The stunning Mercedes Vision One-Eleven concept is a reborn C111
Though Merc's new gullwing-doored electric supercar concept isn't just a 'styling exercise'...
Mercedes’ chief design officer Gorden Wagener is in mischievous mood. As he casts his eye across the sensational Vision One-Eleven – a car so low that we’re taller than it even sitting down – he is clear about the job it has to do.
“Retro is doing it as it was, copy and paste. Heritage takes the DNA and reinterprets it,” he says. “It’s a great asset we have, especially as we move into electrification. Mainstream electric cars all look the same. Of course, some of these are brands we’ve not heard of but they all look alike. Some of this electro look is cheap…”
In a world in which car companies that barely existed five years ago are apparently worth gazillions, Mercedes is doubling down on the power of its heritage and back catalogue. Enter the Vision One-Eleven, a concept car that riffs on the late Sixties like Jimi Hendrix in his pomp and stirs in a big slice of Eighties vaporwave for good measure. If you love Bertone’s Lamborghini Marzal or Pininfarina’s Ferrari Modulo, and spent Saturday tea-times rapt in front of Knight Rider, this one’s for you.
The clearest inspiration, of course, is Mercedes’ own C111 concept car. This was the first in a series of experimental cars that explored different forms of propulsion, aerodynamics, and culminated in a handful of world record setters.
It’s the original ’69 car that Mercedes references in the Vision One-Eleven. The copper-infused orange (and black) colour scheme is perhaps the most evocative element, but the head- and tail-light treatment is also strongly redolent of the 54-year old showstopper. The C111 was mid-engined, whereas the new Vision car features YASA axial flux motors on each wheel and a substantial battery pack (size as yet unconfirmed). Mercedes plays with the mid-engined format by pushing its ‘one-bow’ design language to the limit here. Previous show cars such as the F 015 and EQXX have showcased the approach but this time the full quota of brave pills has been popped.
The result is a car that’s effectively one big surface, whose roof and body are effectively one and the same, although there are still pronounced front and rear wheel-arches. Shades of Mercedes AMG One here. “It’s very much about icons. Icons make the difference between mainstream and luxury,” Wagener continues. “Artists and designers always want to make a big statement in history, right? Whether or not a designer’s work actually becomes iconic only becomes apparent with the passage of time, but icons define luxury. We love sports cars, we love Gullwings, we love low cars, and we love orange cars. This isn’t about designing just another car, this is a very special one. This one has an aura, it’s not just a styling exercise.”
Wagener calls his philosophy ‘sensual purity’, and the Vision One-Eleven is strikingly minimalist. The gullwing doors are huge, flush-fitting jobs, with opaque side windows that feature a pixellated pattern. The smoothly sculpted upper surface is anchored by some strongly graphic aero addenda on the under body. The lower front wing is more subtle, and though the original’s pop-up lamps are sadly AWOL, the LED lights manage to be both nostalgic and a sign of what’s coming down the pipe. The One-Eleven, you see, can communicate with other road users.
The matte-black side blades are pronounced and become ever more so ahead of those fat rear wheel arches. They’re also studded with indentations that are back-lit in blue. There’s a huge diffuser and a lot of visible rear tyre. Yep, even Seventies and Eighties endurance cars get a look in. The wheels are concept car huge and their design is inspired by the motor windings used in the One-Eleven’s powertrain. Mercedes bought YASA in July 2021, seduced by the promise of smaller and substantially lighter motors that are also more powerful than radial-flux ones. (The electromagnetic flow runs parallel to the motor’s rotational axis, rather than perpendicular to it.)
The Sixties/Eighties sci-fi mash-up continues inside, with a mix of influences that include 1968 camp sci-fi classic Barbarella and the rather more serious A Clockwork Orange via early video games. For his part, Wagener cites Luc Besson’s bonkers 1997 film The Fifth Element. The dash is upholstered in a white fabric made of 100 per cent recycled polyester. Bright orange leather covers the armrests on the sills, the centre console, and stretches across the rear into the luggage compartment. The leather has been sustainably processed and tanned using coffee bean husks. The Bacofoil seats are integrated into the chassis, and the driving position is close to the racily recumbent set-up you’d find in an F1 car. The seat harness has Mercedes’ ‘three-pointed star’ logo emblazoned on it.
The One-Eleven also plays with the ‘lounge’ concept fully autonomous cars promise to deliver. The User Interface is pared down, an oblong aluminium steering wheel hiding drive mode buttons, and flanked by a small touchscreen. More conceptual showbiz is manifest in the full-length pixellated dashboard, which can display information in QR code form like a news ticker from the primordial pre-internet days. The information then appears in super sharp hi-res on the multi-media screen. There’s more: pull on a Magic Leap augmented reality head-set and prepare for a new spatial user interface. Analogue and digital are having a right old dust-up in here.
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“We can’t turn the clock back on the screen,” Wagener says, “so we have to focus on what’s there and create digital luxury around it. The base level is functionality. The second layer is style. At the top of the pyramid are iconic moments, things that surprise you.”
This includes creating NFTs live on site at Mercedes’ Carlsbad, California design studio, working with digital artist Harm van den Dorpel and others to create the ‘Maschine’ collection. Plus the launch of a ‘lifestyle collection’ called ‘Limited edition 1 of 111’ that includes luggage and clothing inspired by the car.
“Modernity is about the integration of shapes. We also like simplicity, which is harder to achieve than complexity,” Wagener says. “The surfaces on the Vision One-Eleven trigger your buttons instantly. But we are also in the tech industry and we have to bring the X factor in with that. Whatever we do will be beautiful, it’s never going to be awkward. We’ll never do strange looking cars. You know what I’m talking about, right?”
Who could he possibly be referring to? There’s one last delicious prospect: Mercedes is expanding its Manufaktur personalisation programme, three new Mercedes-Maybach Night Series models demonstrating what’s possible. But as Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce have all very profitably demonstrated with their bespoke divisions, high net worth individuals will always want what other people can’t have. Someone somewhere will be on the blower to Mercedes HQ right now.