C111 The Mercedes-Benz laboratory car that became a 1970s icon.

Frankfurt (1969), the Stuttgart manufacturer surpassed all expectations revealing a super sports car well ahead of its time. With gullwing doors and a Wankel rotary engine the C111 was a research vehicle that quickly became the absolute dream car of the 1970s. A dream that would never come true to consumers except as die-cast model toys.


Although prior rumors were that MB was creating the new Gullwing 300SL from the 1950s, from the very start, the C 111 was conceived purely as an experimental vehicle to test the use of glass-fibre-reinforced plastic for automotive bodyshells, the rotary piston engine designed by Felix Wankel, new modern suspension components and to improve the aerodynamic efficiency of sporty road-going cars.

The possible success of these technologies could, however, make Mercedes consider its production also based on the great interest of the public. The enthusiasts were at some point in initial talks to guarantee orders through cash deposits.

Greatly styled by the genius head of Benz design Bruno Sacco, the car was not able to reach the increasing demands for passive safety which was becoming an important factor in automotive development. The plastic bodyshell of the C 111 had an inherent disadvantage in this respect, compared with a conventional sheet steel body. Yet even when the Mercedes-Benz engineers pushed the Wankel engine to the very limits of its design, the result did not meet the high standards of Mercedes-Benz in terms of reliability and durability. The more stringent emissions legislation in the United States was to prove an added complication.

The C111 was a test car for many more years to come and even diesel engine technologies were experimented in the car. In 1979 the last version had a gasoline 500HP V8 engine and was able to reach astonishing 403 Km/H, a world record at the time for a closed circuit car. A great achievement for an icon that never reached the market but still represents so well the 1970s decade in automobile history.