The History of Carat by Duchatelet

The History of Carat by Duchatelet

This story starts in the small town of Liége, Belgium. It was here that the young Frederic Duchatelet started a company in 1968, which he named Carrosserie Duchatelet. It still exists today under the name Carat Duchatelet. As with many of the great Mercedes-Benz tuners (Uwe Gemballa, Bodo Buschmann), Frederic’s career skyrocketed in the very early 80s with the obvious car of choice—a Porsche 911. The modified 911 was incredibly well received by the public, and it was immediately clear that Carrosserie Duchatelet, as it was called then, wasn’t your average vehicle modification company.

In the 1980s, the Mercedes-Benz W126 was considered the best car on the road. As excellent as it was, it was very German. It didn’t give you the feeling of being royalty when you entered the car. Although technologically superior, it wasn’t overly luxurious like its British counterparts made by Rolls-Royce or Bentley. Frederic was certain he could correct this error and, as a result, decided to focus all his attention on the “new” S class.

Duchatelet’s first goal was to integrate the style and atmosphere of the Brits with the excellent mechanics of the Germans. The exterior of the car was modified slightly, not too much, and definitely not flashy. Remember, this was the 1980s, so a slightly modified exterior still meant the car was fitted with fatter bumpers and fog lights on the front. Obviously, this wouldn’t do without a set of side skirts, a modest wing, and of course the boomerang antenna. An electric sunroof with a special air dam to reduce the wind noise to a minimum was installed for the rear passengers.

From the very beginning, it was clear they favored one particular type of rim, the Centra type 31 rims, which were very fitting for this car. What made these exterior changes truly unique was the Japanese technique of painting. No fewer than 48 layers of paint were applied, 18 for color and 30 for the clear varnish. The exact way of application was a highly kept secret.

All this exterior work was not nearly as impressive as the interior work. 15 of the highest quality hides were used to cover every surface area of the interior, including the roof liner, steering wheel, seats, all pillars, dashboard, and the newly installed full-length center console loaded with cool gadgets. Specially designed glasses that went well with the minibar that it also housed. As well as a television, a telephone, and, of course, the remote control. The seats were completely redesigned for better lumbar support. The woodwork was upgraded to the finest walnut wood veneer. Lambswool carpets covered the floor of the car. The final touch was a special plaque on the glove compartment with the owner’s name.

However, it was something else that made these cars truly unique. It was the “microprocessor”, a small device that remotely controlled the engine startup and controlled the AC; it even checked if all the windows were up before turning it on. It controlled a range of other things like lighting, locking doors, handbrake position, checking the oil level, and the state of the battery. It was an impressive little device. Keep in mind that this is 1981. A couple years later, options like swapping the hood of an SEC onto a SE or SEL or vice versa would also be possible, as would gullwing doors on the SEC model.

1981 was also the year that Carrosserie Duchatelet would show their “Carat” model to the world at the Geneva Motorshow. This car wasn’t yet called Carat Diamond, as it would later be called. Within the following years, the company would offer several packages that you could order to upgrade your W or C126. Carat Diamond was at the top, followed by Carat Cullinan, Carat Clarity, Carat D. Arrow, and Carat Executive at the bottom. A Carat Cullinan, for example, would set you back around DM 70.000, but if you wanted the Carat Cullinan Luxury, it would be an extra DM 30.000, on top of the purchase price of the car. If you decided to start checking boxes on the option list, the price could easily surpass the DM 200.000,- mark. A DM 9000′- in-dash color television and a DM 10,500,- VCR system under your rear seat. A cartier clock in the center console was a bargain compared to those prices, just DM 1300,-.

Carat Duchatelet maintained its legendary status, mostly for their advancements in armoring personal vehicles (and still keeping them extremely comfortable). Their first cooperation with Mercedes-Benz came during the development of the W140 armored version. Carat Duchatelet was responsible for the interior during this development. Mercedes-Benz had always been impressed with the work that Carat Duchatelet and his predecessor had done. They were therefore allowed to keep calling it a Mercedes-Benz. Others, like Gemballa or SGS, for example, didn’t have that luxury. But that was what it was all about for Frederic Duchatelet: luxury.

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