Friday, 3 July 2015

Mercedes-Benz C111-II

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

The C111 series saw Mercedes-Benz experimenting with a number of cutting-edge drivetrains, along with various other new technologies that they hoped to test to production-readiness. The spiritual successor to the iconic 300SL Gullwing arrived in completed concept car form in 1969; the original C111 featured those legendary doors as part of a fibreglass body shell, with a three-rotor Wankel rotary engine mounted in the middle, as well as such trinkets as air-conditioning and multi-link rear suspension. The car that followed in 1970 - the C111-II, like you see here - upped the commotion levels with a four-rotor motor, which offered 370bhp and could reportedly propel the thing to 180mph. This, in 1970, was otherworldly.

It all came at the wrong time, of course. With the oil crisis looming and manufacturers' PR machines focusing more on economy than outright thrust, M-B switched to experimenting with turbo-diesel power for the C111-IID (shaped like this one, but with an oil-burner in the middle), while the subsequent C111-III went all-out on the aerodynamics. A road-going C112 was mooted in 1991, again featuring the gullwing doors and wedgy aero, but this time with a more conventional 6.0-litre petrol V12 - although despite taking 700 orders, the car never made production.
The C111-II, then, is a significant part of Mercedes-Benz's history, representing a vital link in the evolutionary chain of the brand's sports car bloodline. It's a searing citrus stepping stone between the 300SL and the SLS (er, via a few other steps), and it looks every bit as magnificently jarring as it did forty-five years ago.
Oh, and just to add a little extra complexity... this particular C111-II, the only remaining example that actually runs and drives, has a 3.5-litre petrol V8. Because why should these things be kept simple or logical?

Spotted at the 2015 Festival of Speed - more pics here.

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