It adeptness assume like a change from a avant-garde perspective, a abstruse blocked kept animate alone in the memories of diehard Mazda admirers and assiduous rumors of its resurrection, but the agnostic Wankel rotary agent was already beheld actual abnormally by an industry athirst for the future. Automakers from Accepted Motors to Nissan toyed about with it in concepts in the 1960s and ’70s. But alone one had the affectionate of abiding appulse the rotary agent itself never would: the 1969 Mercedes-Benz C111.
Developed at German accouterments NSU at the end of the 1950s, the Wankel rotary was a approved addition acknowledgment to its promised simplicity, high-revving abeyant and accomplished power-to-weight ratio. It was additionally abominably aliment accelerated in those aboriginal years, arresting oil and agitation seals in according measure. The aerial abortion ante of aboriginal Wankels bedevilled NSU’s own carmaking efforts–it was bought by Volkswagen in 1969 and alloyed with Auto Union to anatomy the avant-garde apotheosis of Audi.
Meanwhile, the assorted licensing deals it had fabricated with automakers like Accepted Motors, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz to aftermath their own rotaries accomplished R&D asleep ends. Alone Mazda would amount it out. Mostly.
[Editor’s note: It’s accessible to abolish abstraction cars as business gimmicks and blocked architecture exercises. But every already in a while, a aggregation gives abroad the abstruse to its approaching afterwards anyone noticing. So with ever-grander promises about electrification, freedom and actual advances actuality fabricated by today’s concepts, I anticipation it’d be advantageous to booty a attending through the athenaeum to see how and back the aloft engineering and architecture trends that ascertain the present were absolutely seeded. This is The Most Important Abstraction Cars You Forgot All About, and its aim is to accord you the accoutrement to accept what’s absolutely advancing next. — KC]
As beheld through the Wankel-powered C111, the adventure of Mercedes’ amour with rotary adeptness is no altered at first. The aero-wedge, gullwing-door abstraction and its absolutely beatnik powertrain hits the avant-garde eye as addition alone affiance of its time, a bald architecture exercise marrying SL ancestry and acquainted Giugiaro styling.
But attending a little closer, and the C111’s multi-stage development adventure shows how austere the automaker was about exploring the banned of the rotary as its agent of the future. Mercedes absolutely capital this to work. Ultimately, though, the abortive acquaintance it had with the C111 in the backward ’60s and aboriginal ’70s pushed the automaker to embrace what would become a gigantic allotment of its all-around angel for decades after: the apprehensive agent engine.
A afraid accessible might’ve been assertive that the C111’s big burst at the 1969 Frankfurt Auto Appearance was an adumbration that the aggregation was authoritative overtures to the cool sports car market. The absoluteness was far added focused on engineering than eye candy. Daimler engineers had blimp the car abounding of new anatomy and drivetrain account it was acquisitive to analysis out in a absolute apple setting, and beheld the C111 as added of a analysis belvedere than any accurate clue as to the approaching of its area metal.
That’s why, clashing the way the 2001 Dodge Super8 in our aftermost chapter previewed designs for cars that are still on auction today, there are no real-world uber-Benzes from the Seventies borrowing its low advanced end or buttressed rear. That, and Mercedes’ dissection abstention of high-performance sports cars in the deathwatch of the 1955 Le Mans Disaster.
Speaking of area metal, the C111 didn’t accept any. At atomic not on the outside. Its bark was created out of a fiberglass and artificial actual that apparent the aboriginal time Mercedes-Benz experimented with this blazon of anatomy construction. It was decidedly advantageous back alive with new aerodynamic concepts, although the address was afterwards alone back the artificial actual couldn’t alive up to acquiescent assurance requirements.
Underneath all that blended was addition beginning idea: a multi-link absolute rear abeyance that would go on to affirm abounding of the brand’s sedans and coupes in the years that followed.
Everything abroad about the Mercedes-Benz C111 was accessory to its best arresting allotment of kit: a mid-mounted, three-rotor M950F Wankel agent able of bearing 280 horsepower. Mercedes had been alive on the rotary catechism for bristles years at that point, accepting congenital a alternation of engines for testing purposes as it attempted to accord with the reliability, efficiency, and cooling apropos that had bedeviled aboriginal implementations of the odd design.
Picture a archetypal agent cylinder. You accept a agent affective up and down, burden the ammunition and air admixture at the top so it can be ignited, accretion the alcove as agitation occurs and blame up already afresh to belch the bankrupt gases.
The Wankel rotary applies the aforementioned attack to a rotor instead of a pumping piston, a fat, angled triangle spinning about a axial shaft in a almost annular alcove accustomed the fuel-air admixture about the ambit as it goes. This gif will do a bigger job than words answer how the compression, ignition, and bankrupt stages follow:
By 1969, Daimler engineers ample it had the blackmail of a wonky Wankel appealing able-bodied baffled and confused on to the abundant added difficult affair adverse rotaries. While powerful, the characteristics of a Wankel–with its large, capricious agitation accommodation that anatomy amid the spinning rotor and the apartment wall–made it acutely difficult to bout the thermodynamic adeptness of a acceptable agent engine.
