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Forgotten gullwing resurrected

2011-01-07 07:25

THE OTHER SLS?: The greatest car Mercedes-Benz never built may finally get to turn a wheel on public roads thanks to a visionary Texan tuner.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Mercedes-Benz
Model Ciento Once
Engine 6l V12
Power 300kW
In the family tree of gullwing door Mercedes-Benz products, most enthusiasts can only draw a single branch from the original 300SL trunk, in the form of AMG’s SLS.

If you are a true gullwing fan though, you will no doubt be cognisant of the ‘other’ one – Merc’s forgotten C111 supercar concept.

Record breaker...

Designed as a technology showcase back in the (very) late 1960s, the C111 would have been so far advanced had it gone through road car homologation that most other manufacturers would not so much have been left behind the curve as off the technology graph altogether.

The C111 remained a one-off prototype though, allowing Mercedes-Benz engineers to experiment with alternative internal combustion engine configurations, such as a multi-rotor Wankel rotary, as they tinkered with the car throughout the decade after its debut at the 1969 Frankfurt auto show.

During the 1970s the C111 set numerous top speed and endurance records. In turbodiesel trim it broached the 300km/h top speed barrier and in 1979, powered by a 4.5-litre twin-turbo V8, it clocked a rather impressive 403.978km/h at the Nardo high speed oval in Italy.

Today the C111 is still spoken of in revered, if slightly hushed, tones by Mercedes-Benz engineers. Finding one for purchase, even if only for use as a concourse display, is a near impossibility. Wouldn’t it be great to have a contemporary C111 of sorts though?

Makes a comeback

Well, GWA Tuning, a Mercedes-Benz aftermarket modification specialist operating out of San Antonio, Texas, has a rather outlandish modern day C111 solution on offer.

The brainchild of GWA owner Arturo Alonso (not related to Ferrari driver Fernando), the Ciento Once (Spanish for ‘one hundred eleven’) is a custom AMG parts bin exercise executed to highest standards imaginable.
Cueing a similar mid-engine configuration to the original C111, Alonso’s Ciento Once features aluminium bodywork (as opposed to the original C111’s composite surfacing) over a tubular frame chassis.

Proportionally the GWA car is nearly identical to the C111, with some neatened styling details (LED daytime running lights) and modern airflow management aids such as a properly configured aft diffuser and electrically-actuated rear wing.

Visible through the glass rear deck area is a very mellow 300kW version of the AMG M120 6-litre V12 engine, famous for being the powerplant of choice for Pagani’s Zonda supercar. The naturally aspirated V12 drives the rear wheels via a custom six-speed tranaxle transmission courtesy of Cima H – who supply independent supercar builders Pagani and Koenigsegg with shift-ratio solutions.

Enhancing the car’s mechanical grip are tyre specifications copied from the SLS AMG; the Ciento Once therefore runs 265/35/19s up front and 295/30/20s at the rear. Oscillation is managed at each individual wheel corner by a set of coil-over dampers, with S55 AMG rotors and callipers responsible for reining-in the 1.4t Ciento Once’s performance.

CLASSIC OR CONTEMPORARY?: GWA’s trim coordinators did a great job of getting the retro cabin feel tailored. Vertically mounted infotainment headset is sure to cause some wrist straining frustration though…

Access the cabin via one of its vertical-lift gullwing doors and Ciento Once features an overture of styling cues from the original C111.

Its carbon-fibre seats are covered in plaid and the instrumentation has painstakingly been moulded and detailed to resemble the dials of Mercedes-Benz’s classic W120R cars.

Debits? The open-gate shift guide does look badly out of place.

Those vertically stacked radio and ventilation controls are a nearly unforgiveable ergonomic faux pass too.

All things considered, the ergonomic foibles remains a negligible compromise considering the potential privilege of owning a high-performance manual-transmission Mercedes-Benz performance car, of which there have been none since the CLK GTR went out of production in the late 1990s.

Price? Well, availability may in fact be the more pertinent question.

GWA’s Arturo Alonso says he may build a customer car, at a fittingly ridiculous price.

If an ample number of enthusiasts make serious deposit commitments though, the forgotten gullwing may just be able to take its pride of place as a road car between the seminal 300SL and current SLS AMG in the lift-door Mercedes-Benz family tree.


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