“Autonomous Rolf” has a colourful approach to life.

“Autonomous Rolf” has a colourful approach to life: he swings around lamp posts, slides down stair rails, parks on a balcony and even simulates having sex on house walls. How did you think of making such a film?

Our studio had already made lots of car films – mostly on behalf of companies. In the case of this film, we just thought: let’s make something which goes completely against our usual grain.

The Mercedes-Benz 123 series was chosen to represent Autonomous Rolf. Why this particular car?

Because the appearance of the W 123 offers a very high level of emotional potential. On the one hand it has this classic car shape with an angular silhouette. It’s precisely how a child would draw a car. But at the same time it also has some attractive curves.

People almost all over the world know its face.

Old cars still had character and were distinctive, right?

Stylistically speaking, yes. The signature, the design idiom, the autonomy of their appearance. How the car feels, drives and sounds all comes across much more powerfully in the pre-1985 models than those of the modern era. It’s no coincidence that a car like the W 123 is still widespread and popular today. You often come across this model in the Middle East. The W 123 still offers a modern aspect. In Berlin, many hipsters drive this model too – restored and polished, of course. People almost all over the world know its face.

What’s so special about the face of the W 123?

When you look them in the face, cars generally have a human-like aspect. But this model doesn’t just have a face, it has a friendly face. It beams a simultaneous mix of Amiable conventionality and understatement.

A serious but friendly car.

Why Rolf?

We thought the name sounded like a serious but friendly car …

… that is mustard yellow and drives through a futuristic world of pastel tones. A decision based purely on design?

We tried out lots of variants, and then stopped at this colour. Also because it’s not very masculine and not too serious – just like the W 123.

Regarding “not very masculine”: while Rolf goes about his practical jokes, a Japanese pop singer sings in the background in, shall we say, a very high-pitched feminine voice …

The song is a cover version and was actually originally from Tom Jones: “It’s not unusual”. The song is about love and reflecting upon one’s partner – something Rolf doesn’t have. He’s a bit of a lone ranger.

From the perspective of a machine.

Rolf drives autonomously, in both senses of the word. As you know, there are differences of opinion in this domain …

Exactly. Some say, “Autonomous driving is the devil and we’re devaluing ourselves.” Others think, “It’ll all be great; we’ll relieve ourselves of the stresses of driving.” We wanted to add a third take on it: What does “thinking” look like from the perspective of a machine? Just what would it think if it were able to? What would it do?

He uses his surroundings as a playground.

Would you get into a car like Rolf?

Rolf is pretty extreme – he doesn’t care about anything. He uses his surroundings as a playground. In his head, he’s a parkour artist who uses the surfaces of the town for the physical expression of his emotions. That could be a little scary. But I don’t actually believe something like that is possible. After all, the artificial intelligence used to control cars is still produced by humans. And such artificial intelligence would surely stick to the rules of the road …

More information.

Watch the video 40 years of the Mercedes-Benz 123 model series