It has been 50 years since Mercedes-Benz unveiled the C111-II experimental vehicle at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show. Developed as a "super sportscar" and designed by Merc's Italian stylist Bruno Sacco it had gullwing doors like the iconic 300 SL Gullwing Coupe and was bold, fast and way ahead of its time. Though it was only a research vehicle, it quickly became the dream car of the Seventies.
Mercedes first left car fans wide-eyed back in 1969 at the Frankfurt show with the original, three-rotor C111. It was used as a test bed for many features such as a multi-link rear suspension, a new interior design and air conditioning. Several different engines were tried in its mid-ship layout including two- to four-rotor Wankels, turbodiesels, and even a mass-produced V8.
It is a real pity that the C111-II sequel, which featured pop-up headlights, never made it to production. It was such a hit that many well-heeled customers even sent blank checks to Mercedes' headquarters in Stuttgart in a bid to get the carmaker to put it into production!
But then why didn't Mercedes build it? There were several factors; the carmaker always had safety as a core brand value and the C111’s extreme nature did not fit into that. Also, the rotary engine required meticulous upkeep and it had very poor fuel consumption and considering that it came just in time for the global fuel crisis of the early Seventies, it was never going to get off the ground. Last but not least, following the 1955 Le Mans disaster where 84 spectators were killed and 180 injured after a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR crashed into an Austin-Healey and flew into the grandstands, Daimler was weary of building too many sporty cars.
Mercedes-Benz dropped rotary engine due to poor fuel consumption and the C111-II was retrofitted with a 3.5-litre V8 mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission.
When it comes to concept cars which really ought to have made it to production, then without a doubt the Mercedes-Benz C111-II would sit very high in that list...