How much does the new Mercedes Vision One-Eleven resemble the Mercedes C111 concept car?

Mercedes looks to the future by plundering the past

It is mainly the disruptive start-ups that set the pace and atmosphere of the past decade. Chinese brands we've barely heard of are lining up to do the same over the next five years. Which begs the question: does anyone actually care about heritage anymore? Mercedes does, they think.

'It's mainly about icons. Icons make the difference between mainstream and true luxury,” Gorden Wagener, the brand's head of design, told TG. 'Artists and designers always want to conquer a place in history, don't they? Whether or not a designer's work ultimately becomes iconic, only time will tell, but icons define luxury. We like sports cars, we like Gullwings, we like low cars, and we like orange cars.”

The new Mercedes C111 concept car has a different name

Meet the Mercedes Vision One-Eleven, a concept car that's flamboyant in such an old-school way that it's worth checking to see if you haven't fallen through a hole in the space-time continuum and made it back flashed to 1969. The car was already unveiled in June, but it is worth taking a closer look.

The time when car designers – many of them Italian, it must be said – jettisoned the lush sensuality that had made them famous in favor of radical proportions and wedge-shaped silhouettes. Think of Bertone's Alfa Romeo Carabo and Lancia Stratos Zero, the Bizzarrini Manta or Pininfarina's Ferrari Modulo. NASA had just put man on the moon. These cars looked like you could drive them there.

How the Mercedes C111 concept car came about

In Stuttgart things got equally out of hand. Mercedes had spent most of the decade perfecting a rather strict aesthetic under the direction of the brilliant design boss Friedrich Geiger, who talked about 'horizontal homogeneity' and 'vertical affinity'. Yes, they already had cringe-worthy jargon back then. But that formality started to show cracks.

There was only one man in the TG editorial staff who had the sensual purity to handle Mercedes concept cars

Bruno Sacco (Italian) and Paul Bracq (French) were the rising stars in the design department at that time. Also remember that Mercedes pioneered one of the greatest design motifs of all time with the 300 SL from the 1950s: gull-wing doors. And these would return in a formidable way in the 1969 C111, the first of a series of concept and experimental cars that pushed the limits with rotary engines and extreme aerodynamics, even setting a handful of world speed records.

Many similarities between the Mercedes C111 concept car and Vision One-Eleven

It is that C111 concept car that Mercedes refers to with the Vision One-Eleven. That copper-orange (and black) color scheme certainly gives it away a bit, but the treatment of headlights and taillights is also heavily indebted to the original. The C111 had a mid-engine, while the Vision car has Yasa axial flux motors on each wheel, plus a large battery pack (although how large has not yet been revealed).

Mercedes plays with the typography of a mid-engine car here by pushing their 'one arc' design language to the absolute limit. Previous show cars such as the F 105 and EQXX already showed this approach, but they have never gone as far as this time.

The result is a car that is in fact one large surface, with a roof that blends almost invisibly into the body, and which has very pronounced – and very sexy – wheel arches front and rear. They are a nod to the Mercedes-AMG One. The One-Eleven is only 1,100 millimeters high, as we discover when we take a seat next to Wagener on the specially designed orange seats. We are still longer than the car.

The lead designer behind the idea of the Vision One-Eleven

'The Mercedes C111 concept car is an icon and we wanted to bring it back. This is not about just designing another car, this is a very special case,” he says. 'This one has a special aura, it is not just a design exercise.'

It's part of Mercedes' ambition to deliver 'iconic luxury', in the form of something that has enough visual firepower to draw lines between the present, the Mercedes C111 concept car of the sixties and even Carl Benz's Patent-Motorwagen from 1886. Although the latter did not have gull-wing doors. It didn't even have any doors at all. Anyway, the point is, if you're the one who invented the car, you can brag about it a little.

The Vision One-Eleven has an eye for detail

Wagener calls his philosophy 'sensual purity' and the Vision One-Eleven is remarkably minimalist. The gull-wing doors are enormous, close perfectly and have not completely transparent side windows with a pixel pattern. The smooth, carefully sculpted upper surface is anchored by substantial aerodynamic additions to the lower portion of the car.

The front wing is more subtle and leaves the leading role to the nose, with LED headlights that almost give the car an 80s atmosphere. The One-Eleven can communicate with other road users, à la Knight Rider. Although he will probably mainly say: 'Out of the way, plebs, I am iconically luxurious.'

The matte black side skirts are pronounced and become more so as they get closer to those chunky rear wheel arches. They also have notches that are illuminated blue from the back. A huge diffuser adds some extra drama, but really it's all about how much rubber you can see when you stand behind the car.

Like just about every car designer we've ever met, Wagener is a big fan of the endurance racers of the '70s and '80s. The wheels are as large as they can almost only be on a concept car, and their design is inspired by the windings of the engines hidden inside. A word about those axial flux motors: Mercedes bought Yasa in July 2021, lured by the promise of electric motors that are not only smaller but also more powerful than the usual radial flux motors.

The interior is even more futuristic

The special mix of science fiction from the 60s and 80s continues happily inside. Pop culture fans can indulge in a cockpit that is part Barbarella, part A Clockwork Orange, all topped with a twist of Stranger Things and influences from old video games. The dashboard is covered with a white plastic made from 100 percent recycled polyester.

Bright orange leather covers the armrests on the side sills and center console and extends into the luggage compartment. The leather is sustainably produced and colored with the peels of coffee beans. The seats are integrated into the chassis and the seating position is close to the reclining position you adopt in an F1 car.

The Vision One-Eleven also plays with the 'lounge' concept that you usually encounter in autonomous car concepts. The controls and gauges are limited, the elongated steering wheel contains buttons for the driving modes, flanked by a small touchscreen.

More conceptual showbiz is provided by the dashboard that runs across the entire width and shows all kinds of information in pixels, like a kind of news ticker with QR codes. The selected information is then shown on the screen in high resolution. And there's more: with an augmented-reality headset from Magic Leap you get a user interface that belongs more in 2069 than in 1969.

Wagener about the interior of the new concept car

'We can't turn back the clock with a screen like that,' says Wagener, 'so we have to focus on what is there and create digital luxury around it. The basic level is functionality. The second layer is style. And at the top of the pyramid there are iconic moments, things that will surprise you.'

This also includes the launch of a lifestyle collection called 'Limited Edition 1 of 111'. This includes luggage sets and clothing inspired by the car. 'Modernity is about the integration of forms. We also like simplicity, which is more difficult to achieve than complexity,” concludes Wagener. 'Whatever we do: it will be beautiful, it will never be uncomfortable. We will never make cars that look strange. You know what I mean, right?'

Luggage can be secured in case of extremely aggressive slippers and dresses

We get it. There is one final, titillating announcement: Mercedes is expanding the Manufaktur personalization program with three new Maybach Night Series models that show what is possible. But for those with really deep pockets: how about your own One-Eleven?