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Mercedes-Benz C112: a Honda NSX-like concept

After the 1955 Le Mans disaster, when Pierre Levegh's 300 SLR crashed into the crowd, killing 83 spectators, Mercedes-Benz retired from motor racing.

Aside from the odd long-distance rally and occasional backdoor support for AMG, Mercedes was absent for virtually the next 30 years.

The company's return to racing began in the early and mid-1980s.

First, there was the launch of a Cosworth-engined 190 E Group A homologation special at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1983. Originally designed for rallying, the 190 E Cosworth was actually more successful in the German Touring Car Championship where it raced from 1988 to 1993.

After implementing the 190 E Group A programme, Mercedes simultaneously entered into a Group C collaboration with Swiss racing car manufacturer, Sauber.

Beginning in 1985, the initially low-key partnership yielded relatively little in its first two seasons.

However, the newly delivered 1988 Silver Arrows were a big improvement and finished second to Jaguar in the World Sportscar Championship.

Mercedes went on to win back-to-back driver's and constructor's titles in 1989 and 1990.

Against this backdrop of sports car success, Mercedes' new advanced design department, DAS, has developed a flagship supercar concept inspired by the company's dashing Group C machines.

Mercedes hadn't produced such a car since the C111 concepts built between 1969 and 1970.

At the time, customers lined up trying to buy one of the beautiful C111 Gullwingeds. Frustratingly though, Mercedes stuck to their guns and used the model for R&D purposes only.

The last time Mercedes publicly offered a top sports car was between 1954 and 1963 when the 300 SL Gullwing and Roadster were produced.

The ultra high-tech Mercedes-Benz C112 was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1991.

Riddled with sophisticated electronics long before anything available at the time, the C112 was created to test an array of future technologies.


In the 90s, Mercedes could have challenged Ferrari with this evocation of the 300 SL. At the 1991 Frankfurt Motor Show, Mercedes presented a sports car with an unusual look and proportions for the time, and above all, with a very powerful engine. A car reminiscent of the Honda NSX.


Design

The designers Harald Leschke and Joseph Gallitzendörfer choose efficient lines, inspired by the competition (like the Mercedes C11 endurance for example). The body is aluminum with Kevlar bumpers. Finally, after spending quite a bit of time in the wind tunnel, the C112 will offer a Cd of only 0.30 and will benefit from active aerodynamic elements. The front spoiler, integrated into the bumper, can be lowered depending on the speed. The rear wing remains folded at high speed to reduce drag and raises (thanks to hydraulic cylinders) to generate downforce in curves or serve as an airbrake when needed (by tilting up to 45 degrees). Everything is managed by computer. Wide diffusers are integrated into the rear bumper. Only three air intakes are visible: one at the front (radiator and front brake cooling) and two on the sides (engine air supply, oil cooler and rear brake cooling).


Sporty but comfortable

Comfort is not to be outdone since the interior is entirely upholstered in leather, there is power steering, heated seats, air conditioning, electric windows... and a Blaupunkt Mexico radio cassette player. We are far from the destitution of some other supercars.


The return of the ''Butterfly'' doors

In 1991, Mercedes wanted to present a hyper-technological car to the public. Its lines were inspired by what was best at the time and above all, you could see the characteristics of the Group C prototype having evolved in the 80s at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. You could see there, more precisely, Sauber-Mercedes C9 or Mercedes C11, these two models having respectively shone at Le Mans in 1989 and at the world championship of sports cars in 1990. To honor the rich Mercedes past and the 300 SL, the C112 also had butterfly doors called "Gullwing".


A state-of-the-art chassis

The new car's riveted and bonded aluminum monocoque had a wheelbase of 2700mm. He weighed only 59 kg.

Lightweight aluminum alloy subframes were added to strengthen the doors and roof. A removable steel subframe that carried the rear suspension was bolted to the monocoque.

The multi-link suspension followed a double wishbone pattern. An additional hydraulic cylinder formed a fifth link at the rear.

Electronically controlled spring/damper units provided an early form of active suspension and meant that body roll was virtually non-existent.

Other advanced features include rear wheel steering, traction control, tire pressure monitoring and distance sensing radar.

Anti-lock brakes were also installed. The steel ventilated discs had a diameter of 332 mm at the front and 304 mm at the rear. They were even larger than those used by heavy S-class sedans.


A V12 engine to thrill the competition

Development of the W140 Series S-Class began in 1981. Everything was going well until BMW launched its new E32 7 Series in 1986 and fitted it with a V12 in 1987. Obviously, Mercedes had to replicate and show these impediments to dominate in circles who were the bosses. The W140 will therefore have a V12, the first of the brand mounted in a road model, the M120 (an engine that will be found later in the Pagani Zonda).


The structure was composed of an aluminum monocoque making it rather light (less than 1,600 kg) and in the rear central position, the 12-liter V6 produced 408 horsepower, a delirious power for the time. The C112 hurtled from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds before climbing to 309 km/h!

In the assistance department, it was already equipped with ABS, ASR (traction control system) and active chassis control. A must at the time!


The story repeats itself

As with the C111 II in 1970, Mercedes receives checks from enthusiastic buyers… no less than 700! And not just deposits, some checks went up to 1.5 million German marks (about two million Canadian dollars today). In front of the microphones, the new boss of the Daimler-Benz automotive division, Jürgen Hubbert, says that various options are being evaluated for small series production. The Swiss workshops of Peter Sauber, which supplies the C11 Group C to Mercedes, could be used. But the C112 was developed under the direction of Hubbert's predecessor, Werner Niefer. Hubbert has other ambitions for the brand and, despite



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