1969, Frankfurt Auto Show was underway. Mercedes Benz was offered various cheques. One of them had the figure of 500,000 German Marks inked on it. There were others who had forwarded blank cheques to Mercedes-Benz to fill in whatever amount they deemed fit. This frenzy was caused by an orange – “Weissherbst” – coloured experimental car called the C111. This car was designed as a low cost sports car which would cater to the tastes of the young people. It was a platform used to test Mercedes’ foray into the Wankel engine. It had a light weight body made from glass-fibre reinforced plastic bolted to a steel frame. The car was a hit.
Mercedes decided to display the follow-on car, named ingeniously as, well C111- II. This car was a development over the C111 and had gull-wing doors, a redesigned mudguard, boot lid and roof to improve the driver’s field of vision. Output from the wind tunnel showed that the car had improved its aerodynamics by 8%. It was all of 1,120 mm high and had a wheel base of 2,620 mm. This car was powered by a quadruple-rotor variant of the M 950 F rotary piston engine. This engine generated 350 BHP of power nd could push the car to a top speed of 300 Km/h. And that is in 1970, when it was displayed at the Geneva Motor Show.
The C111-II was a genuine GT car capable of holding a large and two smaller suitcases designed by Mercedes. It also had facility to strap another suitcase over the boot or a pair of skis overhead. The C111-II displayed at Geneva was not a show car, it was a working prototype and Mercedes demonstrated its capabilities to the press at Circuit de Monthoux near Geneva. Mercedes’ attention to detail can be gauged by the fact that, they also put the C 111-II through a practically-orientated “butter test”. The test comprised a pack of butter being placed in the car’s boot. Thereafter, the vehicle was driven quickly in order to establish whether the pack of butter placed in the boot melts as a result of the combustion engine’s dissipated heat despite the boot’s insulation.
The C111-II also holds the distinction of the first car to be completely designed using computers. Mercedes engineers used a software developed specifically for this project called the ESEM method or elastostatic element method, which was a precursor to Finite Element Method (FEM). The use of digital technology helped reduce the development time of the car by nearly four months.
Later, when Mercedes decided against using Wankel engines, future versions of the car were installed with a 3.5 litre V-8 engine. The C111-II was followed by C111-IID, C111-III and C111-IV. The C111-II celebrates its golden jubilee this year.