And it debuted back in 1969.
Mercedes-Benz has made some groundbreaking cars – both production and concept – over the course of its very long history. But few were as revolutionary in their time as the C111, which (hard as it may seem to believe) debuted almost exactly 50 years ago at the 1969 Frankfurt Motor Show.
Conceived as an experimental prototype without any production intent, the C111 program was way ahead of its time. It served as a test bed for the development of advanced powertrain, suspension, aerodynamic, and other technologies under streamlined fiberglass bodywork that help it set records.
Originally called the C101 before Peugeot objected, the C111 was originally fitted with a Wankel-style rotary engine, initially with three rotors and then with four, producing as much as 350 horsepower – about the same as the twelve-cylinder Lamborghini Miura of the same era. Mercedes couldn't get the Wankel to work as well as Mazda did and abandoned rotary development, fitting subsequent prototypes with (still highly experimental) internal-combustion engines instead.
The C111-III, for example, was equipped with a five-cylinder diesel engine producing all of 228 hp, but with a slippery drag coefficient of just 0.191, it managed a top speed of 200 miles per hour at the Nardo test track in Italy.
That was already fast enough to set multiple records, but Mercedes wasn't done yet. A later version employed a 4.8-liter twin-turbo V8 good for 500 hp that propelled the prototype to more than 250 mph – decades before the Bugatti Veyron, and with roughly half the power.
Mercedes was reportedly inundated with orders, but never put it into serial production. In the end only 16 prototypes were made, and it would take a long time for its records to be surpassed. Half a century later, it still looks cutting edge, which in and of itself may be the most impressive part about it.
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