Mercedes C-111


Concept cars are myths of the near future.

When future-obsessed novelist JG Ballard coined that phrase he may have been thinking of the Mercedes C-111.

Not that we are all driving around in bright orange, gull winged machines — but we can trace the DNA of many design, material and technological innovations from which we benefit today to that super sleek archetype of the 1970s test track.

Unmatched high speed fuel efficiency
Unmatched high speed fuel efficiency

Ironically, the C111 may have sought to pioneer the use of Rotary engines in this high-performance platform. But when the team replaced the Wankel motors with diesels, they made radical improvements in power output and efficiency. Today’s turbocharged diesel engine, therefore, owes much to the Daimler Benz C111 team of the mid 70s.

By 1978 the C111 diesel had broken nine absolute world records (independent of engine type) and 16 diesel records, surpassing the 200mph mark – as well as achieving an outstanding 18mpg at an average speed of 186mph.


But they didn’t only pioneer the use of turbo diesels. The C-111 performed an admirable role as a test bed throughout the 1970s – tweaking suspension and tyre technologies – as well as incorporating the use of fibreglass in the body. This plastic fantastic machine looks to this day like something dreamt up in the mind of a little boy obsessed with the freedom and possibility of speed and motion.

The long sweeping lines and low, wide stance have clearly influenced many manufacturers and models that followed both in aesthetics and in aerodynamic efficiency. (Think of that other famous time traveler the Delorean DMC-12)

A unique period stance
A unique period stance

Despite a queue of wealthy admirers with open cheque books none of the C111 models ever went into production. This might have helped to preserve its mythic status. However the chances are that when you get in your vehicle today you are riding in or on a piece of design, engineering or technology pioneered in this ground-breaking piece of forward thinking from Mercedes.

Words: Neil Siner