A little ray of sunshine for could-have-been Benz

It is 50 years since Mercedes first showed the striking C111 at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

The bright orange wedge-shaped, fibreglass bodied, gullwing doored super car attracted plenty of attention in September, 1969.

It reminded everyone of the gull-winged 300SL of 1955.

The publicity folks said it was built to test fibreglass bodies and also for proving the effectiveness of the Wankel rotary engine.

Motoring writers went overboard with the usual superlatives.

Here’s an example: “the C111 epitomises the special inventiveness and passion of the Mercedes-Benz designers and engineers. Their mission: to come up with the superlative sports car.”

Okay, I get it: it looked great and went really, really fast.

The trouble was that the car didn’t fit with the company’s strong emphasis on safety.

Then there was the rotary engine, which consumed fuel at an heroic rate.

Mercedes engineers also found the Wankel engine did not meet emission, reliability and durability expectations.

The engineers at Stuttgart constructed 16 C111s over the next couple of years using different engines, including V8s, and body shapes.

Despite many eager buyers hounding Mercedes to build a road going version of the car, in 1971 the company decided they would not authorise it for production.

The cars still exist and Mercedes brings them out into the sunshine every so often, as it is doing this year, for us all to admire, say nice things about Mercedes and for again lament that it never went into production.

Mind you, I reckon the Holden Hurricane, which appeared ahead of the C-111 in May, 1969, looked much better, was more technologically advanced and had a reliable V8 engine.

It also was painted orange.

David Burrell is the editor of

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