The Mercedes-Benz C111 is an icon of 1970s innovation. Its dress, which we owe to Bruno Sacco in 1969, classifies it among automotive UFOs, like the BMW E25 Turbo (1972), which marked our collective imagination. Produced in only 16 units, the C111 is however more than a concept car. Real rolling laboratory, it will have enabled MB to test or improve essential technological innovations, such as the Wankel rotary engine, and, from the oil crisis, compressed and sporty diesel engines.
The development of Wankel rotary engines
The first version of the C111 was completed in 1969 and first presented at the IAA Frankfurt in 1969. Star of the show, the car used a fiberglass body and a centrally mounted three-rotor Wankel engine (code M950F). This rotary engine was inflated in 1970, from 3 to 4 rotors, and developing 350 horsepower at 7,000 rpm on this second version of the car (C111-II). The car could reach 300 km / h at top speed and go from 0 to 100 km / h in 4.8 seconds.
The C111-II is probably the most desirable, with a full restyling and optimized aerodynamics. Wind tunnel measurements showed an 8% reduction in air resistance compared to the previous version of the car. The interior cabin is luxurious and allows, ultimate in comfort on this type of machine, to accommodate a large and two small suitcases.
Oil crisis and pollution standards
Seeing the public’s enthusiasm for the C111-II, Mercedes planned to put it into (small) production. However, the adoption of new anti-pollution standards in the United States and the oil shock of 1973 brought the Stuttgart manufacturer back to economic reality. “The Wankel engine was not yet mature enough to be delivered to customers according to company standards,” said Dr. Hans Liebold in 2000, the man who had been responsible for the development of the C 111. The engine rotary C111 consumed and polluted 50% more than its non-rotary counterpart.
Abandoning the idea of putting the C111 into production, Mercedes decided to use the C111 to conduct astonishing experiments on its diesel mechanics, incorporating engines delivering some 188 hp and then 228 hp. These engines, unheard of on sports cars, will allow the car to beat several speed and endurance records in diesel. Thus, the C111-III reached 322 km / h at the ring of Nardò in 1978. In 1979, a 500 hp V8 petrol version was developed, setting another record, with an average lap speed of 403.78 km / h, on May 5, 1979.
Can you buy a Mercedes C111?
Total production of the C111 was kept confidential, with 16 cars (13 first and second generations Wankel-engine cars, C111-II, 2 diesel-powered cars, C111-III, and the 1979 V8 petrol version). Finding the car for purchase is therefore extremely difficult, as most of the copies belong to museums. Note that the Mercedes C111-III which broke the speed record on the Nardò ring in 1979 belongs to the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart. The Mercedes Museum has made it one of its flagship models. A few replicas, however, have been produced, with mixed results.
The fact remains that the C111 inspired its time. It is thus possible to find different representations of it, such as the famous Hot Wheels replicas. Much sought after by model enthusiasts, the Hot Wheels 6978 Mercedes C111 may comfort those who regret that the car was never produced in series. His cultural influence is also striking in the arts, as evidenced by his lithographic representation of Andy Warhol (“Mercedes C111 Purple and Orange”). Warhol lithographs of the C111 are now available on the art market.