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Welcome arrow Articles arrow Property arrow Property arrow The Maybach Centre, Repulse Bay
The Maybach Centre, Repulse Bay PDF Print E-mail

 

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When DaimlerChrysler looked to set up a regional hub for its relaunched Maybach brand, the US-German automotive giant set distinct parameters. The centre should not be simply another car showroom in Hong Kong's "motor alley", Gloucester Road; it should

 

also have a link - however tenuous - with the brand's distinguished past.

 

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Wilhelm Maybach was Gottlieb Daimler's partner in early motor cars, but left the company in 1907 to develop airship engines for Count Zeppelin. During the First World War, Maybach built engines or the Zeppelins as well as for Gotha bombers, but it was his son Karl Wilhelm Maybach that created the famous luxury motor cars.

 

After the war, the factory was forbidden to build aero engines and instead made engines for cars and trucks. In 1921 Karl launched the first Maybach passenger car. Exhibited at the Berlin motor show, the Maybach featured a 5.7-litre, six-cylinder engine with light alloy pistons and dual ignition. Production of cars lasted for 20 years, but ceased in 1941, the company turning to making engines for military vehicles, trucks and buses. Karl Wilhelm is also credited with the 410 hp diesel motor that powered the Fliegende Hamburg train.

 

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Last year, 2002, in New York's Manhattan, DaimlerChrysler resurrected the name and unveiled the new Maybach 62, so called because of its vast 6.2 metres overall length.

 

The chosen site for the regional centre transpired to be the historic Repulse Bay garage that, until recently, had been a Toyota showroom and Shell station. Now renovated to its former 1920's glory, it houses an area for presentation and consultation, vehicle delivery and a customer reception area, as well as a bar, lounge and food preparation area.

 

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Edward Chalk, marketing services manager for Maybach, recalls, "The building was constructed as a garage in the first place. We were happy to be able to take a building of this historical importance and bring it back to life. We have achieved something quite unique. We are able to display the Maybach brand in a superb location in a very exclusive setting.

 

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 "We did what had to be done, and we spent what was necessary. The original design of the building has been followed faithfully and we are extremely pleased with the result," added Mr Chalk.

 

The ground floor level is 10,000 square feet, with a similar area in the basement, where all plant, air-conditioning, fire services, IT equipment and secure storage are located. This is also where the food preparation area is housed, with direct access via a small service lift to the pantry on the ground floor.

 

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The exterior of the building was restored by the landlord, Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, owners of the Repulse Bay and Peninsula hotels, while the interior fit-out was completed by KplusK International to the detailed instructions of DaimlerChrysler AG.

 

 

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The firm acted as project architect, and was responsible for detail design, structural engineering, planning and building regulations and all architectural-related materials, although the overall design was pre-determined by DaimlerChrysler in Stuttgart. However, the distinctive hand-finished colonnade along the front wall was the idea of KplusK, exhibiting an exceptionally high quality of workmanship, and is now a focal point of the presentation and communication area.

 

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Overseeing the restoration was Martyn Sawyer, group general manager of properties for Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels. Anticipating substantial problems with regard to the general state of the structure, Sawyer said, "Although the building was constructed in 1918, we did not encounter as many snags as we thought. Because of its location and proximity to sea air, we expected to find it in a very poor state. But they obviously had excellent construction techniques in the 1920s."

 

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Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels had toyed with the idea of turning the site into a restaurant - an obvious consideration, given its prime location - but chairman, the Hon. Michael Kadoorie, believed it was important to retain its original structure and its earlier function for the motor trade.

 

"DaimlerChrysler was the only distributor in Hong Kong that realised the exclusivity and privacy the location offered," explained Sawyer. "They had launched the Maybach at a private showing in a series of geodesic domes in the grounds of The Repulse Bay and they fully understood that their customers required a little more than just a showroom."

 

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The roof of the Maybach Centre is typical of the period, being of hand-made China clay tile, two layers of pan tiles with a roll tile joining them.

 

"We could not save all the tiles," said Sawyer, "we saved about 30 per cent but then found identical ones in China - old tiles from old buildings which we had to clean up. It worked out well, luckily."

 

The tiles are laid on timber trusses which, says Sawyer, were in "remarkably good condition". Only around 25 per cent of the trusses had to be replaced, but it was the windows that posed the biggest hurdle. Only one of the original windows had survived and this had to be faithfully copied to maintain the period.

 

"The windows are identical to the original," Sawyer pointed out, "but it took a while for us to get them exact. We also reproduced the wrought-iron fencing along Beach Road. It was originally made in England and most of it was in very good condition, but the parts that had deteriorated, we had copied in China. The first copies were not particularly good and were rejected until we got to a point where it was exactly as the original.

 

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"We also installed a new drainage channel around the building, so there would be no unsightly gutters or pipes. We were also responsible for the full fire services system. Our major problem was the ground floor slab, where the reinforcing had rusted and the concrete had deteriorated from years of car washing. We re-laid the slab entirely."

 

The Maybach Centre has come full circle, from being a garage in 1920, to becoming the regional base for a resurrected famous brand name and one of today's most sought-after luxury motor cars. It is gratifying to know that companies such as DaimlerChrysler and Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels are committed to preserving just a small part of Hong Kong's heritage.

 

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© 2018 Jeff Heselwood. All rights reserved.
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