks exactly as it is rendered, which rarely happens. “Shaping a boat is a dream come true for automotive designers,” says Wagener. “We applied the refined design genes of our sports cars. The results are automotive styling, an open cabin, high-tech materials and, in place of a swim platform, a sundeck.
The “terrace” is out when we arrive – it is really too big to call a bathing platform. At the touch of a button, it retracts into the hull between the deck and the propellers.
Despite carrying more people than expected, as we rounded the breakwater the captain pushed the throttles forward and in the blink of an eye we were heading out to sea without a pounding.
The Arrow 460-Granturismo has been designed for speeds of up to 38 knots
“Faster”, we urge. He runs and we spin donuts around the 92-meter Feadship superyacht royal romance dropping its anchor nearby. I choose a place behind the captain to try to stay dry but it turns out that I could be sitting anywhere: there is very little spray.
The boat is so new, splashed only three days before, that its interior is not completely fitted out, which shortens our sea trial given the number of people on board. I don’t have the chance to take the helm and I would like everyone to evaporate. At our cruising speed of 28 knots, I could have been in Monaco in no time.
Mercedes doesn’t make engines that could be marinized to match the power and torque settings and profile of the Arrow460, so a pair of 480hp six-cylinder Yanmars were fitted. For the production series of the boat which will soon start being laid up at Baltic Yachts in Finland, new generation Yanmars that comply with US emissions regulations will be fitted. They have more power and weigh 100kg less and should deliver a beefier top speed of 38 knots.
The layout of the boat is unlike any other. Instead of trying to create a seating area with a bimini top for shade when anchored, the social cockpit is below in a space with full headroom. For outdoor enjoyment, a large sunroof window lifts on struts – a modified sunroof.
A limited series of 10 Arrow 460-GTs will be built at Baltic Yachts in Finland
Like a car interior, everything is integrated, and the storage, the bathroom and the mini kitchen are concealed. Michele Jauch-Paganetti, head of the Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Studio in Como, says: “We wanted [the passengers] be protected from the weather but not feel enclosed. The silver body is minimal yet confident. On the other hand, the interior is warm with voluptuous shapes.
Steffen Köhl, Director of Advanced Exterior Design for Mercedes-Benz, adds: “Modern luxury is a rare thing, it is clarity, calm and purity. The product does not interrupt you. Intellectually, it touches your senses. Luxury makes you say, “I want to touch it, I want to fit in, I want to own it.”
Six years of incubation has delivered a boat very different from anything currently on the market. Silver Arrows Marine clearly thinks it has found a niche and is producing a limited run of 10 Arrow460s at Baltic, each with a seven figure price tag. But never mind, especially now you can dock in your AMG s63 Cabriolet, cruise in your Arrow460-GT and go to dinner in the Mercedes-Benz Style helicopter.
First published in the March 2017 issue of international boat