Fuel abridgement remained poor. It angry out Wankel hadn’t absolutely absurd the cipher for bunched performance. Still, the affiance was too acute to ignore
A additional adaptation of the car–the imaginatively-named C111-II–drew alike added absorption in 1970 at the Geneva appearance with its upgraded four-rotor, 350-horsepower Wankel and able bodywork. Able of hitting 60 mph in beneath than bristles abnormal and a top acceleration of over 180 mph, the C111-II’s fuel-injected rotary drivetrain animated it to accurate supercar cachet for its time.
The affair looked accessible for production, and there are tales of animated Benz admirers commitment in bare checks to the company’s Stuttgart HQ with C111 on the announcement line.
Unfortunately, Mercedes-Benz was no afterpiece to abatement the acute appetite of the C111-II’s Wankel admitting its beginning four-rotor design, nor was it able to do annihilation about the over-the-top emissions alike afterwards architecture added than a dozen analysis models. Assertive that it could neither canyon a government detect analysis from the anew appearing EPA nor allurement in the accepted accessible aloft an agitable few, Mercedes-Benz shelved the rotary for acceptable in 1971 and anchored the C111 in storage.
It’s actuality that fate intervened–not aloof in the C111’s story, but additionally in the approaching of the automaker itself. The 1973 oil crisis hit not continued afterwards Mercedes-Benz abandoned the C111-II, bringing all-around repercussions for car companies who were aback disturbing to accent ammunition adeptness aloft all else.
To blueprint a aisle forward, Mercedes-Benz approached a actual old abstraction from a new perspective. What if agent engines–around always and almost thrifty, but panned for their noisy, blast sloth–could be aesthetic to the point area they could amuse both the achievement demands of its flush audience and the needs of boilerplate drivers gluttonous a breach at the pump?
It was absitively that the C111 would be pulled out of accumulator and repurposed to prove to the apple that agent had a approaching alfresco of low-buck abridgement cars and abundant trucks. Mercedes pulled its OM617 five-cylinder agent from the banal 240D auto and added a turbocharger and intercooler to added than bifold its achievement to a admirable 190 horsepower. It again blimp the absolute bureaucracy into the C111’s midships agent bay and absitively it was activity to breach a accomplished agglomeration of acceleration records.
The attempts were fabricated at the Nardo Ring in Italy in 1976, area the C111-IID would set 13 diesel-related annal alongside a leash of accepted acceleration records, with the boilerplate clip actuality listed at aloof beneath 160 mph. It was the aforementioned atom that Mercedes-Benz would afterwards acknowledgment to in 1978 with a added able 230 application agent agent and a host of affecting aero improvements in the anatomy of the 202-mph C111-III to add addition nine annal to its bays case.
In 1974, back the accommodation was fabricated to bandy the C111 from rotary to agent power, Mercedes awash aloof a distinct agent archetypal in the United States if you don’t calculation the Unimog: the amour W115 200D and 220D sedans, in all their 50-odd application glory. By the average of the 1980s, you could get a turbodiesel stateside in aggregate from the economical W201 bunched to the big S-Class.
There’s no catechism that the Mercedes-Benz C111 bankrupt one drivetrain aperture and opened addition during its decade of actuality as an alien sports car analysis bed. If the German automaker had been able to punch bottomward the rotary’s alarming ammunition burning and emissions issues to its own satisfaction, and had the 1973 oil crisis not affected the issue, it’s acceptable the Wankel adeptness bulb would accept lived on as added than aloof a atypical aspect of Mazda’s alcove RX band of sports cars. With a all-around automaker throwing its adeptness abaft the technology, who knows how far it could’ve gone?
If you agnosticism Mercedes-Benz’s adeptness to move the market, one alone needs to accede the appulse that the C111-IID’s turbodiesel brilliant about-face had on transforming the technology in the minds of motorists and aggregation executives. The aggregation appear its aboriginal turbodiesel archetypal in its controlling S-Class auto 1978–and three years afterwards the next-generation of its oil-burning flagship would appearance up on U.S. shores to activate the apathetic and abiding action of persuading American drivers of diesel’s abeyant (just as calm manufacturers were accomplishing the exact opposite, I should note).
In the amplitude of aloof 36 months, the C111 had assertive Mercedes-Benz’s artefact planners of the Wankel rotary’s intractability. In about the aforementioned breadth of time, the C111-IID would accomplish the aforementioned ambush in about-face by engineering abroad the agent engine’s historically addled and adventurous acceptability at Mercedes-Benz, aural Europe, and eventually, for the blow of the world.
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